Archive for the ‘Chinese export wares’ Category

In a mottled mood

April 9, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Our little Chinese wallpaper study group was recently discussing the use of printed and painted paper borders which give a trompe l’oeil impression of mottled bamboo trelliswork. They were probably made by the same Guangzhou workshops which produced the actual wallpapers and they seem to have been particularly popular during the second half of the 18th century.

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The discussion was sparked off by the border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall. We also discussed a very similar border in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, originally from Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. There may be a direct link between the Blickling and the Hampden borders, as both houses were owned by the Earls of Buckinghamshire, albeit at different times.

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda's Museum, inv. no. S06489.  ©Breda's Museum

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda’s Museum, inv. no. S06489. ©Breda’s Museum

Anna Wu and Sander Karst told us about another similar border which frames two ‘pictures’ made up of sections of wallpaper that had formerly hung in a town house in Breda, in the Netherlands.

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick's widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick’s widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The taste for mottled bamboo caught on in England to the extent that the actor David Garrick and his wife had a number of faux mottled bamboo chairs in their villa on the Thames at Hampton between the 1770s and the 1790s.

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (nv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (inv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Even as late as 1840 imitation mottled bamboo woodwork and paper borders were still fashionable, as can be seen in the Chinese bedroom at Belton House.

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the 'wallpaper' in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the ‘wallpaper’ in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A representation of a decorative mottled bamboo fence in an elegant Chinese garden is visible in one of the pictures used as ‘wallpaper’ on the walls of the Study at Saltram, probably in the late 1760s.

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled 'The Eighteen Scholars', by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled ‘The Eighteen Scholars’, by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

In China mottled bamboo was  considered a rare and refined material suitable for scholars and other members of the elite, as is explained in an online exhibition of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The patterning was thought to add a sophisticated touch of natural boldness to fencing, fretwork, furniture and other objects.

Mottled bamboo and goat's hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Mottled bamboo and goat’s hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Jonathan Hay has recently written a fascinating study, entitled Sensuous Surfaces, about how materials like mottled bamboo interacted with other patterns, textures and shapes in Chinese interiors during the late Ming and early Qing periods, creating subtle interweavings of visual delight and cultural meaning.

Chinese wallpaper families

March 5, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As the work on the catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in National Trust houses progresses, an informal ‘advisory committee’ has sprung up around it consisting of a dozen or so academics, curators and conservators. We bombard each other with information and queries and general enthusiasm – a genuine little liquid network.

The Drawing Room at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Drawing Room at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

This morning one member of the group, Dr Clare Taylor, mentioned the similarities between the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote in Kent and the one at at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk. They are in fact almost identical, which makes them a good example of how Chinese wallpapers were sometimes produced as multiples, with the combined use of printing and hand-painting resulting in near-identical copies.

Detail ofthe  Chinese wallpaper at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Another member of the group, conservator Allyson McDermott, then chipped in by saying she had examined the Ightham paper in the past, and found that it had had quite a hard life, with quite a lot of overpainting and restoration over time. This probably explains the difference in colouring between the Ightham and the Felbrigg papers.

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A pheasant identical to one in the Ightham paper can be seen behind the bell cord. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A pheasant identical to the one in the Ightham paper can be seen behind the bell cord. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Allyson also mentioned that a Chinese wallpaper that was discovered under later wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, was also rather similar, and indeed it has the same ‘frosted’ palette of a white background, subfusc greens and bright reds, purples and blues.

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper found under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark, West Sussex.

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper found under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark, West Sussex.

We know that the Felbrigg paper was hung in 1752, and the Uppark paper is thought to have been put up in about 1750, so this appears to be a relatively early type of Chinese wallpaper. The Ightham one is said to have been hung in about 1800, which suggests that it was hung or stored somewhere else before coming to Ightham.

The antiquarian setting of the Drawing Room at Ightham, with its Jacobean fireplace, is in some ways quite incongruous for a Chinese wallpaper, but that is part of the fascination of this subject: to learn more about the different ways people used Chinese wallpaper in different places and at different times.

