Produced as export wares in the Qing dynasty through the 18th
and 19th centuries, and sought after by western collectors
ever since, China Trade paintings are of growing interest
to Chinese clients.
It is a taste being driven by Chinese institutions, led by
Hong Kong Museum of Art on Kowloon and the
Guangdong Museum in Guangzhou on the mainland. The Hong
Kong Museum of Art, which keeps the core of the celebrated
Chater Collection, will be mounting an exhibition devoted
to China Trade paintings in 2019.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Guangzhou (Canton)
was the centre of production for these wares, as well as
being China’s unique trading station with the west.
In 2016 the Guangzhou Thirteen Hongs Museum opened,
located on the site of the western factories — or hongs — on what was then Canton’s waterfront (see main image). China
Trade paintings and other export wares are displayed in the
museum around a vast diorama of the trading port as it was
in the early 19th century.
In downtown Guangzhou, the Guangdong Museum, which
serves the whole region, is building its collection of export
art, and has recently published a hardback catalogue of the
collection, Chinese Export Fine Art in the Qing Dynasty from Guangdong Museum.
‘After several hundred years of vicissitudes, export paintings,
once exported to foreign countries as handicrafts, are now
upgraded to works of art,’ writes Hongsheng Cai from Sun
Yat-sen University in the introduction to the catalogue. The
paintings, Cai continues, are now looked on as ‘a miracle
in Guangzhou Port cultural history’.
A selection of China Trade paintings, depicting the changing
face of the Hongs at Canton from the late 18th to mid-19th century, as well as views of the later treaty ports
of Hong Kong, Macao and Shanghai, will be included in the
Asian section of the
Topographical Pictures sale in
London on 14 December.
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Highlights will be on show at the Convention Centre in Hong
Kong in late November alongside the
Hong Kong sales.