Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

Phoenix hunt

November 7, 2014
Phoenix (fenghuang)  in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The omens must be favourable for my colleague Andrew Bush, our paper conservation adviser, because he has recently reported a number of sightings of the elusive and auspicious Chinese phoenix, or fenghuang.

Andrew found one in the Chinese wallpaper at Nostell Priory, which was hung by Thomas Chippendale in 1771.

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. The bird was cut out and moved (to allow for a chimneypiece), which accounts for its slightly awkward position on the peony branches.©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. The bird was cut out and moved (to allow for a chimneypiece), which accounts for its slightly awkward position on the peony branches.©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Then he recognised the same bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, which is thought to have been hung during the 1770s.

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Cobham Hall. ©Mark Sandiford

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Cobham Hall. ©Mark Sandiford

And lo and behold there it was again in the Chinese wallpaper at Cobham Hall, where Bromwich, Isherwood and Bradley supplied Chinese wallpaper in 1773.

These phoenixes are more than just vaguely similar: they share the same stance, shape and disposition of feathers, suggesting they are all based on the same master design.

British printed cotton with a chinoiserie design, c. 1775-80, possibly used as a curtain, at Winterthur. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

British printed cotton with a chinoiserie design, c. 1775-80, possibly used as a curtain, at Winterthur. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

But to top all that Andrew has now spotted the same phoenix in a different medium, produced on the other side of the world: it also appears on a British printed cotton, dated to the late 1770s. This textile is now in the Winterthur collection, and is illustrated in the splendid new book Printed Textiles by Linda Eaton. In spite of the more western appearance of the design, the bird is clearly related to the fenghuang in the Chinese wallpapers at Nostell, Erddig and Cobham Hall.

It is tempting to speculate about the exact relationship between these Chinese painted wallpapers and that British printed cotton design. As yet we only have this limited visual evidence, but it is clear that there was some kind of cross-cultural, cross-medium exchange going on.

The familiar hidden in the exotic

October 29, 2014
Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have been reading the late James Cahill’s book Pictures for Use and Pleasure (on the recommendation of Christer von der Burg), which deals with the so-called professional painting tradition in eighteenth-century China. Traditionally the almost monochrome, semi-abstract paintings produced by scholar amateurs have ranked most highly in the canon of Chinese art. But Cahill makes the case that the colourful, realistic and detailed pictures produced by professional painters are also worthy of note.

Chinese picture showing an aspect of silk production, mounted on the wall in the Chinese Room at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture showing an aspect of silk production, mounted on the wall in the Chinese Room at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These professional or ‘academic’ paintings were intended for specific occasions or seasons, or to decorate specific rooms. As such they are among the ancestors of the Chinese wallpaper with colourful and detailed decoration produced specifically for export to the west (and it was because Christer knows of my interest in Chinese wallpapers that he kindly alerted me to this book).

Chinese coloured print showing a female figure in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bushted crop

Chinese coloured print showing a female figure in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bushted crop

Cahill makes the point that many Chinese professional paintings employ techniques and devices originally derived from western painting. During the late Ming and early Qing periods (roughly equivalent to the seventeenth century) some western illusionistic techniques like linear perspective, chiaroscuro and the depiction of interconnected spaces were introduced to China by Jesuit painters working at the imperial court and through the circulation of western prints.

Chinese painting on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion, probably mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese painting on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion, probably mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

These techniques also appear, by now completely internalised, in Chinese wallpaper or pictures used as wallpaper, especially in the depiction of volumetric shading in costumes and perspective and spatial recession in architecture. Taking that one step further, I wonder if this might have been one of the factors that made Chinese pictures and wallpaper so attractive to Europeans: it was excitingly exotic, and yet it included elements that would, on an unconscious level, have been comfortingly familiar to the western eye.

 

Palladian or Chinese?

September 2, 2014

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead, with the temple of Apollo beyond, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), 1780-1800. ©V&A Images

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead, with the temple of Apollo beyond, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), 1780-1800. ©V&A Images

In response to the previous post about the garden at Stourhead, Andrew helpfully pointed us towards some images of the so-called Chinese bridge there, which was built around 1749 but was taken down again at the end of the eighteenth century. I thought I would feature some of the contemporary views of this piece of short-lived eighteenth-century chinoiserie.

Temporary recreation of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead set up by the structural engineering firm Mann Williams in 2005. ©Mann Williams

Temporary recreation of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead set up by the structural engineering firm Mann Williams in 2005. ©Mann Williams

Single-arch timber bridges were often called ‘Chinese’ in the eighteenth century, probably because they were reminiscent of the bridges shown on Chinese porcelain, lacquer, silk and wallpaper.

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead by Copleston Warre Bampfylde (1720-1791), 1770s. ©V&A Images

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead by Copleston Warre Bampfylde (1720-1791), 1770s. ©V&A Images

Strictly speaking, however, the use of this type of bridge in Europe goes back to a design in Palladio’s Third Book of Architecture (as noted, for instance by Professor Timothy Mowl in his 1993 book Palladian Bridges).

View of the garden at Stourhead from the Chinese umbrella, by Fredrik Magnus Piper (1746-1824), 1779. ©Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, with thanks to John Harrison's Pinterest boards.

