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UCL-V&A Chinese Export Watercolours (CEW) Project

Unveiling the crossroads between British and Chinese visual culture 1770s-1930s

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The UCL-V&A Chinese Export Watercolours (CEW) Project is a collaboration between the Asia Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Department of Information Studies at UCL. The project is led by Dr Hongxing Zhang, Senior Curator of the Chinese Collections at V&A and Dr Jin Gao, Lecturer in Digital Archives at UCL, Visiting Research Fellow at V&A.

The Chinese export watercolours is a type of artworks produced in China for export to Europe and the North America during the 18th and 19th Centuries. They were made by Chinese professional artists living and working in the Chinese treaty ports and the capital Beijing. Catering to the taste of their customers, these works typically depict Chinese traditional beliefs and customs, occupations, manufacture and trades, boats, plants and animals, and they blend Chinese and European painting techniques, resulting in a unique mix of artistic styles. Despite its significance in Global Art History, Chinese export watercolours remains relatively understudied. 

The Phase I of the project is funded by the UCL Fellowship Incubator Awards, which has catalogued and digitised 2,328 CEW paintings acquired by the V&A in the 1870s-1930s. The work was carried out during the summer 2023, and it involved staff from both institutions and students from the MA/MSc Digital Humanities programme as their work placements. 

The Phase II of the project is funded by the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, and it is currently conducting archive-based provenance research to investigate the formation of the collection. By doing so, the project team aims to address the following research questions:

  • How does an extensive examination of the objects and their archives offer a new understanding of the dynamics among artists, dealers, collectors, and curators during the 1870s-1930s?
  • How might these insights reshape our interpretation of the interactions between these roles and highlight the complexities and negotiations involved in their relationships?

 

The Team

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Sarah Belanger

Archivist, V&A

 

Shirley Chang

Shirley Chang

MA student in Digital Humanities, UCL
 

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Molly Fort

PhD Researcher, Institute for Sustainable Heritage, UCL

Jin Gao

Jin Gao

Lecturer in Digital Archives, UCL; Visiting Research Fellow, V&A

Xiaohan Jiang

Xiaohan Jiang

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

Feichi Li

Feichi Li

MA student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

Yawen Li

Yawen Li

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

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Yi-Hsin Lin

Data Standard Editor, Chinese Iconography Thesaurus, V&A 

Bingjun Liu

Bingjun Liu

Data Standard Editor, Chinese Iconography Thesaurus, V&A

Jiawei Liu

Jiawei Liu

MA student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

Liyuan Li

Liyuan Liu

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

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Isobel MacDonald

Research Fellow, UCL


 

José Pedro Sousa

José Pedro Sousa

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

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Shuhua Tang

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

Linminqing Wang

Linminqing Wang

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL

 

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Eleanor Young

MA student in Archives and Records Management, UCL
 

Hongxing Zhang

Hongxing Zhang

Senior Curator of the Chinese Collections, V&A

Yangming Zhang

Yangming Zhang

MSc student in Digital Humanities, UCL
 

 

 

Project Output

  • The phase one of the CEW project has resulted in an updated collection catalogue and digitised images on the V&A Explore the Collection website accessible as teaching and research materials for all.
  • A blog at UCL DIS website jointly written by the project team, introducing the cataloguing and digitisation practice that helps uncover the intricate stories and cultural significance of the CEW collection:
    • Gao, Jin., Zhang,Yangming., Wang, Linminqing., Li, Yawen., Li, Feichi., Chang, Shirley., Liu, Jiawei. (2023) Unveiling the V&A Chinese Export Watercolours (CEW) Collection: A Journey of Digitisation and Discovery, UCL DIS Staff Blog. URL https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/dis-blog/2023/09/08/cew/
  • A public lecture at the V&A and at UCL to disseminate the research findings, among a wider audience interested in art and the history of cultural interactions between Britain and China.
  • More to follow

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