13 Early Chinese Botanicals With Insects

Unknown Artist (to me)

Old, though later, inscription assigns an 1804 purchase at Canton

Watercolor on paper

Seven are approximately 14 ½” x 11”, six are approximately 9” x 7”


These images are meticulously painted with keenly observed postures of insects and plants. Works of such quality surely are familiar to students of botanical art from China, within the period, so to quickly enable identity of the school if not the artist. Sixteen insects, a snail, and a many legged bug are represented within six of the larger botanicals. There was considerable growing interest in England, during this period, for examples and images of exotic flora and fauna from the East with Canton being the only entry point for westerners in the day.

The silkworm image bears an old (though later) scripted pencil inscription reading, “Silk Worms bought at Canton by BWP_1804”. BWP signifies Royal Navy Admiral Benjamin William Page (1765-1845), who was given command of the frigate HMS Caroline where he served in the East Indies from 1803 until 1805. This tenure was Page’s third tour of duty in the East Indies. The first station was launched prior to 1783 returning to England in 1785. His second began in 1793 where he participated at the 1795 invasion of Ceylon later returning to the Mediterranean by 1798. The better likelihood of Page’s acquisition of this series of watercolors would be his third tour, should the penciled inscriptions be accurate.

Another penciled inscription repeated on several of the images states “Sir James & Lady Winston to Admiral & Mrs Page 1826”. Those legends in the same hand as the “Canton 1804” inscription suggesting all penciled provenances post date 1826. Presumably Admiral Page purchased these watercolors at Canton in 1804. Later, they were acquired by the Winstons who returned some or all to the Pages in 1826. Sir James Winston (1773-1843) was the owner of several theaters and later an author of an extensive history concerning the stage.

A 20th century note from a different hand included within this offering states there was a group of watercolors depicting houses accompanying the botanicals. The houses were not among these when found. Thirteen images of Chinese junks, which are not offered here, were with the botanicals. Little doubt bird images and undoubtedly costumes, if a commissioned purchase for a theatre owner, were once a part of this diverse trove. Unsequenced indexing numbers are assigned to several of the images indicating this a portion of a more extensive collection.

Condition: This group demands a visit to an excellent paper conservator. I will take this step should they not soon sell. There are various degrees of toning to the ground. Four of the smaller and a single larger image are laid to a toned paper back support. Fortunately only tacked with adhesive so removal should not be too invasive nor time consuming. None of those laid contain insect images.

One small image is crinkled and soiled. There are small blooms of mildew, not present in images, which will become foxing if left unaddressed on several. That the major concern, with a few short tears, chipped corners, minor creasing and a couple of tiny holes being trifles away from the subjects. All issues can be ascertained on detail photos. One image is framed the rest are loose. All loose images with strong intense color never having sunlight exposure of consequence. No damage noted throughout to the paint excepting a tiny loss to one at a fold line. Three of the larger images with a inoffensive though perceptible fold line to the paper. Evidently the folding prior to being painted as the fold is concealed by the paint on two of the three.

Sizes: 15 3/4” x 11”, 14 1/4” x 10 1/4”, 14 3/8” x 11 1/8”, 14 1/2” x 10 7/8”, 8 1/4” x 7 1/2”, 9” x 7 5/8”, 14 7/8” x 11 1/8”, 14 3/4” x 11 1/8”, 10 1/4” x 7 1/2”, 9 5/8” x 7 1/2”, 9” x 7”, 8 3/4” x 6 7/8”, & 14 1/4” x 11”.