Archive for the ‘Claydon House’ Category

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.

Beth Katleman’s Rococo vision

June 6, 2011

Beth Katleman, Folly. ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

I recently spotted these images of an extraordinary porcelain relief entitled Folly, by New York-based artist Beth Katleman. The work is five meters long and consists of 3,500 individual porcelain pieces. It is inspired by the riotous wall decorations of the Rococo period.

Facsimile of a Regency chinoiserie wallpaper in the Bow Room at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Folly is reminiscent of eighteenth-century Rococo and chinoiserie tapestries, wallpaper and printed cotton, with their floating islands populated with whimsical figures and fantasy structures.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

The work also references the more extreme forms of plaster decoration, and the phenomenon of the porcelain room, with its walls covered with figurines, vases, cups and plates.

Detail of the mantelpiece in the Paper Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But upon closer inspection Katleman infuses these ‘high culture’ sources with a healthy dose of kitsch. The floating islands are populated by porcelain casts that the artist has taken from flea-market finds, including pencil sharpeners in the shape of famous monuments and cast-off plastic dolls.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Katleman aptly emphasises the surrealist potential of the Rococo style. At the same time she subverts the domestic associations of interior decoration, transforming the elegant into the uncanny. 

Detail of toile de Jouy in the Ante-Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Folly will be shown by Todd Merrill at Design Miami/Basel from 13 to 18 June. Subsequently it will be part of the exhibition Flora and Fauna, MAD About Nature, at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, from 28 June until 6 November.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Another edition of the work will travel to London to be shown, again by Todd Merrill, at the Pavilion of Art and Design, from 12 to 16 October. 

Chinoiserie plasterwork and carved wood decoration in the Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Todd Merrill website features a short video about Folly featuring Beth Katleman.

Contemporary chinoiserie at the V&A

January 20, 2011

The Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. The carved decoration by Luke Lightfoot is from the 1760s, whereas the Chinese export furniture and statuettes date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Friday Late is a programme of themed events at the V&A in London, taking place every last Friday of the month between 18:30 and 22:00.

Chinese export gouache showing people in an interior with a view to a lake, late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, also at Claydon. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The theme this month is ‘China through the looking glass’, an evening of performances, environments and live music exploring the myths and stereotypes of Chinese culture. The event is linked to the Sinopticon project and coincides with the stunning Imperial Chinese robes exhibition.

Detail of the Chinese Room at Claydon. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Included are films by Suki Chan and Erika Tan, light installations by Audio Architecture and SubJam, a Chinese cymbals-based soundpiece by DJ Lukasz, national flag cheongsam dresses and subverted chess sets by WESSIELING, Gayle Chong Kwan’s Manipulated Memory Tasting Booth, Stephanie Douet’s remote-controlled giant ceramic figurine, the Guerilla Dance Project, a performance piece by Ed Pien and a mythical opium den by Karen Tam.

Chinese export gouache showing music-making in a garden, late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, at Claydon. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In the midst of this dazzling phantasmagoria I will be taking visitors on a short stroll through the history of chinoiserie, starting at 19:30 and 20:15. I will be walking through the British Galleries and talking about the wonderful examples of Chinese-inspired design on show there, and how chinoiserie changed from being a ‘progressive’ style to being a ‘nostalgic’ one.

The optic of chinoiserie

October 13, 2010

Detail of a chimneypiece at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, with carved wood and plaster decoration by Luke Lightfoot, 1760s. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I attended a fascinating symposium at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London yesterday organised as part of a project called Sinopticon, which is exploring the concept of chinoiserie in relation to contemporary art.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the issues that came up was about the point of view that chinoiserie represents. I have been grappling with this question in an earlier post.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Glenn Adamson, Deputy Head of Research at he V&A, posited that chinoiserie is neither a window on another world, nor a mirror showing us a view of ourselves, but is instead a ‘theatrical optic’. By this he means (if I understand him correctly) that the perspective of chinoiserie is like that of a traveller in a foreign land, or a spectator in a theatre.

Glenn pointed out that with a lot of chinoiserie the viewer is simply invited to revel in the spectacle, and that there is no requirement to really understand what is being represented.

Are they debating issues of chinoiserie? ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I think this is an excellent analysis of how a certain type of chinoiserie works – such as the outrageous decoration at Claydon House shown here.

But I also think that our ‘optic’ of China was – and is – always changing, and that certain types of chinoiserie do reveal something about ourselves, while others show evidence of a certain degree of interest in ‘the other’. The Chinese House at Stowe is an example of some of those ‘window’ and ‘mirror’ perspectives on China, I think.

May the debate continue.


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