Visions of the east

The Chinese Bedroom at Belton House. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Fellow blogger The Columnist recently featured some sections of Chinese wallpaper (hanging framed on the wall of his dining room) that reminded me of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House, Lincolnshire. The wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom was put up in about 1840, during the tenure of the 1st Earl Brownlow and his third wife, Emma Sophia.  

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese bedroom. ©NTPL/Martin Trelawny

The wallpaper itself is older, and was reputedly bought at the sale of another house where it had never been hung.  Some of the birds and butterflies were cut out from unused sections and pasted on, to fill the design out in accordance with contemporary English taste.

The Chinese themselves did not use such wallpapers and they were produced purely for export. The fashion for chinoiserie – or Chinese-style decoration – in the Regency and early Victorian periods was stimulated by the  extravagant interiors of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. 

©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The architecture of Belton represents the English house of the Restoration period in its purest form. When ‘Young Sir John’ Brownlow, 3rd Baronet, came into his inheritance in 1679, he decided to rebuild his family’s country seat in the latest style. Its design was inspired by the recently completed Clarendon House in London’s Piccadilly.

There is a certain continuity to the chinoiserie at Belton. As early as 1691 Young Sir John commissioned two tapestries from the Soho workshop of John Vanderbank which show a beguiling mixture of Chinese, Indian and Turkish elements.

One of the two Soho tapestries in the Chapel Drawing Room at Belton. Acquired with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. ©NTPL/Graham Challifour

Chinoiserie was popular in the Restoration and William and Mary periods because luxurious Far Eastern products such as porcelain, lacquer and silk were becoming increasingly available through trade. At this time China was admired as a sophisticated and rationally organised society. As these tapestries show, however, the English conception of the east was still quite hazy and tinged with make-believe. 

Detail from one of the Soho tapestries. Acquired with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Belton House was given to the National Trust in 1984 by Edward Cust, 7th Baron Brownlow. Thanks to generous grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Trust was also able to purchase the most importants contents of the house, and to set up an endowment fund for the property.

9 Responses to “Visions of the east”

  1. columnist Says:

    Thanks for the mention Emile. Yes, it is indeed the same pattern. Mine is a fragment of it, and is hand painted, and probably copied from whoever the author of this one was. I will make a link to this post.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Your fragment could be from the same workshop that produced the Belton wallpaper, or it could be from another workshop but the same type.

    According to Gill Saunders (in her chapter on Chinese wallpaper in the book The Papered Wall, edited by Lesley Hoskins, New York, Abrams, 1994) this particular type, with human figures as well as plants and birds, evolved after 1755 out of an earlier type which had just plants and birds. In some cases the figures are larger and more dominant.

    Perhaps other readers know of further examples of this particular type? Do let us know!

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Fellow blogger Barbara of ‘It’s About Time’ has just posted some beautiful shots of the gardens at Belton in spring:

  4. Janet Says:

    The National Trust treasures are boundless! I am so enamored of scenic wallpapers, Chinese or otherwise. The paper at Belton looks to be in extraordinary condition. Has it been conserved?

    And I do believe I would like to be Andrew Butler…he has a most glorious job!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes the colours are still quite good, aren’t they. I will find out for you what kind of treatment it has had.

    And I will tell Andew Butler that someone is after his job 🙂

  6. Beth of Chinoiserie Chic Says:

    Lovely post. What would Chinoiserie be without hazy make-believe?

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    In answer to Janet’s question, our paper conservation adviser, Andrew Bush, says that in general the condition of such wallpapers is affected by the quality of the Chinese paper supports, by the possible exposure to pollutants (e.g. sulphuric acid from gas lighting), by the housekeeping regimes applied in the past (shielding from sunlight etc.) and of course by their age. Andrew also notes that it is difficult to reverse any damage to these papers, so conservation treatment cannot really bring back any lost freshness.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Beth – yes indeed, the joy of chinoiserie is that it allows the imagination to take flight – as you demonstrate on your own blog.

  9. Janet Says:

    Emile, thanks for following up on this. Your answer makes the paper all the more amazing.

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