On her ever-inspiring Style Court blog Courtney Barnes has just posted images of a delicately painted Chinese painted silk coverlet in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is thought to date from the second half of the eighteenth century.
As Courtney writes in her post, this coverlet has some striking similarities with Chinese wallpaper, particularly in the way the trees and flowers, birds and rocks have been combined in artful vignettes against a neutral background. The picturesque rocks – and the basket and the lantern hung in the tree in the V&A coverlet – indicate that we are looking at carefully arranged garden scenes rather than untamed nature.
The floral borders in the coverlet also have parallels in Chinese wallpaper. They appear in the borders which were supplied as separate strips to be fitted around the edges of the larger paper drops.
These borders are clearly idealised representations of ‘floweriness’: various different flowers appear to grow from the same stem or tendril.
The same serpentine floral patterns sometimes also broke free from their restricted border role, filling entire panels of paper or silk.
You could almost call this an example of ‘the periphery taking over the centre’.
Stylistically, the garden scenery on the V&A coverlet seems to have elements of both eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wallpapers.
The scenery looks fairly realistic and ‘painterly’, which tends to be a characteristic of earlier, eighteenth-century wallpapers. But the tufts of grass in the foreground have something of the stylised look, and the colouring, of grass in nineteenth century wallpapers.
Some of this will be included in the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust, due to be published in early March. But this coverlet in the V&A was new to me and the fascinating relationship between painted papers and painted silks clearly needs further research.