Conservation United Kingdom

Chinese watercolours scrutinised

Scientific analysis shows botanical paintings used European ink and paper

Specialists from Nottingham Trent University are examining Chinese export watercolours from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Royal Horticultural Society. Tests using optical coherence tomography (a technique for obtaining sub-surface images of translucent or opaque materials) and multispectral imaging have revealed that Chinese artists in the late 18th and 19th centuries seem to have used more European materials than previously known.

The paintings at the V&A were made partly with Prussian blue, chrome yellow and cochinea—pigments that were sent to China from Europe. Watercolours of botanical specimens collected by the horticultural society’s representative, John Reeves, were painted on English Whatman paper, with preparatory drawing using a graphite-like pencil, a technique not normally used by Chinese artists.

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