Life in the Chinese country house

August 7, 2012

Chinese gouache showing elegant company making music on a lakeside terrace. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

With apologies to Mark Girouard (who published the well-known social history of the country house, Life in the English Country House, in 1979) I thought it might be interesting to show this small set of Chinese paintings of interiors and gardens.

These pictures in body colour on paper depict elegant company engaged in various leisure activities in a series of interiors and gardens.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in a garden with a board game being played. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

We can see people playing musical instruments, playing a board game, arranging flowers and serving drinks (possibly tea).

Miniature trees can be seen growing in pots placed on balustrades and stands. Some people are sitting on chairs, others on seating platforms with bolsters, little tables and objets d’art close at hand.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in an interior with a view to a lake, one of the women holding a vase with flowers. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

One of the pictures appears to show a courtyard of a high official’s mansion or a palace. The symmetricality of this view seems reminiscent of western pictorial taste. Indeed, the style of these pictures generally is rather ‘western’, with the use of single-point perspective and shading.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company on a terrace with a view to a mansion or palace courtyard. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Paintings such as these were made for export to the west. This particular set is thought to date to about 1800. It would be interesting to learn more about how realistic these images were – whether the painters produced fantasy views of a semi-mythical ‘Cathay’ for foreign consumption, or whether these pictures, in spite of being destined for ignorant foreigners, were nevertheless based on indigenous traditions of realistically depicting upper class life. Do please comment if you know more about this subject.

Chinese gouache showing elegant company in an interior with a woman serving drinks and a view to a circular garden doorway. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

These paintings were bequeathed to Claydon House in 1995, where they form an interesting counterpoint to the outrageously fantastical chinoiserie decoration by Luke Lightfoot of the 1760s.

Being the landscape

November 29, 2010

Stourhead, Wiltshire, in autumn, with the Temple of Apollo in the distance. ©NTPL/Ian Shaw

In the most recent issue of Views, the National Trust’s technical bulletin, I published an article about Chinese landscape painting and its relevance to English landscape gardens.

Interior of a later seventeenth-century Japanese lacquer cabinet at Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The English landscape garden was developing at a time when there was a strong presence of East Asian imagery in Britain, both through imported goods and in the form of chinoiserie.

Early spring, by Guo Xi (c. 1020- c. 1090)

Traditional Chinese landscape painting is conceived as an expression of the dynamic harmonies of the universe. Consequently painters can choose from three modes of perspective.

‘Deep distance’ (shen-yuan) shows a bird’s-eye-view over successive mountain ranges towards a distant horizon. This perspective is the one most frequently employed in Chinese painting.

Lofty Mt Lu, by Shen Zhou (1427-1509)

With ‘high distance’ (gao-yuan), mountains are seen from below. This perspective tends to be used in particular for vertical picture formats.

Huts in autumn rain, by Wang Hui (1632-1707)

‘Level distance’ (ping-yuan) constitutes a continuous recession to a relatively low horizon. This type of perspective is most akin to that of western painting.

In contrast to the fixed viewpoint of western perspective, the three Chinese modes of perspective invite the viewer to zoom through the landscape, like a bird in flight. This sense of oneness with the landscape then allows the viewer to directly experience its dynamic harmony.

Do we discern hints of deep and level distance at Stourhead? ©NTPL/Ian Shaw

These finer points of East Asian aesthetics do not seem to have been grasped in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. The English landscape style was mainly a reaction against and development out of the formal Baroque style. But the ubiquity of Asian objects may nevertheless have given it a little nudge in the same direction.

You can read more about this in the full article, on pp. 56-8 of issue 47 of Views.

Degrees of exoticism

November 9, 2010

The state bedroom at Erddig. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I previously showed the red japanned cabinet at Erddig, but there is more chinoiserie at that extraordinary house. Right next to the cabinet is the state bed from about 1720 with its Chinese embroidered hangings.

Detail of the state bed, showing the Chinese embroidered silk and the gilded woodwork probably by John Belchier. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed was probably made by the London cabinetmakers John Hutt and John Belchier. It is a rare surviving example of a lit à la duchesse, a type of bed with a very deep tester introduced to England by William III’s architect Daniel Marot.

