Released September 10, 2004
SALEM, Mass. -- In the early 19th century, the port of Guangzhou (Canton) was one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, offering tea, silk, porcelain, and other luxury goods for international trade. The Art of Shopping in China, a new exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, captures this vital period with more than 40 paintings from the museum’s extensive collection of works on paper. Examples of decorative objects for export, such as lacquerware, silk, ivory, and folding fans, are also on display. The exhibition runs through Sept. 5, 2005.
All trade with China in the early 19th century was limited to a small settlement along the Pearl River outside the city walls of Guangzhou. Specially appointed Chinese merchants engaged with traders from Europe, America, and the Middle East, bartering over luxury goods such as fragrant tea, fine silks, and nankeen, a durable yellow cotton. Many also purchased personal souvenirs of their travels from shops near the foreign settlement.
Guangzhou was famous for the number and variety of its shops—in the 1820s there were more than 5,000. Popular items for sale included paintings of porcelain, silk, and tea production, as well as views of Guangzhou and the surrounding area. The works in the exhibition depict scenes from these colorful, bustling establishments, and of artisans at work in Guangzhou.
Painted on Chinese or imported English paper, the watercolors are bold in color and rich in detail, combining traditional Chinese and Western techniques.
Shopping in China reveals much about the thriving community of artists, shopkeepers, and traders in Guangzhou during an era of highly regulated contact between China and the Western world. This dynamic commercial relationship greatly influenced both the economy and the arts of China and the West.
The Asian export art collection at the Peabody Essex Museum is the world’s most comprehensive collection of decorative art made in Asia for export to the West. It encompasses paintings, furniture, silver, porcelain, works of art on paper, and a wide range of other objects created between the 15th and the 20th centuries. The collection reflects the complex and fascinating interaction between the artistic and cultural traditions of East and West.