SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Carbone, Iside (2002) Glimpses of China through the export watercolours of the 18th-19th centuries: A selection from the British Museum's collection. MPhil thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (23MB) | Preview


This research investigates the roots of Chinese export watercolours - produced at Canton for Western customers, in the 18th-19th centuries - in the local tradition of painting and illustration, attributing a 'Chinese identity' to these authentic works of art, often considered as a semi-foreign piecework derivative and inferior to literati and court painting. Furthermore, their historical and anthropological importance is also vigorously stressed: these particular paintings are presented as documents that provide an insight into Chinese traditions, customs and daily life, and reflect the evolution of the diplomatic, commercial and cultural relationships between China and the West. The discussion gradually develops through the analysis of the albums in the British Museum's collection, which, despite being one of the most comprehensive of this sort, had not been specifically examined by any scholar before. The watercolour sets, described from various angles, and compared with other figurative materials, are used as concrete examples, giving substance and immediate reference to ideas and concepts. The dissertation opens with some considerations about the mutual artistic exchange and influence between China and the West in the 18th-19th centuries. First, the impact of Chinese image and art in Europe is presented. Then, the main characteristics of Chinese export art and the development of Chinese export painting are illustrated. These observations are followed by the examination of the watercolours at the British Museum, considering state of preservation, availability for research, and scarcity and inadequacy of the museum's records. A summary of all the themes depicted in the nearly one hundred sets is also given. A selection of nearly half of them - including the illustration of production activities, trades and crafts, religious subjects, festivals and ceremonies - is analysed in depth, thus providing an exhaustive and precise picture of the treatment of the most relevant subjects, each representing a significant aspect of the Chinese world at that time.

Item Type: Theses (MPhil)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:59

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item