Set of twelve Chinese pith paper paintings of butterflies


These exquisite paintings of butterflies and other insects were made in China for the export market, and are rendered in immaculate detail.


Questions about this piece?


This set of twelve Chinese watercolours are rendered on the unusual medium of pith paper, which allows patches of paint to pool on its surface on account of its lower absorbency. The paper allows for an extraordinary vibrancy of colour, as exemplified by this beautiful set of insect studies.

Each panel depicts a different composition. Butterflies are the predominant theme, but some paintings also include dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects.  The animals are all rendered in incredible detail, with the textures and patterns of each insect captured even on a minute scale, showing the delicacy of the craft. The brightly coloured animals contrast beautifully against the plain white backgrounds, encouraging the viewer to focus attention on the creatures at hand. One of the twelve panels is slightly stained yellow.

Each painting is ensconced in a painted red wooden frame – a later addition. The frames superbly complement the paintings housed inside, with small oval panels painted with further insects adorning each side.

Pith paper paintings such as these were highly popular in the 19th century. Designed for the export market, the paintings typically depicted wildlife or customs indigenous to China, and were easily transportable souvenirs for Western visitors to take home.

This charming set is a fascinating artefact from the thriving Chinese export market, and would be sure to light up any interior space.

Panel: Height 19cm, width 28cm
Frame: Height 35cm, width 34cm, depth 1.5cm


Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
19th Century
19th Century
Animal / Animalier, Chinese Interest
Painted Wood, Watercolour, Pith Paper


35 cm / 13.8 inches
34 cm / 13.4 inches
1.5 cm / 0.4 inches


Free International Shipping

This item qualifies for free international shipping, inclusive of professional packing and insurance.
Terms and conditions apply.