Whilst working on a recent project I came across a set of four china trade gouaches of birds on pith paper, circa 1840-60 which needed some degree of restauration and tender loving care. China Trade watercolours, enjoyed the height of their popularity in the 1840s and 50s. As with the Grand Tour travelers in previous centuries, those from the West that could afford to make the journey to China did not return empty-handed and anything of quality that was brought back immediately became status symbols.
Watercolours were a popular choice not only due to their beauty, but also because of the ease of which they could be carried. Watercolours were of a very good quality and often by well-respected artists.
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 there is the presence of an inert white pigment, such as chalk. This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities, creating a relief texture with a velvety visual depth.
Although it was extremely fragile, pith paper was widely favored due to its nature; the gouache used by the Chinese sat on the surface of the paper and produced a bright and sparkling effect. Very fine detail could be achieved whilst maintaining clean, vibrant colours.
The gouaches have some foxing and minor damage which needed to be addressed. Tommy, at Pendragon Frames did a magnificent work and a thin faux gilt bamboo frame was chosen to enhance the Orientalism. Museum glass and an acid free passe-partout, in a neutral hue to blend with the pith paper on two of the guaches and to enhance the foxed old paper of the remaining two, was chosen to creat a truly beautiful set.
Sourced for a country house, they would look equally at ease enlivening a city flat or townhouse. A new lease of life for these remarkable pieces of art.