Man at Table - Original 19th-century Chinese watercolour painting on peepal leaf

An original 19th-century Chinese watercolour painting on peepal leaf, Man at Table.

This is a beautifully preserved traditional Chinese painting on the skeleton of a peepal leaf. It was once in the collection of a Mrs Clayton of Bamber Bridge, housed within the leaves of an album dated 1827. The Claytons of Bamber Bridge, near Preston, Lancashire, were a prominent and wealthy local family, who in the 1760s were the first industrial bleachers. We have other works from this collection on sale.

The painting comes in its original hand-made folded paper envelope. There are four red seals on the envelope and the original inscription “Mrs Clayton, Preston”. Mrs Clayton evidently had the necessary means to acquire such a painting as this, the family likely having connections with textile traders in the Far East.

The peepal tree, otherwise known as sacred fig or Bodhi tree, is native to south-west China, Indochina and the Indian subcontinent. Its leaves form perfect, delicate, transparent skeletons once dried, and as such are uniquely suited to this art form. The skeleton would typically be varnished, before being painting with vivid, backgroundless genre scenes.

Generally in excellent condition, there is a small split at the base along the central leaf vein.
15.7cm x 11.6cm.

Like Chinese paintings on pith, paintings on peepal leaves were produced for the export market in the 19th century. These small, lightweight artworks were made for Western merchants and travellers from around 1825 onwards. By 1833 the monopoly of trade by the English East India Company had come to an end, opening the China trade to dozens of British companies and seeing the number of merchants and volume of trade flourish. Paintings were produced in port cities to meet increasingly high Western demands for Chinese souvenirs.

Typically paintings on peepal leaves and on pith would depict attractive local subjects such as customs, costumes and trades, and indigenous flora and fauna. The painting style would combine a traditional Chinese approach of flattened sweeps of colour with aspects of Western influence in detail and realism.

This painting is one of a collection of four that we have on sale.

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Product code: JC-363

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