Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

Seeing red at the Royal Pavilion

July 22, 2014
Detail from a panel in the south wall of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, painted by Frederick Crace, oil on canvas. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Detail from a panel in the south wall of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, painted by Frederick Crace, oil on canvas. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Another example of the decorative complexity of the Royal Pavilion, which Alexandra Loske discussed in her recent talk, is the ‘red lacquer’ used on the walls in the Music Room.

Coloured engraving of a Chinese city gate after William Alexander, published by G. and W. Nicol, London, 1798, and later included in the book The Costume of China (1805). ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Coloured engraving of a Chinese city gate after William Alexander, published by G. and W. Nicol, London, 1798, and later included in the book The Costume of China (1805). ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

As Alexandra explains, the motifs for this scheme were derived from illustrated books on China, such as William Alexander’s The Costume of China (1805).

Japanned cabinet imitating Chinese lacquer, at Snowshill Manor, inv. no. 1331909. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Japanned cabinet imitating Chinese lacquer, at Snowshill Manor, inv. no. 1331909. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

The colour scheme, however, is clearly influenced by red and gold Asian lacquer, which had long been popular in the west.

The Japan Room at Frogmore House by Charles Wild, 1819. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The Japan Room at Frogmore House by Charles Wild, 1819. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Both at Buckingham Palace and at Frogmore House on the Windsor estate there were chinoiserie interiors incorporating lacquer and lacquer effects, which may also have influenced the Prince Regent and his design team.

View of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, engraved by J. Agar, J. Stephanoff and J. Tingli after Augustus Charles Pugin, 1824, and used to illustrate John Nash’s book The Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826). © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

View of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, engraved by J. Agar, J. Stephanoff and J. Tingli after Augustus Charles Pugin, 1824, and used to illustrate John Nash’s book The Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826). © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

However, Alexandra also noted the artistry of the designers purely at the level of colour. The Music Room is dominated by the three primary colours red, blue and yellow/gold in pure, saturated tints. This combining of complementary colours was known from contemporary colour theory to produce a particularly brilliant effect.

Thinking pink at the Royal Pavilion

July 15, 2014
The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

At the recent ‘Objects, Families, Homes’ conference of the East India Company at Home project I heard a fascinating lecture by Dr Alexandra Loske about the rich array of colours and motifs in the interiors of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Alexandra teased out how some of the decoration came from Chinese sources, such as famille rose porcelain and mandarins’ robes, while other elements came from European illustrated books about China and the ongoing tradition of imitation-Chinese – or chinoiserie – decoration.

The Long Gallery in John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

The Long Gallery in John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

Out of these diverse and and sometimes unexpected influences the ‘design team’ – comprised of the Prince of Wales (client), John Nash (architect) and John and Frederick Crace and Robert Jones (designers) – then created the extraordinarily rich synthesis that we can still experience at the Royal Pavilion today.

Alexandra Loske holding Moses Harris's influential The Natural System of Colours (c.1769-76), and with a fragment of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in the background.

Alexandra Loske holding Moses Harris’s influential The Natural System of Colours (c.1769-76), and with a fragment of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in the background.

Alexandra has also master-minded a special display at the Royal pavilion entitled ‘Regency Colour and Beyond – 1785-1850′, about the Regency-period fascination with colour. The display has been based on Alexandra’s research, which was carried out in collaboration with the conservators at the Royal Pavilion and pigment specialists at the National Gallery.

Fragment of the original wall decoration of the Long Gallery, inspired in part by Chinese wallpaper and in part by famille rose porcelain. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Fragment of the original wall decoration of the Long Gallery, inspired in part by Chinese wallpaper and in part by famille rose porcelain. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The project was part of Alexandra’s collaborative doctorate, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which aims to encourage interaction between academic and non-academic institutions and businesses. I, for one, hope to learn more from Alexandra about the role of Chinese wallpaper in the development of the Royal Pavilion.

