Investigations into Chinese Export Lacquerware: Black and Gold, 1700-1850

Maria João Petsica

Dressing table, brought to Salem for William (Billy) Gray (1750-1825), 13300, c. 1800. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Chinese export pieces that feature the black lacquer and gold decoration are commonly designated as Canton lacquer in a clear association with the place from whence they were shipped and believed to be manufactured. Lacquer decoration referred to as Canton lacquer was produced in gold painted decoration or miao-jin. In this technique, the decorative motif was painted in gold, by means of fine brushes, over several layers of black lacquer. Objects of this kind were brought home by merchants and sea captains to furnish their homes or as gifts to family members and friends (Image 1). During the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, a considerable number of lacquered pieces reached Europe and the US due to the trading activities with China. The Peabody Essex Museum has several remarkable examples of this production brought back from Canton (today’s Guangzhou) on the ships belonging to private traders and members of the East India Marine Society. The primary goal of my Ph.D. research is to characterize Chinese export lacquer production from 1700 to 1850 and understand how these objects were created and traded.

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