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.
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.
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.
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.
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.