Reflections of China

The Chinese Chippendale Bedroom at Saltram, with its Chinese wallpaper, mirror paintings and ceramics. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

On Tuesday 26 June I will be taking a group on a tour of Saltram, near Plymouth, looking at the Chinese and Chinese-inspired collections in the house. The tour begins at 6.30 pm, and to book a (free) place you can call 01752 333500. It is part of Sinopticon, a programme of exhibitions and events exploring what chinoiserie means in a contemporary context.

While preparing the tour I noticed the similarities and differences between Saltram, Osterley Park, in west London, and Nostell Priory, in West Yorkshire, all houses with important eighteenth-century chinoiserie decoration.

One of the Chinese mirror paintings, in English Rococo frames and with Chinese porcelain leaping carp figurines on the mantelpiece below, in the Mirror Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Saltram has a great collection of Chinese wallpapers complemented by Chinese mirror paintings, east Asian ceramics and sets of chinoiserie chairs. The Parkers of Saltram were wealthy and fashion-conscious, but they rebuilt and redecorated the house in a piecemeal manner.

Chinese mirror painting inserted into a neo-classical frame designed by Robert Adam, c. 1760, in the Yellow Taffeta Bedchamber at Osterley Park. ©National Trust Collections

The Childs of Osterley, by contrast, were among the super-rich and could really splurge on chinoiserie decoration. The decoration of Osterley included lacquer furniture, Chinese wallpaper, mirror paintings, Indian fabrics, east Asian ceramics, carved ivory objects, live exotic birds in the menagerie, a multi-room and fully furnished chinoiserie pavilion in the garden and a Chinese-style boat on the lake.

Chinoiserie pier glass by Chippendale, with matching japanned commode below, in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The chinoiserie taste of Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, of Nostell was slightly different again, as he concentrated on commissioning several sets of beautiful chinoiserie furniture from Thomas Chippendale, set against the backdrop of Chinese wallpaper. There was a chinoiserie garden pavilion at Nostell too, but it was a relatively small, portable affair.

I find it fascinating how the different ‘ingredients’ of the chinoiserie style were combined in different quantities and configurations at these three houses in the middle of the eighteenth century. In the tour tomorrow I hope to be able to bring out the uniqueness of Saltram by contrasting it with what the other ‘Joneses’ were doing at about the same time.

8 Responses to “Reflections of China”

  1. mary Says:

    I wish I could jump the pond to participate on your tour. Thank you for all the chinoiserie posts of the past, also. Mary

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Mary, glad you like it :)

  3. Rosemary Says:

    Wish I coud join your tour. Have you anything planned for the Cotswold area.

  4. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    I too would love to go on the tour.

    You note that the chinoiserie style was combined in different quantities and configurations at these three houses in the middle of the eighteenth century. Clearly they didn’t think they were totally renovating their homes into true Chinese homes – thus they had to make decisions about which rooms and which objects. I wonder who had the strongest influence in the decision-making – the architect/designer or the homeowner.

  5. Jack Plane Says:

    Damn! Ah well, your images will have to suffice.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Rosemary, not at the moment, but I will try to let you know when I do!

    Helen, that is an an interesting question. The lame answer is that it was different in different cases. For instance, Robert Adam sometimes just provided designs and let the client get on with it, whereas sometimes he would design and execute the decoration of a few rooms in a house, and sometimes he would do an entire house, all depending on the needs and the budget of the client.

    Adam appears to have been a very persuasive charmer, but equally some of his clients were very grand and used to getting their own way, so it could go either way.

    Sometimes we know from documents exactly who decided and did what and supplied what, but sometimes those documents are missing or less eloquent, and Saltram is an example of a place where there is relatively little detail in the available archive documents.

    Interestingly, Adam does not seem to have been very much ‘into’ chinoiserie, which leads one to conclude that chinoiserie touches in Adam houses must be more a reflection of the clients’ taste than Adam’s taste.

    But even then the picture is often complicated: at Saltram, for instance, there is no chinoiserie in the rooms that Adam weas asked to redesign, but there is quite a lot of chinoiserie in the rooms that the previous generation of the Parker family had decorated, and which was evidently liked and respected by their descendants. At Osterley, on the other hand, there is more chinoiserie mixed into the Adam interiors.

    Jack, I will try to reflect some of the content of the tour in a future post or posts here :)

  7. style court Says:

    Emile, is it my imagination or are the NT images getting stronger and stronger? I mean that the photographers seem to have the freedom to be more artistic. I think we talked about this before, but with each post the photographs are a little more powerful and evocative — so un-guide-book-looking :) Love the pulled back bed covers at Saltram and of course always enjoy seeing different interpretations of chinoiserie.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, it is very kind of you to be so complimentary about the images. There is probably a general trend towards photographing interiors to make them look more lived-in and less static.

    But it may also reflect my choices, as I select images, magpie-like, from the vast National Trust Images library, and those choices are in turn influenced by comments from readers like you.

    And as you know it is also interesting that Pinterest users tend to ‘vote for’ images that are either particularly visually attractive or particularly engaging, which again influences the images I use in posts – an interesting feedback loop :).

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