Chinese Export watercolour painting of musical instruments, Banhu + Sanxian, 19th century
Large Chinese Export gauche painting,
depicting a ‘Banhu’ two-string Fiddle with elegant S-shape bow resting across it, a ‘Sanxian’ three-string Lute, with interesting snakeskin face.
Canton, circa 1800-1830
Condition: some slight discolouration to paper, pigments are excellent, edges are worn with some minor folds & tears that do not enter the image area.
Provenance: Old Melbourne, Australia, Collection.
This is a rare example from an album of Chinese Musical Instruments, no comparable example found in the literature or online collection archives.
China Trade paintings are usually on ‘Pith’ – few are seen on the mulberry paper these are painted on. This is no doubt due to the size, as pith-paper is limited due to the source – the shoots of the quick-growing Tetrapanax papyrifer, known in Chinese as the ‘tongcao’, which were thinly sliced into sheets of limited size. The mulberry paper was made in much larger sizes.
The rise of small souvenir paintings coincided with the increase in European merchants reaching Canton, where they were principally buying tea, silk, and ceramics. Some albums illustrate these trades, others the local street merchants and their wares. Some show the colourful parades and dress of the various tiers of society while another class is a ‘visual encyclopaedia’. Fish, Birds and Flowers appear, and while there are albums of musicians playing their instruments, this depiction of the instruments themselves seems to be very unusual, with no other example found in the literature & online gallery collections.