Probably commissioned from Chinese artists by an unknown British officer of the British East India Company in 19th century; Cesare Maccari (Siena 1840-Rome 1919), his studio sale, Rome, Piazza Sallustio, 4-9 April 1921; Bargagli family Florence; Studio Bibliografico Vecchi Libri, Florence; Italian private collection till now.
Cesare Maccari (Siena 1840 Rome 1919) was among the leading 19th century painters of Italian Orientalism, along with artists Alberto Pasini, Roberto Guastalla and Giuseppe Gabani. Fascinated by Eastern cultures, he painted oriental subjects and collected rugs, objects, paintings, prints and drawings from the East. His most important works remain in Rome. They include the public commissions for Palazzo Madama, the seat of the Italian Senate, and the Palace of Justice, which he decorated with frescoed scenes of the history of ancient Rome. How he came to own these watercolours is not known, though clearly his interest in the subject matter would have drawn him to owning them. It is likely that these watercolours were commissioned by a British officer of the British East India Company (see the above under the note on historical context). These watercolours were sold in the studio sale of Cesare Maccari in Rome, Piazza Sallustio, 4-9 April 1921, and then passed to the Bargagli family Florence, and then Studio Bibliografico Vecchi Libri, Florence, and finally an Italian private collection till now.
Note on the paper and Chinese paper making techniques:
Summary of report from Peter Bower. All the paper in this collection shows evidence of various Chinese mould profiles. During the 19th century any English or European laid paper of these sizes in this collection would contain a watermark or part watermark. None of these sheets are watermarked, since Chinese papers were very rarely watermarked as the flexible construction of the su made the watermarking impractical. The flexible Chinese mould, made of thin strips of bamboo or sometimes grasses, sewn together at regular intervals with silk or flax thread or even horsehair, left very fine mould profiles with the sheet (similar, but more irregular, to the laid and chain line patterns seen in western laid paper) which can sometimes be very difficult to read. The difficulty with some Chinese papers in reading the mould profile within the sheet is compounded by the paper having being coated. Chinese paper was usually made from bamboo fibre or less commonly rice straw. After pressing to remove water, the damp sheets were brushed onto a smooth drying surface with a coarse fibre brush (sometimes goats hair). This drying surface might be wooden boards or a smooth wall. The brush invariably left brush marks in the surface of the soft paper. The brush marks are the most easily recognized feature of Chinese paper. In conclusion Mr Bower writes There is nothing out of period in any of these papers. They are all typical of various Chinese hand made papers from the first half of the nineteenth century. The papers have come from different sources and exhibit quite different characteristics. This is a product of different local traditions and working practises in the various papermaking areas of China during the nineteenth century.
To see a report on the whole collection, written by Peter Bower, please ask Crispian Riley-Smith Fine Arts Ltd.
Watercolour, heightened with gold, in an inscribed blue oval, on white handmade uncoated laid paper with some process dirt, made using some very long fibres. The paper is in a very good condition.
250 x 210 mm (9 x 8 in).
According to Noltie [H.J. Noltie, Raffles Art Redrawn, Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, The British Library and the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh in association with Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2009] the collections that were put together by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826) and his contemporaries including William Farquhar (1774-1839) was part of the grand project of the statistical documentation of the natural resources. This was not unlike the paper museums put together by the Italian Cardinal Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1637) where thousands of works on paper were commissioned by the famous Cardinal, of natural history, antiquarian and architectural subjects which he called his Museum Chartaceum (Paper Museum). It included works by famous artists such as Pietro da Cortona and Nicholas Poussin, however the majority of the artists are not known, and the greater emphasis was on the object, not the artist. In an era before photography this was the means of gathering all the information together. Kura Chong Guan [Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula, 1803-1818, with essays by John Bastin and Kwa Chong Guan, 2010, p.316), writes officers of the East India Company found not only the economic, cultural and historical, but also the natural landscapes of these territories foreign and unfamiliar. Their education had not prepared them for the plant and animal life that they encountered. They knew of no explanation for the diversity of species that they found. Both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were yet to be born. The system of classifying plants according to their generic and specific elements, with plants grouped into species, genera, classes and orders developed by the great Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in his three classic texts was still new and just being applied. The desire to document and record what they found new and exciting so it could be shared with others led these men of the East India Company to resort to the Renaissance tradition.
