Archive for the ‘Staffordshire’ Category

A Chinese conundrum at Shugborough

April 19, 2013
The Chinese House at Shugborough. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The Chinese House at Shugborough. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The East India Company at Home project has been harnessing debate and research into the influence of the Asian trade on life in Britain. As part of its online archive of case studies, Stephen McDowall has just published a paper on Shugborough Hall’s Chinese connections.

Portrait of Thomas Anson (1695-1773), manner of John Vanderbank the Younger (1694-1739). Inv. no. NT1271032. ©National Trust Images

Portrait of Thomas Anson (1695-1773), manner of John Vanderbank the Younger (1694-1739). Inv. no. NT1271032. ©National Trust Images

Stephen demonstrates how Shugborough epitomises the paradoxes inherent in the use of Chinese objects and styles in Britain.

Plate from a Chinese porcelain armorial dinner service decorated with various symbols including the Anson crest and arms, reputedly given to Commodore Anson by the European merchants in Canton. Inv. no. NT1271545. ©National Trust Collections

Plate from a Chinese porcelain armorial dinner service decorated with various symbols including the Anson crest and arms, reputedly given to Commodore Anson by the European merchants in Canton. Inv. no. NT1271545. ©National Trust Collections

In about 1747 the owner of the Shugborough estate, Thomas Anson, added a Chinese House to the garden, probably inspired by the recent visits to China of his younger brother, Commodore (later Admiral and Baron) George Anson. Its design is said to have been based on a drawing of a Chinese building made by one of George’s officers. Moreover, it was George’s fortune, the result of the capture of a Spanish silver galleon, that enabled the embellishment and expansion of Shugborough from the mid-1740s onwards.

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Anson, Baron Anson of Soberton (1697-1762), by William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–1792). Inv. no. NT1271098. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Anson, Baron Anson of Soberton (1697-1762), by William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–1792). Inv. no. NT1271098. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

George Anson himself, however, is on record as condemning Chinese art and design as imitative, and he was generally rather rude about Chinese culture and society.  How do we reconcile his negative stance with the evidence of Chinese and Chinese-inspired decoration at the house?

Chinese mirror painting at Shugborough, one of a pair, mid-18th-century. Inv. no. NT1270818.2. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese mirror painting at Shugborough, one of a pair, mid-18th-century. Inv. no. NT1270818.2. ©National Trust Collections

The Chinese House was said at the time to be an authentic facsimile of Chinese architectural forms, but with the benefit of hindsight it looks more like a classic rococo chinoiserie folly. Moreover, the Chinese House was situated close to other garden pavilions and structures in classical and antiquarian styles, illustrating how flexible the concepts of authenticity and identity could be in mid-18th-century Britain.

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Yorke, Lady Anson (1725–1760), by studio of Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Inv. no. NT1271067. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Yorke, Lady Anson (1725–1760), by studio of Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Inv. no. NT1271067. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Stephen has also found a reference to George Anson’s wife Elizabeth being involved in the finishing of the Chinese House, which may be significant as ‘China’ – in its various meanings – was often associated with femininity in 18th-century Britain.

Chinoiserie cabinet possibly by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) in the Blue Drawing Room at Shugborough. Inv. no. 1270692. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Shakerley

Chinoiserie cabinet possibly by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) in the Blue Drawing Room at Shugborough. Inv. no. 1270692. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Shakerley

There are a number of Chinese objects at Shugborough, including an armorial dinner service and several mirror paintings, which were traditionally thought to have been brought back by George Anson. But there is not much actual evidence for that, and it is not clear whether ‘Chinese Shugborough’ was the creation of Thomas, George, or Elizabeth – or indeed all three. Shugborough appears to be a fascinating case study of the ambiguity of the idea of ‘China’ in Britain in the 18th century.

