The Chinese reverse glass diptych of the mother and her child: the West meets the East
“Sotheby’s” has recently represented a Chinese reverse glass painting – a diptych entitled “ A mother and a child” (reverse glass painting diptych, China for the European market, Qing dynasty, 18th century). The right wing represents the mother-and-a-child theme through the two-figure composition of a Chinese woman and her son draped in traditional Chinese costumes and accessories in the landscape setting inspired by Chinese ink paintings. The left wing demonstrates the Western influence in terms of costumes and facial features of the figures, resembling the Virgin-with-child-Jesus theme, portrayed against the backdrop with a European-style castle.
Reverse glass paintings occupy a special position within Chinese art, crossing over the genres of Chinese export art, glassworking, the painting genre of meirenhua (paintings of beauties), and erotic art. It’s a large painting painted with a detailed scene of figures on a garden veranda. Reverse painting on glass is an art form consisting of applying paint to a piece of glass and then viewing the image by turning the glass over and looking through the glass at the image. Another term used to refer to the art of cold painting and gilding on the back of the glass is verre églomisé, named after the French decorator Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711–86), who framed prints using glass that had been reverse-painted. In German, it is known as Hinterglasmalerei.
Reverse glass paintings are generally associated with English country house collections throughout the 18th century and later, when their vibrant colors and exotic flavor made them the height of fashionable sophistication, with a certain number of them following a European original which would have been reversed and meticulously copied in oils onto the glass by use of a Chinese brush by artists working in and around Guangzhou to service the Southern Chinese ports and the export market.