The East India Company recognised the economic and medicinal value of plant and animal products, and encouraged their officials to pursue their interest in natural history. In 1782 they appointed Gerhard Konig (circa 1728-1785), a pupil of Linnaeus, as official botanist.
The artists are in most cases, not known, as in the Cassiano dal Pozzo Paper Museum. According to the Malay scribe of Sir Thomas Raffles, Abdullah bin Kadir Munsyi, Raffles employed four men to collect a wide range of natural history specimens and a certain Chinese from Macao who was very expert at drawing life-like pictures of fruits and flowers (p.28 Noltie).
The ability of artists from China was clear since they were employed by Raffles (p.163 Noltie), in a letter from Raffles to Joseph Banks, his intention to study fish and Madrepores (corals) of the latter we have a great variety and I hope to succeed with my Chinese Draftsmen in making coloured Drawings of them.
In the East Indies there was a long tradition of employing Chinese artists to draw natural history subjects. Noltie has noted the Chinese tradition and style was well predisposed to the work required by British patrons, and notes the tradition dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The works produced for many British patrons, including William Marsden in 1777-9, James Cunnighome in 1698 had 800 Chinese drawings of flowers; Joseph Banks, in 1770s, commissioned Chinese drawings of cultivated plants, and again in 1804; John Reeves in 1812 went to Canton to have drawings of fish, birds and plants, these are now split between the Lindley Library and the R.H.S. [Royal Horticultural Society].
Noltie has commented how the use of the silver and gold leaf are used by Chinese artists, The use of precious metals in zoological paintings has seldom been noted, but Fa-Ti Fan stated that to reproduce the iridescent hues of fish scales, the [Chinese] artists [in Canton] made use of silver and gold powder.
In drawing natural history, the Indian artist learnt that his new British patrons wanted a different style than Indian patrons. They did not want the opaque gouache that the Indian artists typically used because it seemed too garish and flaked off the thick Indian paper. Instead they wanted precise lines that recorded nature exactly in pencil or sepia ink, which was then filled in with watercolours muted with grey wash, to conform to what was then the norm for the scientific documentation of nature. According to Guan (p.321) the stiffness and flatness that Raffles and others complained about in the drawings of Chinese artists, were a consequence of the artists trying to change their practise of perspective in art. The Chinese artists had been trained to ignore the optical law of diminution. For the Chinese artists, figures and objects are to be rendered flat and two-dimensional in three dimensional axonometric space.
It is interesting to note how many of the botanicals from the Maccari collection have a hand drawn border around them, in particular the botanicals [numbers 1-21]. This can be clearly compared to the hand drawn borders around the watercolours from the Farquhar Collection (see pp324-5), where Guan writes, Farquhar, it seems, commissioned at least two, possibly three Chinese artists to paint these natural history drawings while he was in Melaka from 1795-1818. Dr John Bastin has suggested that these same Chinese artists may have been patronised by Sir Stamford Raffles. Unfortunately, we do not know who these Chinese artists were, as they did not sign any of their drawings. We can only infer that they came from one of the studios in Guangzhou producing artworks for the China trade.
Personal stylistic differences in Farquhars drawings suggest that they were the work of at least two artists. One key distinguishing feature appears to be whether there is a border around the painting. The artist who chose to draw a border around his paintings also tended to crowd the leaves of trees. This is an interesting comparison to make, and I am not suggesting that the watercolours with the borders from each collections are by the same artists, indeed the time difference must be a few decades prevents this, this is an interesting stylistic characteristic that was handed down to artists.