In response to an earlier discussion about East Asian lacquer Guy Tobin of Rose Uniacke very kindly sent me these images of a Japanese lacquer table. It shows the amazing verisimilitude achieved by the lacquer craftsmen in reproducing various plants.
One element of fiction – I suspect – is that these plants don’t all look like this at exactly the same time. I don’t know enough about Japanese plants to be able to confirm that, but perhaps one of you can enlighten us?
However, even the hyper-realist Dutch still-life painters used that conceipt of collapsing all the seasons into one perfect moment.
Another rather theatrical touch is the scattering of the plants pell-mell against a black background. This has its origins in the Japanese Rimpa style, where realistically depicted trees and plants are often set against semi-abstract gold or silver grounds.
This Japanese realistic tradition is mirrored by the detailed and lifelike quality of Chinese wallpaper.
To eighteenth-century Europeans, any East Asian artefact looked ‘fictional’, however realistically it was made. To them it was entirely logical to combine Chinese and Japanese products with European chinoiserie objects.
The trick for us now is to unlearn our more advanced awareness of East Asian cultures, and to see these mixed ensembles in all their hybrid wonder.