View of the garden at Stourhead from the Chinese umbrella, by Fredrik Magnus Piper (1746-1824), 1779. ©Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, with thanks to John Harrison’s Pinterest boards.

Palladian structures sat happily next to Chinese and Gothic ones in mid-eighteenth-century British gardens and there was a considerable degree of stylistic cross-fertilisation. Some ‘Palladian’ arched bridges acquired ‘Chinese’ fretwork balustrades, whereas others kept their ‘Palladian’ x-shaped cross-braces, but were still dubbed ‘Chinese’.

Sino-Palladian bridge in the park at Wörlitz, Saxen-Anhalt, originally built 1772. With thanks to John Harrison's Pinterest boards.

Sino-Palladian bridge in the park at Wörlitz, Saxen-Anhalt, originally built 1772. With thanks to John Harrison’s Pinterest boards.

The popularity of the English landscape garden ensured that these Sino-Palladian bridges were also exported to other parts of Europe – a nice example of the circulation and reinterpretation of a design motif.

 

 

Lady Bearsted’s Chinese taste

August 21, 2014

Lady Bearsted's bedroom at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s bedroom at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The other day I had a conversation with Katy Lithgow, the National Trust’s head conservator, about the revival of the taste for Chinese decoration in European and American interiors in the 1920s and 1930s.

Japanned gramophone player in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446524. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Japanned gramophone player in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446524. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

I mentioned the flamboyant interiors of Rose Cumming, the American decorator who combined Chinese wallpaper, lacquer and ceramics with up-to-the-minute shiny fabrics and jewel-like colours.

Chinese Tang dynasty terracotta horse in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446360©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Chinese Tang dynasty terracotta horse in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446360©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Katy told me that some of the rooms at Upton House were furnished in a similar style, in particular the bedroom and bathroom of Dorothy, Viscountess Bearsted (1882-1949).

'Chinese Chippendale' armchair at Upton, inv. no. 446427.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

‘Chinese Chippendale’ armchair at Upton, inv. no. 446427.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

These rooms, along with the rest of the house, were remodeled for Lord and Lady Bearsted by the architect Percy Morley Horder (1870-1944) in the late 1920s.

Queen Anne period japanned cabinet at Upton, inv. no. 446499. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Queen Anne period japanned cabinet at Upton, inv. no. 446499. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s bedroom had a neo-Georgian chinoiserie theme, with a number of pieces of lacquer, japanned and faux bamboo furniture set against wall paneling painted a kind of celadon colour.

Lady Bearsted's bathroom at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Lady Bearsted’s bathroom at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Her bathroom was even more dramatic, with aluminium-leaf walls, lacquer red pillars and – originally – a Chinese-style art deco pendant light fitting.

Chinese Dehua porcelain figure of Guanyin used as a lamp stand in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446359.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Chinese Dehua porcelain figure of Guanyin used as a lamp stand in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446359.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

All this chimes with what Rose Cumming and other interior designers were doing in America at that time and shows what an international phenomenon the interbellum chinoiserie revival was.

Seventeenth-century photo-shoots

August 12, 2014
The dolls house of Petronella Oortman, c.1686-c.1710, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-NM-1010. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

The dolls house of Petronella Oortman, c.1686-c.1710, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-NM-1010. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Last week I visited the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t seen yet since its reopening in 2013. I was impressed: by the new entrance courtyards, the layout, the helpful staff, the paint colours, the restored murals, the display cases and the text labels. And last but not least by the objects, which sing out in their greatly improved environment.

'Tapestry room' in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman. The 'flamestitch' textiles seen here have not survived as wall hangings in real houses. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

‘Tapestry room’ in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman. The ‘flamestitch’ textiles seen here have not survived as wall hangings in real houses. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

One of the things I had a good look at was the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, which was created between about 1686 and 1710. Like the big dolls houses at Nostell Priory and Uppark it provides a wonderful insight into the taste of its period. Objects or practices which have been lost in actual historic houses can still be encountered here. It is almost like a seventeenth-century photo-shoot.

Kitchen in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, showing the painted silk screens set into the windows above the dresser. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Kitchen in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, showing the painted silk screens set into the windows above the dresser. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Textiles, in particular, have often been lost from historic interiors through wear and tear and light damage, but in these dolls houses you can still see what kind of squab cushions they had and what the bed curtains looked like.

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.4. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.4. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

I was intrigued by the miniature representations of the pieces of silk stretched on wooden frameworks, called sassinetten, which were set into window embrasures of Dutch houses at that time. Presumably they were meant to increase privacy while still letting in the light. No full-size examples seem to have survived, as they would have deteriorated fairly quickly in the sunlight. But the painted decoration seen on some of the miniature screens in the Oortman dolls house is clearly in the Chinese style (and is similar to the scenes in the Chinese pictures at Shugborough Hall, for example). So did they use imported Chinese pictures on silk for these screens, I wonder?

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.5. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.5. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

And if the painted silk on some or all of these window screens was indeed Chinese, should they then be counted among the precursors of Chinese wallpaper? We tend to think that the development of panoramic Chinese wallpaper for the European market was preceded by the use of separate Chinese prints and pictures as wall decoration in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. These sassinetten may have been one expression of that taste.

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

9780199950980

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.


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