A Taste for China

May 29, 2014

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There has recently been a spate of books examining the west’s historical fascination with east Asia through the lens of literature and the history of ideas. I have previously featured Chi-Ming Yang’s Performing China and Yu Liu’s Seeds of a Different Eden.

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Teapot, Ginger Jar and Slave Candlestick, c. 1695. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Teapot, Ginger Jar and Slave Candlestick, c. 1695. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A new book by Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins, entitled A Taste for China: English Subjectivity and the Prehistory of Orientalism, once again approaches the subject by way of literary history. But at the same time it also sheds new light on a question that has long puzzled me: why were China and Chinese things so highly regarded in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe?

Chinese porcelain teapot, Zhangzhou ware, c. 1650-1670 with European silver-gilt mounts, c. 1660-1680, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139006). ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Chinese porcelain teapot, Zhangzhou ware, c. 1650-1670 with European silver-gilt mounts, c. 1660-1680, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139006). ©NTPL/Bill Batten

One of Zuroski Jenkins’s answers revolves around the theory of perception formulated by John Locke (1632-1704). According to Locke the mind is an empty receptacle which is gradually filled by external impressions and perceptions. In this view sophistication equals importation: the mind of a person of taste is like a collector’s cabinet, filled with wondrous things from across the globe.

This seems to explain why seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Europeans seemed to be so keen on collecting objects from cultures they barely understood, and to create decorative schemes that combined eastern and western styles without any sense of incongruity.

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Still Life with Silver Wine Decanter, Tulip, Yixing Teapot and Globe, c. 1690. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Still Life with Silver Wine Decanter, Tulip, Yixing Teapot and Globe, c. 1690. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Zuroski Jenkins also argues that in the course of the eighteenth century there occurred a shift from this cosmopolitan idea of taste to a more polarised opposition between the self and the other, which increasingly defined China as something that stood in contrast to the British sense of identity.

These are just a few snippets from Zuroski Jenkins’s complex book, which I now want to reread to savour her analysis more fully. But it confirms my hunch that ‘China’ in 1700 and ‘China’ in 1800 were two radically different things.

Chinese wallpaper in National Trust houses

May 6, 2014
Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

As some of you will know, Andrew Bush, Dr Helen Clifford and I have been preparing a catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the care of the National Trust. This little publication is now available through the National Trust online shop at an introductory price of £9.99.

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We hope the catalogue will widen the interest into these beautiful wallpapers. We also hope it will lead to more exchange of information, as so much is still unclear about the origins and development of Chinese wallpaper.

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Writing the catalogue has been a voyage of discovery. For instance, we hadn’t realised before how closely related the wallpapers at Erddig and Nostell Priory actually are. Although they are both painted by hand, some motifs are practically identical, meaning that the same models or templates must have been used in the making of both papers.

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

There are also strong similarities between these two wallpapers and the ones preserved at Cobham Hall – now a school – and Milton Manor  House – still privately owned. Yet another one hung at Ashburnham Place and is now at Blair House, the presidential guest house in Washington DC – with thanks to Michael Shepherd and Robert M. Kelly for telling us about it. Through these discoveries we can now begin to identify a ’1760s-70s style’ in Chinese floral wallpapers.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National trust/Andrew Bush

Investigations by Lucy Johnson at Woburn Abbey have also just brought to light fragments of a Chinese wallpaper hung in 1752 which clearly relates to the wallpapers at Felbrigg Hall and Ightham Mote.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We are keen to explore the links with Chinese wallpapers elsewhere in Europe and America, as well as the original Chinese art-historical context. Organising a conference will be next on our agenda. So do please get in touch if you look after or know of anything to do with historic Chinese wallpapers.

Alive and well

March 28, 2014
Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

Fromental has just produced a new wallpaper called Folly which was consciously inspired by Chinese wallpapers from the mid eighteenth century.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

With its tall decorative rocks, prominent lotus leaves and pomegranates, Folly clearly references the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall and Ightham Mote.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

Folly’s colour scheme, too, with its pale, misty atmosphere punctuated by blue-green leaves and vividly red flowers, is reminiscent of the look of mid-eighteenth-century Chinese wallpapers.