Craftsmen like Hutt and Belchier did not hesitate to combine east Asian and English elements. But at the same time their work shows great respect for and fascination with east Asian art and design.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the state bedroom, installed in the 1770s. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In the 1770s Philip Yorke I, the great-nephew of John Meller, and his heiress wife Elizabeth added another layer of chinoiserie to the house. It was they who moved the state bed upstairs and added the Chinese wallpaper to what now became the state bedroom.

The Chinese Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Philip Yorke I also created a ‘Chinese room’ for the display of porcelain, which was decorated with Chinese export paintings of crafts and trades.

One of the late-eighteenth-century Chinese export paintings in the Chinese Room, illustrating the pounding of rice. The printed border is European. ©NTPL/John Hammond

These pictures are meticulously realistic, and yet they are used mainly for decorative effect. Even though trade with China had increased hugely during the eighteenth century, the country had become more rather than less remote in European eyes.

Whereas around 1700 China was seen as an example to European nations, towards the end of the eighteenth century it was regarded as a country almost outside of history, where nothing ever changed.

Postmodern porcelain

September 17, 2010

Set of six blue and white Cola bottles by Taikkun Li, porcelain, 22.9 cm high. ©Pagoda Red

The Style Court blog recently featured these blue and white Cola bottles by Chinese artist Taikkun Li, available via Pagoda Red. They are a rather wonderful hybrid of modern global branding and traditional Chinese ceramic design.

Pair of Chinese gourd-shaped vases, porcelain, c 1635-40, at Ickworth House, Suffolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Their outline is vaguely reminiscent of a gourd-shaped vase, a traditional East Asian ceramic shape.

Baroque-style display of ceramics in the State Dressing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

Courtney Barnes of Style Court also alerted me to a quote by Taikkun Li, who says on his own website

The modern mind has lost all capacity to wonder. It has lost all capacity to look into the mysterious, into the miraculous – because of knowledge, because it thinks it knows.

East Asian ceramics on a late seventeenth-century Antwerp cabinet at Belton House, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I slightly disagree with him: I think his own work proves how we can recapture a sense of wonder, if we try hard enough.

Oak court cupboard with blue and white ceramics in the Music Room at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could insert some of Taikkun Li’s bottles among the ceramics on display at a historic house? They would look right at home, I think.

Fireplace in the Acanthus Room at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

They would fit into a Baroque setting, as part of a massed display of blue and white. But they would also work in an Arts and Crafts interior, on an oak shelf against some Morris fabric or wallpaper. Perhaps an idea for the National Trust’s contemporary arts programme?

Fact and fiction

September 13, 2010

Detail of a mid-nineteenth-century Japanese lacquer table. ©Rose Uniacke

In response to an earlier discussion about East Asian lacquer Guy Tobin of Rose Uniacke very kindly sent me these images of a Japanese lacquer table. It shows the amazing verisimilitude achieved by the lacquer craftsmen in reproducing various plants.

The entire tabletop (181 x 91 cm). ©Rose Uniacke

One element of fiction – I suspect – is that these plants don’t all look like this at exactly the same time. I don’t know enough about Japanese plants to be able to confirm that, but perhaps one of you can enlighten us?

Still-life by Jan Frans van Dael (1764-1840), at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

However, even the hyper-realist Dutch still-life painters used that conceipt of collapsing all the seasons into one perfect moment.

©Rose Uniacke

Another rather theatrical touch is the scattering of the plants pell-mell against a black background. This has its origins in the Japanese Rimpa style, where realistically depicted trees and plants are often set against semi-abstract gold or silver grounds.

Detail of Chinese wallpaper in the Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

This Japanese realistic tradition is mirrored by the detailed and lifelike quality of Chinese wallpaper.

Early eighteenth-century English Japanned bureau and chairs set against Chinese wallpaper, in the State Bedroom at Erddig, Wrexham. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

To eighteenth-century Europeans, any East Asian artefact looked ‘fictional’, however realistically it was made. To them it was entirely logical to combine Chinese and Japanese products with European chinoiserie objects.

The trick for us now is to unlearn our more advanced awareness of East Asian cultures, and to see these mixed ensembles in all their hybrid wonder.

