gouaches of Mandarins in their formal attire. Painted on
pith paper. Guangzhou, (Canton) c. 1850. Hard-cover binding
with woven silk outer.
1850’s was the period when Chinese export ware was at its
highest level of qualitative craftsmanship. Pith paper is
made from Tetrapanex Papyrifera, a member of the Araliaceae
family. The plant is a shrub native to Southern China and
The trunk, when trimmed of its bark, allows for thin slices
of its core to be cut. These slices were used for many
purposes: As a canvas for painting, as is the case here, but
also for the manufacture of small toys. The paper reacts
positively to gouache paint in enhancing the brightness of
This was realised by the Chinese from the beginning of the
19th century and export of such paintings have taken place
from the early 1820s until the end of the century.
Products made and sold in this way were known as ‘Export
Ware’. Besides Mandarins, there were other popular subjects
such as butterflies, fish, birds, flowers, tea ceremony and
even torture practices.