19C Chinese Hand painted Silk Collage of Exotic Birds.

Lovely rare collage of Four Chinese hand-painted silk panels of exotic birds and birds of paradise …….. from circa 1850.


(1) The first panel features two blue tailed birds of paradise on a tree branch surrounded by orange blossoms.

(2) The second panel features a pair of orange tailed birds of paradise on a tree branch surrounded by cherry blossoms.

(3) The third panel features a pair of blue chested and blue headed exotic birds on the ground amidst grass and foliage.

(4)  The fourth panel features a pair exotic multi-colored birds on the ground, male and female, amidst grass and blossoms.

19C Chinese Hand painted Silk Collage of Exotic Birds.

Newly framed.

Each panel is matted in a gold matte panel.

Some slight foxing on the silks………….. consistent with age…………….but colors are still magnificently vibrant………..and the fact that they have survived so well is miraculous  !!

High, High quality items !!!


What is Silk Painting?

Originating from China, silk painting (Chinese: sichouhua 丝绸画) is an art form with over 2000 years of history that involves applying colored pigment to silk cloth. Like its silk embroidery counterpart, silk painting preceded the invention of paper.

The ancient art was once known as ‘Bo’ painting, (bo, 帛) referring to the white silk used as a surface. Compared to wood, stone or bamboo of the time, silk was the ideal canvas for painting. It was luxurious and yet easy to cut to any desired shape and light to carry.

Chinese artisans of the old first prepared silk cloths by beating it against stone to smooth the surface before applying color. Using animal hair paintbrushes, ink mixtures of soot and glue, or mineral pigments of vermilion, azurite and malachite, ancient Chinese artists created works of art that have survived centuries.

Today silk paintings can be found all around the world, using a combination of dyes and techniques developed in Europe and Asia. The silk surface is often prepared by stretching and dying silk with a background color. Because pigments spread freely when applied to silk, the artist relies less on brushes and more on creating boundaries for the pigment through the use of a resist. Gutta (a rubbery cement) and water-based resists are popular for sketching the outlines of designs on the silk.. Once the outlines have dried, dyes are applied to the silk that spread up to the resist borders. Alternatively, the silk surface may be primed to reduce the dyes’ ability to bleed.

In this way silk painting differs to painting on cotton canvas or paper. The artist needs not only to consider the placement of pigment but also control its movement. Similar to watercolor, unrestricted, the ink or dyes will flow freely on the silk, creating soft and diffuse artwork.

History and Development of Chinese Silk Painting

Silk painting in China is believed to date back as far as the Warring States period (476-221 BC), reaching its height as an art form in the Western Han dynasty (206 BC to 25 AD).

Artisans of the imperial courts first used silk as a medium for calligraphy painting, which at the time was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. They used black ink made of pine soot and animal-based glues to silk scrolls.

Over the years the art developed to include human figures and depict religious and mythological characters as well as forms from nature. The oldest silk painting artifacts were unearthed from a tomb built in the Warring States period in Changsha, central China. The two silk paintings that were discovered featured mythical beasts–the dragon and phoenix traditionally believed to help the dead enter heaven.

The first painting, titled ‘Lady, Dragon and Phoenix’ depicts a noblewoman on a boat praying to a dragon and phoenix. The second, titled ‘Man Driving the Dragon’ features a bearded nobleman escorted by a dragon and an egret. A sacred bird of ancient China, the egret is thought to represent the integrity and noble qualities of the man.

Both silk paintings show their characters in profile, a style typical for the Chu people of that period. They are thought to be burial items that may have accompanied a funeral procession as banners and were laid with the deceased to protect their souls and help them ascend to heaven.

Up until 2nd century AD silk painting was exclusive to China as a result of their efforts to keep sericulture and silk production a secret. As silk became a highly coveted trading commodity, the art form gradually spread across Asia, making its way to Europe.

Spread of Silk Painting from China

Legend has it that around 100AD, a Chinese princess promised to a Khotan prince in Central Asia smuggled silkworm eggs and mulberry seeds out of the country. In so doing she revealed the secret of silk production and ended China’s monopoly on the luxury fabric. Around this time too, silk painting could be found in India where wax was used as a resist in their silk designs.

Around 300 AD, the Japanese too came to learn the methods of silk production from the Chinese. Their early silk paintings were monochromatic, using black ink and paint. It wasn’t until 1300 AD that Japanese artists began to use a range of colored pigments.

Japanese bird and flower painting on silk

It wasn’t until the 12th century with the conquests of the Crusades, did silk production begin to spread to Western Europe. New manufacturing techniques saw silk production boom, and Italy established itself as a major European center for silk. By the 18th century, the industrial revolution made the cloth even more widely available, and with it spread silk painting as an art form.

In Indonesia, family members of the Russian tsar, Nicholas II learned the batik method of silk painting using wax resists. They brought the art to France where the Serti technique was introduced in the 1900s. This technique of painting using gutta resists to control dyes on silk is one of the most widely used today. Silk painting as an art continued to spread and gained popularity in Britain and America by the 1970s.

Today a multitude of silk painting styles and techniques abound, and the art can be found all around the world.

Link: http://www.artofsilk.com/blogs/news/8245039-chinese-silk-painting-its-history-and-spread-to-the-west#.Vz4qQb4tyao

Highly desirable and collectible piece !

19C Chinese Hand painted Silk Collage of Exotic Birds.

We have not seen another collage quite like this…..simply beautiful !!

These are individual works of art !!

19C Chinese Hand painted Silk Collage of Exotic Birds.

Provenance: Bought at Auction in the UK.

Dimensions: 11″x 14″

Condition: Some discoloration to silk panels due to age, but colors still very vibrant.


Chinese 19C Painted Silk Collage - Exotic Birds (2)

Chinese 19C Painted Silk Collage - Exotic Birds 2 (2)