Imagined landscapes

©Emile de Bruijn

Alan Carroll at Surface Fragments recently did a post about French eighteenth-century artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement’s chinoiserie designs.

In response to that I thought I would show some more images of the interior decoration of the Chinese House at Stowe, which is in the Pillement style (with apologies for the amateur quality of my snaps).

©Emile de Bruijn

The painted decoration probably dates from the 1820s and is reminiscent of the decoration of George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

©Emile de Bruijn

The Temple-Grenville family who owned Wotton (where the pavilion then resided) knew the King and would have been invited to the Royal Pavilion. The head of the family, the second Marquess of Buckingham, was ‘upgraded’ to a dukedom by the King in 1822 as a reward for his politicial support. 

©Emile de Bruijn

The decoration of the Chinese House shows a rich mixture of influences, including Chinese export art, the illustrations in Sir William Chambers’s 1757 book Designs of Chinese Buildings and Pillement’s Rococo chinoiserie.

©Emile de Bruijn

The Pillement-style landscape panels imitate the look of red and gold East Asian lacquer. 

©Emile de Bruijn

The landscapes themselves are very much a European fantasy, however, with palm trees growing out of clouds, huge birds perching next to diminutive parasol-clutching people, and dragonflies whirring past ethereal pavilions and pagodas.

©Emile de Bruijn

When the Chinese House was restored in the 1990s its interior was found to be in relatively good condition – considering their exposure to the elements – and therefore the painted surfaces were merely cleaned and stabilised. They constitute a remarkable snapshot of late-Regency chinoiserie taste.

6 Responses to “Imagined landscapes”

  1. style court Says:

    Emile, the colors in your photos are gorgeous. They appear to be faded versions of Chinese red and maybe a deeper green. Or is it my imagination? Perhaps the European interpretation originally included slightly softer shades?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, yes the reds and golds have been preserved very well, except in some of the lower panels where the red has partly turned to black for some reason.

    I think the background was originally a cream or light buff colour, which has darkened and discoloured a bit with age (plus some colour distortion because of my amateur photography).

    The latticework in the doors was renewed in the 1990s as the original lattices were too far gone, hence the pristine state of the paint there.

    It must have made a very delicate impression originally – just imagine it with some Regency bamboo furniture and Chinese barrel-shaped porcelain seats…

  3. robert - innatestyle Says:

    Emile – I spent several fortunate years of my youth as design assistant to the late Tony Duquette in Los Angeles. Tony would have loved these photos and the subject. Please don’t fault your work in any way shape or form. We hunger for them daily.
    Thank you for making this available to us; this is brilliant!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Robert, thank you very much. Yes, come to think of of it, the Chinese House is rather ‘Duquette’ isn’t it?

  5. Surface Fragments Says:

    Thank you for the link. I always find it strange that our appreciation of this era is seen through the patina’d lens of age. That is; I wonder if we would appreciate this art quite as much if we saw in it in it’s original state – without the umber glaze of centuries.  

    The same applies to the popular Pompeiian and Colonial Williamsburg historical ornament (among countless other examples). 

    I mean, the work is still incredible; but am I the only one who feels a sense of deflation every time they restore another mural? What happened to that moody wash of nicotine?

    Pompeii was by all accounts a garish place to live, and as much as I love The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, I think the color scheme in it’s original glory would have woken me screaming at night.

    So thank you for posting these beautiful photographs, so that I can remember them in a way that they never really existed in the first place!

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Alan, you put your finger on one of the big issues in conservation: how far back should one take it? Should one just stabilise something in its present worn/aged/ruinous condition, or should one take it back to its intial state, ‘as the artist intended it’?

    Of course both approaches can be right depending on the circumstances, and sometimes conservators and curators have to compromise and end up somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum, because of physical or financial constraints.

    I have heard of cases where National Trust conservators have deliberately under-restored certain paintings, because they would ultimately have to fit into a picture hang with other paintings which were not in pristine condition, and you want to have a degree of visual harmony in a room as well as a decently conserved individual painting.

    As you say, patina can be extremely beautiful and add an interesting layer of mystery or even of melancholy. Some historic houses like Calke Abbey and Brodsworth Hall have been deliberately kept on the cusp of decay, because the experience of them is so much richer that way.

    But ironically it is much more complicated and labour-intensive (and expensive) to keep something in an attractive state of decay than to conserve it neatly. It’s a bit like those Japanese tea ceremony masters who spared no expense to have their tea pavilions and their teabowls look rough and humble 🙂

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