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    An Unique Collection of Thirty-one Chinese
    Pith Paintings

    Nineteenth Century Book of Chinese Paintings. [N.p., n.d.]. Thirty-one paintings in gouache on Chinese pith paper. Primarily produced for Western tourists and the export trade, series of paintings such as these, depicting Chinese landscapes and people in traditional dress, were very popular in the early nineteenth century. This volume collects thirteen images of men in single combat with a variety of weapons and shields, five images of local townsfolk, and one macabre scene of a man in his coffin.
    Most striking, however, are the twelve paintings of captives or "criminals" and their punishments. Some are depicted bound in chains and head stocks; while others are shown being put to death by the sword. One image shows a stabbed man tied to a cross; and yet another shows the aftermath of a decapitation. Execution scenes, such as these, were recounted by T.T. Meadows in his 1851 article "Description of an Execution at Canton" in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, where he specifically described the uses of the cross and the details of the decapitation of criminals.
    There are two instances in the book where a bound captive's chain trails off the edge of the page, only to be continued on the next page, held in the hand of his captor. A unique collection, not for the faint of heart.
    Each piece of painted pith paper is mounted on a book page with a paper frame overlay. All pages attached on stubs. Full red morocco, covers with gilt triple ruled borders, gilt spine title and dragon decorations in compartments inside five raised bands, elaborately gilt-tooled inner dentelles, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers. Boards lightly soiled and rubbed, minor scratches, front joint cracked at top, head of spine chipped, offset to free endpapers from leather turn-ins; two paintings have tears completely across the width of the paper (one open tear, one closed), six have tears in their image areas, several paintings have small tears in their backgrounds, some paper loss (mostly in borders), scratches, light foxing, rippling, occasional stains, each facing blank page has image off set. The tenth painting has a small paper repair in the right border and the seventeenth is loose, having torn at its upper and lower borders, else in good condition.
    Please visit for an extended description of this lot.

    More Information:

    "Painted in watercolor and gouache, Chinese pith paintings were created exclusively for the export market. Typically small, these paintings depicted images of Chinese culture; those collected by Speiden show landscapes, harbor views, market scenes, and colorfully costumed natives, ranging from street beggars to likenesses of the imperial family. Because of its thinness, delicate, translucent appearance, and velvety surface, pith is often mistakenly referred to as rice paper. However, pith is actually unprocessed plant material cored from the stem and branches of a shrub native to regions of Taiwan and Southern China. Naturally limited in size, the pith is pared or carved into long, narrow sheets, flattened, and dried. Unlike manufactured paper made from macerated and matted fibers, the internal order of pith resembles the honeycomb structure of a wasp's nest. This complex cellular structure makes pith highly reactive to moisture. When paint is applied to the paper's surface, the cells swell, causing the painted image to take on a three-dimensional appearance with a jewel-like brilliance. While stunning to look at, pith paintings can be very vulnerable."

                    - Terry Boone, "Preserving Pith Paintings," Library of Congress Information Bulletin, May 2003;


    "Because of the nature of pith and its cellular structure, the gouache used by the Chinese sat on the surface and produced a bright and even sparkling effect. Very fine detail could be achieved but pith did not lend itself to the flat wash of colour favoured for European watercolours. Developed to appeal to the "foreign barbarian" visitors to China, paintings on pith were produced by artisans rather than by the intellectual elite and they were therefore not accepted as Chinese art."  

                    - Ifan Williams, "Brief History of Chinese Drawings on Pith Paper", Guest & Gray, November 2003;

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    8th-9th Wednesday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 551

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