Chimney-board in the Yellow Taffeta Bedroom at Osterley Park, decorated with a Chinese picture of birds, insects, flowers and rocks surrounded by decorative floral patterns, second half 18th century, possibly originally used as wall decoration. ©National Trust Collections
When I was at Osterley Park yesterday I noticed this chimney board covered with Chinese painted paper. I was wondering if it might be a remnant of what had once been the decoration of the walls of one of the rooms.
View of the Chinese Room at Erddig, showing the Chinese pictures on paper mounted on the walls in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
During the third quarter of the 18th century it seems to have been popular to decorate walls with Chinese pictures on paper or sections of Chinese wallpaper, framed with paper borders or gilded fillets.
Some of the 17 Chinese paintings hung in the bedroom of the 5th Lord Leigh’s sister at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, in 1765. They were sold from the house in 1981.
This practice is an intriguing example of Asian objects being inserted, literally and figuratively, into a western decorative framework, conceptually similar to the encasing of Asian porcelain in European ormolu mounts.
Some of the Stoneleigh Abbey pictures when they hung at Albemarle House, Virginia, from which they were sold in 2010. ©Sotheby’s
In some cases there seems to have been a practical element to this as well, as a means of making the expensive and relatively scarce ‘India paper’ cover larger expanses of wall.
The Chinese Room at Carton House, County Kildare, decorated c. 1759. Image from Lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.co.uk
Stella Tillyard, in her book Aristocrats (1994), quotes the Countess of Kildare writing from Carton House to her husband in London: ‘My dear Lord Kildare, don’t let Louisa forget the India paper, and if you see any you like buy it at once for that I have will never hold out for more than three rooms, and you know we have four to do; for I have set my heart upon that which opens into the garden being done, for ‘tis certainly now our only and best good living room.’ Perhaps Lord Kildare didn’t manage to obtain any more, as the end result was a careful composition of framed fragments.
View of the interior of a Santa Monica residence decorated by Schuyler Samperton, incorporating Chinese wallpaper panels produced by Fromental. ©Schuyler Samperton Interior Design
And this practice persists to this day, with framed sections of both antique and new Chinese wallpaper being used as decorative focal points.