Contemporary chinoiserie at the V&A

The Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. The carved decoration by Luke Lightfoot is from the 1760s, whereas the Chinese export furniture and statuettes date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Friday Late is a programme of themed events at the V&A in London, taking place every last Friday of the month between 18:30 and 22:00.

Chinese export gouache showing people in an interior with a view to a lake, late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, also at Claydon. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The theme this month is ‘China through the looking glass’, an evening of performances, environments and live music exploring the myths and stereotypes of Chinese culture. The event is linked to the Sinopticon project and coincides with the stunning Imperial Chinese robes exhibition.

Detail of the Chinese Room at Claydon. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Included are films by Suki Chan and Erika Tan, light installations by Audio Architecture and SubJam, a Chinese cymbals-based soundpiece by DJ Lukasz, national flag cheongsam dresses and subverted chess sets by WESSIELING, Gayle Chong Kwan’s Manipulated Memory Tasting Booth, Stephanie Douet’s remote-controlled giant ceramic figurine, the Guerilla Dance Project, a performance piece by Ed Pien and a mythical opium den by Karen Tam.

Chinese export gouache showing music-making in a garden, late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, at Claydon. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In the midst of this dazzling phantasmagoria I will be taking visitors on a short stroll through the history of chinoiserie, starting at 19:30 and 20:15. I will be walking through the British Galleries and talking about the wonderful examples of Chinese-inspired design on show there, and how chinoiserie changed from being a ‘progressive’ style to being a ‘nostalgic’ one.

9 Responses to “Contemporary chinoiserie at the V&A”

  1. Susan Adler Sobol Says:

    As I opened your post and looked at your first image, I recalled seeing this recently: (fingers crossed that the link works) — http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/13/garden/13qna.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

    If I were in London, I’d attend your talk but alas — I live in Chicago!

    I don’t believe I’ve ever commented but I enjoy your posts immensely. I also love the “conversations” — between you and Courtney Barnes at Style Court. Thank you for enhancing my limited knowledge about the decorative arts!

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Susan, Beth Katleman’s work is marvelous, kind of post-consumer-Rococo, isn’t it? I hadn’t heard of her, so thank you very much for the link.

    Yes it is great when people respond and these ‘conversations’ happen – like this one!

    And Courtney has a great ‘eye’, doesn’t she? I once joked that the National Trust should do a ‘Style Court-approved’ webpage showing the items in our collections that she has commented on :)

  3. style court Says:

    I wasn’t expecting to see my name pop up in the comments section — fun surprise this morning. Emile’s blog comments are always lucid and informative. Mine on the other hand read as if I need another shot of caffeine, but I do enjoy the exchange! Thank you, Susan, for the mention.

    Emile — I wish I could attend.

  4. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    I am sorry to miss this walk-through which I know I would find fascinating. (I have been on my own, but not the same, I’m sure).

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    John, re your love of classical decoration (as expressed in your beautiful blog), I find it fascinating how in the mid-eighteenth century people would readily combine classical elements with gotic and Chinese-style elements, with great stylistic flexibility – as at Claydon, but also in the gardens at Stowe and Stourhead, for instance.

  6. mavieenrose Says:

    It is always surreal to read the comments section of a blog post and happen upon the name of my mother, Susan, who is more knowledgeable about the decorative arts than she thinks! Of course it is inevitable since we read many of the same blogs. I don’t think I’ve ever commented either (fie!) – I am as shy online as in person, apparently. But I adore your blog and Style Court as well.

    It has been great to see all of this resurgence of attention to chinoiserie over the last few years. I wonder if more people will also begin to examine its long-neglected counterpart, turquerie?* I am assisting with research for a small exhibition which will be at the Frick this summer, and I have been finding the subject to be incredibly rich and really worthy of much more attention than it has been given, and indeed that we are able to give with such a tiny capsule show (the last major exhibition of turquerie was held in Paris in 1911!). I now wonder if the NT has any interesting cabinets turc, such as were popularized in France by Marie-Antoinette and the Comte d’Artois. In England the trend seems to be mostly restricted to masquerade costumes and fashionable portraiture, for which we have Lady Mary Wortley Montague to thank. I doubt, though, that there was anything so splendid as the above example at Claydon House.