Section of a Chinese wallpaper from Eltham Lodge, probably hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Section of a Chinese wallpaper from Eltham Lodge, probably hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But Tim Butcher of Fromental tells me that they were also influenced by some Chinese wallpapers in the V&A which are from the same period – and when you compare Folly to the Eltham Lodge wallpaper you can see what he means.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

In spite of all that, Folly is a clearly a contemporary wallpaper, not a facsimile.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

It conveys a softer, more delicate impression than its historical cousins, and it contains anticipatory hints of the highly coloured and finished Chinese wallpapers from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

In this way ‘Folly’ is part of a living tradition: loving the past but reinventing it for the present.

Exotic and contemporary

March 21, 2014
Hunting scene in one of the Chinese wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Buitenplaatsen2012

Hunting scene in one of the Chinese wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Buitenplaatsen2012

Today Oud Amelisweerd, a small country house just outside Utrecht, was officially reopened as a museum by HRH Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Oud Amelisweerd ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Oud Amelisweerd ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

The house contains several Chinese wallpapers dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as historic European wallpapers.

Section of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Erfgoed Utrecht

Section of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Erfgoed Utrecht

The Chinese wallpapers are important both because of their quality and beauty and because they are related to similar wallpapers in Britain, for instance at Penrhyn Castle, at the Royal Pavilion, and at Saltram.

The foreground of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©DUIC

The foreground of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©DUIC

Much remains uncertain about the decorative history of Oud Amelisweerd, but the links between the Chinese wallpapers there and elsewhere are helpful in piecing together parts of the chronology.

Work by Armando at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Work by Armando at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Following conservation work Oud Amelisweerd now also houses a collection of work by the contemporary artist Armando – to add a frisson of modernity to the frisson of exoticism.

Birds and flowers

March 4, 2014
©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is now on its way to the printers and should be out by the middle of March.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We hope it will stimulate debate and research around the dating, stylistic development and social and economic contexts of Chinese wallpaper – as well as providing some jolts of visual beauty, of course.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

It is interesting to compare the wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s (seen here), with the wallpaper at Nostell Priory, mostly hung in 1771 (as seen in this post). They are technically and stylistically similar: fully painted (without the printed elements seen in earlier wallpapers), but with ‘painterly’ scenery quite close to traditional Chinese ‘bird and flower’ painting.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Later, nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers tend to more stylised – developing away from ‘art’ and more towards ‘design’, perhaps – but these late eighteenth century examples at Erddig and Nostell seem to define the ‘middle style’.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Such issues will become clearer as we compare more examples from historic houses and collections across the world, and hopefully our catalogue will make a small contribution towards that ongoing research.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We also want to learn more about the Chinese background to this imagery. The Buddha’s hand citron, which appears in the Erddig wallpaper, for instance, has a number of auspicious meanings ranging – depending on the context – from the spiritual to the erotic, as I have just been discovering in the catalogue Beauty Revealed: Images of Women in Qing Dynasty Chinese Painting by the late Timothy Cahill and others.

Chickens and eggs

February 13, 2014
Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have recently been looking at the similarities between the flowering trees, birds and rocks on Chinese silk and on Chinese wallpaper. There seems to have been a lot of visual cross-fertilisation going on, not only between these different categories of Chinese products, but also involving the ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintz.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another element in this fascinating but confusing mix is the category of European leather wall-hangings, like this set at Bateman’s. Many of these hangings are clearly decorated with the same type of bird and flower imagery.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The closest parallels to these seem to the the stylised, serpentine ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintzes. But those, in turn, seems to have been partly influenced by European embroideries and by Chinese garden imagery as seen on textiles, lacquer, porcelain and wallpaper.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ problem: which came first? It may prove to be impossible to identify the Ur-version of this type of decoration, but we can certainly learn more by making further comparisons.

