‘Xiang Bed Valance’


Design No: CH1071
Embroidery Style: Po Xian Xiu
Era: Late Qing Era  (circa 1900)
1800mm x 510mm

Reference Material: Li Xiang Shu and Li Li Fang, Hu Xiang. Ci Xiu: Xiang Xiu Juan, pp. 2 – 84.

The Story behind the Artwork

The diverse and exciting varieties of embroidery style evolving in China over thousands of years drew on three main sources: the culture of the imperial court; the culture of scholar officials; and folk culture. Xiang embroidery, emerging from all three of those sources, first developed as a new and distinctive style in Hunan province before becoming one of the four most prized styles of Han embroidery. Silk, a hallmark of the style, is worked with great refinement and delicacy. Xiang base cloth is always chiffon silk. Softness is key to the style. Xiang embroidery blends high craft skill with artistic principles derived from calligraphy and painting.

This elegant valance was made for a wealthy family from Songtao County, Guizhou, and is a magnificent example of Xiang embroidery from the Late Qing Era. Exquisite representations of flowers, together with vivid yet magnificently lightweight butterflies, give it great beauty. The Xiang technique of unravelling silk threads into finer filaments before deftly mixing those filaments with complementary colours yields a subtlety lacking in any other Han method of silk dyeing. Silken threads after being dyed were soaked with seed pods whose oils caused a softening of colour and texture. The finished stitching resembles the brushwork of watercolour washes found in Chinese painting.

The spontaneity and life imbued into this valance by the embroiderer show her to have been not only highly skilled but gifted artistically. The way she has wielded colour and design so lightly, giving us a sense of life and poetry wrought freehand, make this work an exemplary masterpiece of the period and the style.

Xiang embroidery has been revered for many years and collected not only by connoisseurs in China but also international collectors, among whom the style is valued highly. The fresh colours and excellent condition of this rare sample reflect the care taken of it over the years by its previous owners. A very sophisticated style, Xiang embroidery was affordable only for the wealthy élite of merchants, landowners, mandarins, and the imperial court.