Album showing Treaty Ports, Costumes, Ceremonies, Junks, Flowers & Birds, as well as Gardens in and around Canton.

YOUQUA (1850].)

£95000.00 

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CHINESE EXPORT WATERCOLOURS OF SUPERIOR QUALITY

50 fine gouache paintings, each measuring 31.5 x 24cm, some captioned in pencil in the margin. Small folio. Bound in contemporary embroidered silk. Very minor worming, slightly shaken and rubbed, inner hinges broken, view of Macao with a faint tea-cup stain, but overall in very good condition, with tissue guards on facing page. Label on front pastedown "Youqua, Painter, Old Street No. 34, Queen's Road, No. 107." Preserved in recent custom-made cloth box. [Canton/Hong Kong], n.d. [but ca.

Youqua (active 1840s-1870s) was one of the foremost artist working in Canton where he specialised in export paintings catering largely to merchants from Europe and America who regularly visited Canton. To them he was known as ‘Youqua’, a name which would have been used exclusively when dealing with foreigners. His original Chinese name is still not known. His shop in Canton was called "Yixing" (Flourishing Harmony) which was located on No. 34 Old Street. Around 1845 he also opened a branch on Queen’s Road in Hong Kong. Otherwise very little is known about the circumstances of this artist. Youqua’s studio work can be divided into three categories, namely pith paper watercolours (mostly in groups of 12), oil paintings and gouache paintings. Pith paper albums were produced in large workshops employing in some cases over 100 artists. Only the highest quality albums such as the present one was executed in minutest detail by Youqua himself.

 

The paintings cover a wide variety of views and subjects: The first two images show portraits of the Chinese Emperor and Empress. Outstanding are the fullpage views of Canton and the Whampoa anchorage, Shanghai, Macao, Amoy, as well as some spectacular views of noted Chinese gardens in Canton. Furthermore there are images of Chinese junks, several of flowers, fruits and insects, birds, and genre-scenes (landscapes, occupations & costumes). All of the paintings are meticulously executed in gouache on strong Western paper. 

 

We have dated the album to between 1850 and 1855. This is chiefly due to some architectural features in the town-views. Canton: The church to the right was built in 1847 and destroyed in a large fire that consumed all the factories in 1856. Shanghai: To the right of the red yamen style building (Customs House, built in 1846) the tower of Trinity Church is visible. This church was first built in 1847, the roof collapsed in 1850 and in 1866 the old structure was pulled down. Our painting shows Customs House without the two side wings were added in 1857. Amoy: This view shows the foreign settlement on Kulangsu island. Only a few western style houses are visible, chiefly the office of Jardine’s with its flag flying from a large mast. It was built in 1844. Another outstanding feature of this album are five scenes of private gardens in Canton: Four of the scenes represent two gardens owned by the rich hong merchant Howqua (Wu Bingjian) while the last one shows Liang's Garden at Fatshan (Foshan). These authentic views are important historical records as almost all of the buildings have been lost. 

 

The album ranks amongst the best works by Youqua, it paints a vibrant, colourful, and comprehensive view of everything that a Western trader would have encountered and cherished during his time in Canton. It is bound in a contemporary cloth binding which is in turn covered by a contemporary silk cover, richly embroidered with blue flowers and butterflies. 

 

C.f. Clunas: Chinese Export Watercolours, 1984. pp. 81-83 and Crossman: The China Trade, 1972. pp.105-114.

Stock Code: 234037

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