When I was at Osterley Park yesterday I noticed this chimney board covered with Chinese painted paper. I was wondering if it might be a remnant of what had once been the decoration of the walls of one of the rooms.
During the third quarter of the 18th century it seems to have been popular to decorate walls with Chinese pictures on paper or sections of Chinese wallpaper, framed with paper borders or gilded fillets.
This practice is an intriguing example of Asian objects being inserted, literally and figuratively, into a western decorative framework, conceptually similar to the encasing of Asian porcelain in European ormolu mounts.
In some cases there seems to have been a practical element to this as well, as a means of making the expensive and relatively scarce ‘India paper’ cover larger expanses of wall.
Stella Tillyard, in her book Aristocrats (1994), quotes the Countess of Kildare writing from Carton House to her husband in London: ‘My dear Lord Kildare, don’t let Louisa forget the India paper, and if you see any you like buy it at once for that I have will never hold out for more than three rooms, and you know we have four to do; for I have set my heart upon that which opens into the garden being done, for ‘tis certainly now our only and best good living room.’ Perhaps Lord Kildare didn’t manage to obtain any more, as the end result was a careful composition of framed fragments.
And this practice persists to this day, with framed sections of both antique and new Chinese wallpaper being used as decorative focal points.