Reframing China

Chinese mirror painting depicting two women sitting at the water's edge, in an English rococo frame, possibly late 1750s, at Saltram (inv. no. NT872228.1). ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Chinese mirror painting depicting two women sitting at the water’s edge, in an English rococo frame, possibly late 1750s, at Saltram (inv. no. NT872228.1). ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

A while ago I mentioned some of the different ways in which Chinese pictures have been framed in the west.

Chinese picture on paper showing a dance performance in a palace courtyard, in an English rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, mid 18th century (inv. no. NT1271100.4). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese picture on paper showing a dance performance in a palace courtyard, in an English rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, mid 18th century (inv. no. NT1271100.4). ©National Trust Collections

While doing some research on the forthcoming catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the houses of the National Trust I recently came upon a few more examples of this phenomenon.

Chinese mirror painting depicting a landscape with a woman sitting at the water's edge and a town in the distance, in a neoclassical frame, at Osterley Park, c. 1760 (inv. no. NT771801). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese mirror painting depicting a landscape with a woman sitting at the water’s edge and a town in the distance, in a neoclassical frame, at Osterley Park, c. 1760 (inv. no. NT771801). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese pictures have an interesting an puzzling relationship with Chinese wallpaper. The popularity of Chinese pictures in Europe in the late 17th century, which were sometimes mounted into the wall paneling, seems to have stimulated the development of purpose-made Chinese wallpaper during the 18th century.

Chinese picture on paper depicting a stage in the production of silk, with a Chinese paper border and mounted as wallpaper at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese picture on paper depicting a stage in the production of silk, with a Chinese paper border and mounted as wallpaper at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Collections

Even at the end of the 18th century, though, Chinese pictures were still being used as ‘wallpaper’, alongside ‘proper’ Chinese wallpaper. As ever, the marketplace has a habit of creating diversity and disrupting clear-cut, teleological stories.

2 Responses to “Reframing China”

  1. Andrew Says:

    When does a wall-paper (a paper mounted on the wall) become “wallpaper”? Are you aware of the the Emperor Maximilian’s Triumphal Arch and Triumphal Procession?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Well, exactly, and we don’t really know the answer. We only know that at some point Chinese wallpaper appeared, probably in response to western demand and inspired by the use of Chinese pictures as ‘wallpaper’.

    And of course today sometimes the opposite happens, with people framing sections of Chinese wallpaper as pictures – history going into reverse, or mirroring itself, as it so often does :)

    No I hadn’t heard of Emperor Maximilian’s cutting-edge 16th-century image-building exercise (http://bit.ly/13zLcbV) – how fascinating. And analogously one might ask when does genealogy become art, become brand, become politics?

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