Shugborough’s heterogeneous landscape

July 26, 2012

Copy of the Arch of Hadrian at Athens, 1761-1764, at Shugborough, based on an illustration in James ‘Athenian’ Stuart’s ‘The Antiquities of Athens (1762). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

These recent images of Shugborough illustrate the surprising diversity in a mid-eighteenth-century British landscape garden. The Chinese style coexisted with the Greek and finished buildings were juxtaposed with deliberately contrived ruins.

The Chinese House at Shugborough, 1747. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Cattle roamed among the monuments to balance culture and learning with some refreshing rusticity.

The Tower of the Winds at Shugborough, completed about 1765, a copy of the Horlogium of Andronikos Cyrrhestes illustrated in Stuart’s ‘Antiquities of Athens’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Thomas Anson developed the garden and park at Shugborough between the 1740s and the early 1770s.

The Ruins at Shugborough, with the remains of a statue of a Druid. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

He based many of the garden structures on designs by Thomas Wright and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. The Chinese House, Chinese boathouse and the Pagoda (the last two no longer extant) may have been influenced by his brother Admiral Lord Anson’s visits to China in 1742 and 1743.

The Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough, partly after a design by Thomas Wright and with a relief based on an engraving after Nicolas Poussin’s painting ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Shugborough represents the ‘rococo’ moment in the English landscape garden, when cows roamed among Classical allusions and a Pagoda could tower over a Druidic ruin.

Cattle on the Shugborough estate. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The historian Dr Stephen McDowall is currently doing research into the development and meaning of the Chinese elements in the house and the garden at Shugborough, which will eventually be published as part of the East India Company at Home project.

Perpetual amazement

January 24, 2011

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, Surrey, showing the part-Javavese tea table, a Chinese porcelain vase and chairs inspired by Chinese Coromandel lacquer. ©NTPL/John Hammond

One thing that always surprises me about the phenomenon of chinoiserie is that people in the eighteenth century were so extremely keen to use East Asian elements in their houses and gardens. China  was so much more remote and incomprehensible then than it is to us now, and yet Asian products were used to decorate the most intimate domestic spaces.

The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English tended to be virulently anti-catholic, and yet they were happy to embrace objects from a culture that was not just non-Protestant, but entirely non-Christian.

The west front of Shugborough, Staffordshire, by Nicholas Dall, with the Chinese House (left) and several classical monuments. ©NTPL/John Hammond

And what continues to amaze me as well is the flexibility with which chinoiserie garden pavilions were mixed with classical pavilions and monuments without any sense of incongruity, as for instance at Shugborough, Stowe and Stourhead. In some ways our mid-eighteenth-century ancestors were much more broad-minded than we are.

I am aware of all the usual answers: that people loved the beauty and glamour of lacquer, porcelain and silk, and that they misinterpteted the meaning of the motifs to suit their preconceptions, etc. etc. – but that still doesn’t entirely take away my astonishment.

More about the deployment of chinoiserie in the English garden here (pp. 9 & 10).

Eastern approaches

July 29, 2010

The Chinese temple at Biddulph Grange. ©NTPL/Ian Shaw

I’m off to a garden history summer course – back next Thursday. It’s an Ashridge course called Eastern Approaches, about the various oriental influences on British garden design.

©NTPL/Ian Shaw

We will be visiting Kew (the pagoda by Chambers), Sezincote (an Indian-style country house), Fanhams (a Japanese-style garden), Nymans and Exbury (both full of exotic rarities), Batsford arboretum and of course the Regency gardens of Ashridge itself.

The 'idol' presiding over the garden. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

These pictures are of the ‘China’ garden at Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire, which we will also be visiting. It was created in the 1840s and 1850s by the wealthy orchid-fancier James Bateman and his friend the artist Edward Cooke. Even as China was becoming better known in Europe, Bateman was content to picture it as a Willow Pattern paradise.

The 'Joss House'. ©NTPL/Nick Meers

When the National Trust acquired the gardens in 1988 with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund it was severely overgrown, and a lot of research and work went into restoring it.


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