Several years ago I happened upon a couple of wonderful antique Chinese pith paintings, which made me learn about them, and look for them, but I haven't fallen in love with one (that I could at all afford) since--until this one.
Pith refers to the paper (which resembles but is different than rice paper),made from the cellular tissue found in the stem of a small tree called Tetrapanax Papyrifera, native to south-west China. It came into use in China in the 1820s (reaching its heyday in the 1830s and 40s) as a means to satisfy the increasing demand for small, inexpensive and easily transported souvenirs, following the massive growth in the China Trade in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Pith paintings typically depicted local subjects--native flora, birds and insects, as well as local trades, customs and costumes.
Painted in gouache, this one, a still life of implements relating to calligraphic writing, is right up my alley and especially fine--just look at the detailed patterning on the lush green form, and that red, and that gold! Clearly it is an ink bowl at right, and a table bell at center above the tablet and pen, and I believe at left is an arm rest with pillow. Really jewel-like, and feels akin in some ways to a western trompe l'œil.
Framed, as found: 10 1/4" x 6 7/8. Pith paper: 8 7/8" x 5". Some light rippling to the pith paper, unevenness along bottom edge and one clean tear coming in from right edge. Painting appears adhered at corners to a brown paper backing. Clearly it has lived in this frame for a long time and I have not opened it up. Color is gorgeous. A bit of glare in photos.