Beguiling beauty. Chinese reverse glass paintings from the Mei-Lin Collection

Reverse glass paintings, where the motif has been painted on the back of a glass plate, stand out with their vibrant colours and lasting radiance. They made their initial appearance in China after glass plates and mirrors and the technique of oil painting were introduced into the country for the first time by Europeans.

In Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China, a traditional maritime trading centre, manufacturing activities developed with particular intensity, and also included the production of reverse glass paintings for foreign markets.

Pictures of beautiful women

Specialized workshops produced the colourful pictures to order or from standardized designs. European templates were copied onto glass with great attention to detail, Chinese landscapes, birds and flowers, mythological figures and everyday scenes were as skilfully recreated behind glass as the ‘pictures of beautiful women’ (meiren hua) that are the theme of this exhibition.

So-called ‘meiren hua’ are among the established themes of Chinese painting and often associated with seduction and the world of the courtesans. When we look at them, they immediately make us think about what it is that makes a woman beautiful.

The exhibition Beguiling beauty

In the exhibition Beguiling beauty, the reverse glass pictures created in the period from the early 19th to the mid-20th centuries show ‘beautiful women’ in elegant surroundings. They render the details of the sitter’s appearance with great precision and document a changing society with clashes between traditional and modern values.

70 of the works shown are from the Mei-Lin Collection, a large, internationally known collection of Chinese reverse glass paintings.

The exhibition also includes textiles and accessories from the collection of the Museum Fünf Kontinente (Museum Five Continents) that are similar to those that can be seen in the pictures.

Publication accompanying the exhibition

Betörend schön. Chinesische Hinterglasbilder aus der Sammlung Mei-Lin, with texts by Rupprecht Mayer and Simone Bretz, Munich 2024.

Events accompanying the special exhibition

Events accompanying the special exhibition can be found in the programme section on the museum's website.


We would like to thank           Programme partner





21. Juni 2024 – 19. Januar 2025

9.30 am–17.30 pm

Adults 6 €
Reduced 5 €
Children/teenagers up to 18 years: free
Pupils: free

You can download the leaflet as PDF here.