    * To answer my own question — I am thrilled by the recent appearance of exciting new publications such as this one: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754664222

    OK, now I know why I don’t comment on blogs very often – because the comments assume novel-like proportions and even acquire footnotes!!!!

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Goodness, daughter and mother both informedly commenting on the same post, that is quite a compliment :)

    The only Turkish-style rooms I am aware of at NT historic houses are the Turkish baths at Wightwick Manor, West Midlands, and at Cragside, Northumberland, both from the late nineteenth century. A fascinating phenomenon in itself, but the ‘wrong’ period for you.

    Thomas Legh (1782-1857) of Lyme Park travelled in the Middle East and there is a portrait of him in Turkish dress at Lyme.

    Of the eighteenth-century fashion for Turkish costume you mention I only know of the portrait of Mrs Clavering at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, which I showed in a previous post:

    http://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/the-return-of-mrs-clavering/#comments

    The comments on that posts contain other interesting links, including to the wonderful portrait of Laura Tarsi by Liotard at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge.

    The forthcoming show at the Frick sounds fascinating.

  8. mavieenrose Says:

    How interesting about the Turkish baths! There was indeed a renewed interest in turquerie at that time but it was of a somewhat different character than its more playful predecessor.

    Other instances of turquerie in England which might interest you —

    William Beckford’s 1781 wild coming-of-age fete, for which de Loutherbourg transformed Fonthill Abbey into a Turkish seraglio for three wild days and nights, complete with oriental entertainment (would have loved to be at that party!!).

    Thomas Legh and Mrs. Clavering are great examples (thank you for the link!), and Laura Tarsi’s portrait is one of my absolute favorites. A few others off the top of my head — the Spencer Museum’s portrait of Mrs. Thomas Pelham by WIlliam Hoare

    http://tinyurl.com/5wfjj8e

    Liotard’s portraits of Lord and Lady Bessborough (Lord Bessborough/William Ponsonby had be the one to initially bring Liotard to Constantinople)

    http://tinyurl.com/6hhw8kc

    Willison’s portrait of the courtesan Nancy Parsons, a somewhat less pristine version of Liotard’s sensational portrait of Mary Gunning at the Rijksmuseum:

    http://tinyurl.com/68mw5jk

    http://tinyurl.com/48s2qnl

    The many portraits of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, as well as her marvelous letters (a must-read!) which made their way to lending libraries as far as Boston…

    http://tinyurl.com/4namj6s

    And then of course there is the massive series of portraits done by Copley for his American clients which played off the vogue for such portraits in Britain…he is thought to have used engravings of English portraits as examples as a starting point. You can see a great collection of those images here:

    http://tinyurl.com/6j9rkyu

    His portrait of Mrs. Thomas Gage just kills me!

    Finally, just for kicks, I love this 1724 rhyme attributed to J. Arbuthnot –

    O Jesu – Coz – why this fantastick dress?
    I fear some Frenzy does your Head possess;
    That thus you sweep along a Turkish Tail,
    And let that Robe o’er Modesty prevail…
    Why in this naughty Vestment are you seen?
    Dress’d up for Love, with such an Air and Mien
    As if you’d commence Sultana Queen.

    Aileen Ribeiro and Perrin Stein have written a number of things on this subject, and there are others…if this has piqued the interest of anyone reading, e-mail me and I’d be happy to provide a bibliography! I think I have already said too much here…but this is sort of a pet topic of mine and I can’t help myself!

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Of course, how could I forget Barbara’s post on Its About time! Thank you for those fascinating links.

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