An Important Pair of Chinese Mirror Pictures

Height: 32 ½” 83cm
Width: 22 ½” 57cm
Origination: Chinese
Circa: Ch'ien Lung period Circa 1760

Each picture depicting a man and a lady residing beneath a tree with a river, houses and hills in the background of each painting. In one is a sheep suckling its lamb with birds in the tree and in the other a dog and Chinese Pheasant at their feet and other birds in the tree.

Including Frames                                                   Mirror picture only:

Width 22 ½”  57cm                                             Width  15 ½”  39cm

Height 32 ½”  83cm                                            Height  25 ¾” 66cm

Provenance

Private Collection, Canada

Blairman & Sons, Sold in 1930 & May 1968.

 

Chinese mirror pictures are a wonderful fusion of Chinese and European art.  Prior to the eighteenth Chinese art was flat and without perspective. In the mirror pictures being produced in Canton, we see both perspective and Chinese landscapes.  In fact, the scenes depicted regularly include placid water, buildings, houseboats and hills.  These scenes are thought to depict the Pearl river which bisected the city of Canton to where many of the artist producing these works had been attracted by the English factories or merchant houses.

Although there was one glass manufacturer in Canton, the glass produced was too cloudy and the surface too uneven for its use by the artists. Instead, the glass was shipped from St. Gobain in Picardy or from the Vauxhall Glasshouse in London.  The cost of a rough plate measuring 60” by 31” was £31 18s. Grinding. Polishing duties, risk and profit increased this to £99 8s. That is equivalent to £10,000 today.

The technique of glass painting involved a great many steps. The glass was cleaned and then washed over with gum water. When the gum hardened the artist painted his picture in reverse. The paintings were then baked in a mixture of quick lime with the temperature slowly increasing to avoid cracking the glass. The painted mirrors were then sent back to England to be silvered and framed.  This process hardened the paint and acted to preserve the colours; the paints being sealed from oxidisation by being sandwiched between the glass and the silvering.

Although regarded as trivialities by the Chinese at the time, mirror paintings were highly prized in the West and many notable cabinet makers, including Thomas Chippendale produced frame designs.

 

Reference

  1. B. Hughes, The Art of Chinese Mirror Painting. Country Life 8th May 1969.

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