Mirror world

September 6, 2010

The Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, Devon, with several mid-eighteenth-century Chinese mirror paintings in Rococo frames. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In a comment on my previous post about famille rose porcelain, Courtney Barnes reminded me of the role of the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) in the cultural exchange between east and west.

Courtney has also mentioned him in one of her previous posts about ‘Europeanoiserie’, or the interest in Europe in eighteenth-century China.

©NTPL/Rob Matheson

Mirror painting is another technique now associated with China which actually originated in Europe. Like famille rose, it became a sought-after export product that influenced the west’s image of China.

Castiglione is thought to have introduced mirror painting to the Chinese while working in the imperial palace workshops. Because of the Jesuits’ willingness to learn Chinese and to adapt to Chinese customs, they were able to infiltrate the Chinese elite, who valued their technical and scientific knowledge.

©NTPL/Rob Matheson

According to Graham Child in his book World Mirrors 1650-1900, painting on the ‘back’ side of glass panels was known in Italy in the fourteenth century. In this technique the paint is applied in reverse order, the details having to be put on first and the ground last.

The earliest mention of an English painted mirror is a report of one that was stolen from a dining room in Holborn, London, in 1660, and which had a landscape painted along the bottom. With mirror paintings the area to be painted had to be scraped free of the mirror amalgam first before the paint could be applied.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

By the mid-eighteenth-century the Chinese had adopted this technique and made it their own. Once again, the exotic was actually something familiar in disguise.

I am increasingly thinking that Chinoiserie and Chinese export art do not provide us with a window onto a distant world; that instead they show us a mirror, in which we see ourselves reflected.

Thinking pink

September 3, 2010

Large famille rose lidded vases in the Corridor at Polesden Lacey, Surrey. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the curious facts about the type of Chinese procelain known in the west as famille rose is that the pink colour used in it didn’t originate in China.

Pair of famille rose ducks from the Gubbay collection at Clandon Park, Surrey. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The recipe for this substance, a preparation of colloidal gold and stannous hydroxide, was known as ‘purple of Cassius’, after the German physician Andreas Cassius the younger who published the recipe for it 1685 – although he wasn’t the first to describe it. 

Jesuit missionaries subsequently took the formula to China, where it was introduced into the porcelain production process in about 1723.

Famille rose chargers in the Drawing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Ironically, Europeans admired famille rose for its seemingly exotic colour scheme, as well as its technical finesse. However, not only did the pink colour originally come from Europe, the decoration of many famille rose pieces was also specifically designed for the European market.

Famille rose fishbowl in the Saloon at Wallington, Northumberland. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Does that mean that we can never really appreciate something if it doesn’t have an element of familiarity?

Bowled over

May 28, 2010

Chinese porcelain punch bowl, painted in enamels with the western trading posts in Canton, 1780s. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

In 2008 the National Trust purchased a rare eighteenth century Chinese punch bowl with a provenance from Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. It is decorated with a depiction of the western trading posts on the waterfront at Canton (Guanghzhou). The acquisition was made possible by generous grants from the Royal Oak Foundation, the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

Chinese and westerners mingling along the waterfront. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

By imperial edict all foreign traders coming to China had to conduct their business in a restricted zone just outside Canton. There they could lease trading posts known as ‘factories’ or hong.

Chinese warehouses and mansions next to the western compounds. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

Patricia Ferguson, who has researched this bowl (and written an article on it in the 2009 NT Historic Houses and Collections Annual), dates it to either 1786 or 1788. This is based on a comparison between the national flags shown on the bowl and dated records and pictures of the trading activities in Canton.

The American and Swedish factories. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The flags flown are those of Denmark, Spain, France, America, Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands.  It is one of the earliest examples of a depiction of the Stars and Stripes. 

Nostell Priory. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

The bowl appears in an 1806 inventory of Nostell Priory, but it is not known how it was originally acquired – the Winn family of Nostell Priory had no links with the China trade.

The Small Dining Room at Nostell. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Patricia Ferguson makes the amusing suggestion that Sir Rowland Winn, sixth Baronet (1775-1805), who was a keen fox hunter, may have won the bowl as a prize for winning a horse race.


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