This painting provides valuable information on Chinese export artists working for the western market in the 19th century. "Chinese export painting" is a genre of painting that was produced in large quantities in Canton ("Guangzhou" today) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, when China trade flourished and western merchants converged in the city. Guided by the works of western artists that were ample in supply in the form of prints, these Chinese export artists could learn more about western art and adapt to its general principles and pictorial conventions, which were so dissimilar to those of traditional Chinese fine art.
The picture depicts the interior of the famous studio of Tingqua, whose Chinese name was "Guan Lianchang". He was one of the most celebrated Chinese export artists at the time. His watercolours in the bird-and-flower genre, port scenes and interiors were in popular demand. The studio was located at 16 New China Street in Canton. It was frequented by westerners who desired works that epitomized a slice of China, such as the rows of export pictures seen here hanging on the walls.
To fill the numerous orders, it was common for an established artist to employ other painters and apprentices to help. Seen here are three such helpers working by the windows. It is also interesting to note that although the works produced are in western style, the painters are holding their brushes in the traditional Chinese manner.