A Set of Five China Trade Pictures of Butterflies and Insects,
These pictures are painted in watercolour and gouache on pith paper (see below) each depicting different butterflies and other insects.
China Trade pictures were produced with a wide variety of subjects; the details and colours in the earlier works such as this set were much more realistic and softer than those produced in the mid-century.
As the albums were made to represent as closely as possible various elements in Chinese life, there is a wide variety of insects represented. The colours are very strong, with crisp lines and wonderful composition.
Dimensions: 19 1/4 x 13 3/4"
The detail and delicate color balance used in these works are some of the hallmarks of Sunquas earlier work- as time went on, his colors became more bold and his compositions rather more sophisticated, but it was the attention to detail and sharp, crisp strokes of his early efforts that brought him renown.
Normally working in oils, Sunqua painted in watercolor and gouache in the 1830s- late 1840s, producing albums and single paintings for export and trade during this time. He was an accomplished artist, whom Crossman says : ...would seem to belong to an Italian or European tradition of ship and port painting, so good were his compositions and palettes. (Crossman, The China Trade, p. 88) He was active from 1830 through the 1870s, working at both Canton and Macao, and was one of the first Chinese artists to sign on the front his own work. (Crossman, p. 174)
Gouache (from the Italian guazzo, "water paint, splash") is a type of paint consisting of pigment suspended in water. Gouache differs from watercolour in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and the presence of an inert white pigment such as chalk. This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities.
Pith paper is commonly mistaken as rice paper. Pith comes from the central column of spongy cellular tissue in the stem of a small tree called Tetrapanax Papyrifera, native to south-west China. It has had a variety of uses, some going back many centuries. At the imperial court both men and women wore coloured flowers made from pith in their hair. It has been used to produce toys for children and in craftwork. It is still sold as Chinese medicine to make a diuretic infusion. For use in painting, it is cut by hand with a knife into thin sheets from short lengths of the spongy tissue. Cutting is highly skilled and the constraints of the process mean that the finished sheets for painting seldom, if ever, measure more than about 30cms by 20cms. The sheets are dried, trimmed and used for painting without any further processing.
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.