Silk and paper crossovers

January 29, 2014
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Chinese painted silk coverlet, 1760-1800, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. © V&A Images

On her ever-inspiring Style Court blog Courtney Barnes has just posted images of a delicately painted Chinese painted silk coverlet in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is thought to date from the second half of the eighteenth century.

Nostell

Chinese wallpaper hung at Nostell Priory in 1771 by Thomas Chippendale. ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

As Courtney writes in her post, this coverlet has some striking similarities with Chinese wallpaper, particularly in the way the trees and flowers, birds and rocks have been combined in artful vignettes against a neutral background. The picturesque rocks – and the basket and the lantern hung in the tree in the V&A coverlet – indicate that we are looking at carefully arranged garden scenes rather than untamed nature.

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Detail of the Chinese painted silk coverlet in the Victoria and Albert Museum. © V&A Images

The floral borders in the coverlet also have parallels in Chinese wallpaper. They appear in the borders which were supplied as separate strips to be fitted around the edges of the larger paper drops.

Chinese wallpaper border, hung in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle in the early 1830s. ©National Trust/Andrew Nush

Chinese wallpaper border, hung in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle in the early 1830s. ©National Trust/Andrew Nush

These borders are clearly idealised representations of ‘floweriness’: various different flowers appear to grow from the same stem or tendril.

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Pole screen decorated with Chinese painted paper at Osterley Park, probably second half eighteenth century. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The same serpentine floral patterns sometimes also broke free from their restricted border role, filling entire panels of paper or silk.

Attingham

Chinese painted silk upholstery at Attingham Park, first half nineteenth century. ©National Trust

You could almost call this an example of ‘the periphery taking over the centre’.

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Detail of the Chinese painted silk coverlet in the Victoria and Albert Museum. © V&A Images

Stylistically, the garden scenery on the V&A coverlet seems to have elements of both eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wallpapers.

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Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle, hung early 1830s. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The scenery looks fairly realistic and ‘painterly’, which tends to be a characteristic of earlier, eighteenth-century wallpapers. But the tufts of grass in the foreground have something of the stylised look, and the colouring, of grass in nineteenth century wallpapers.

chinese_wallpapers_cover

Some of this will be included in the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust, due to be published in early March. But this coverlet in the V&A was new to me and the fascinating relationship between painted papers and painted silks clearly needs further research.

Peeling back the years

January 23, 2014
Fragments of Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke's Bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Fragments of Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Exciting things are coming to light at Woburn Abbey, the seat of the Duke of Bedford – and in quite a literal sense. Historic interiors consultant Lucy Johnson has been discovering the remains of an early Chinese wallpaper in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom there, which had been hidden by later wallcoverings.

Section of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammonder from the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Section of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammonder from the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

What makes this discovery even more interesting is that these fragments seem to relate to a Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall: the head of a bird visible on one of the sections of wallpaper in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom is identical to a bird that is part of the wallpaper scheme in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall.

Part of a bird on the Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke's bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Part of a bird on the Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke’s bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Andrew Bush, the National Trust’s paper conservation adviser, has established that the Felbrigg wallpaper was printed in outline and then painted in by hand. It looks like the Woburn paper was produced in the same way, presumably by the same workshop.

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Since we know that the Felbrigg scheme was put up in 1752, by a London paper hanger called John Scrutton, it would seem likely that the Woburn paper was put up in about the same period.

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper discovered at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper discovered at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

And indeed Lucy has found references in the Woburn archives to the decorating firm of Crompton and Spinnage having hung ‘India paper’ in ‘His Grace’s Bedroom’ in that very same year. This wallpaper must have represented the height of chinoiserie fashion in the early 1750s.

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Lucy is preparing an exhibition about these and other discoveries at Woburn (opening on 11 April) which will highlight the links between the orientalist elements in the interiors and the Asian plants and chinoiserie garden features outside.


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