Chickens and eggs

Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have recently been looking at the similarities between the flowering trees, birds and rocks on Chinese silk and on Chinese wallpaper. There seems to have been a lot of visual cross-fertilisation going on, not only between these different categories of Chinese products, but also involving the ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintz.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another element in this fascinating but confusing mix is the category of European leather wall-hangings, like this set at Bateman’s. Many of these hangings are clearly decorated with the same type of bird and flower imagery.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The closest parallels to these seem to the the stylised, serpentine ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintzes. But those, in turn, seems to have been partly influenced by European embroideries and by Chinese garden imagery as seen on textiles, lacquer, porcelain and wallpaper.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ problem: which came first? It may prove to be impossible to identify the Ur-version of this type of decoration, but we can certainly learn more by making further comparisons.

19 Responses to “Chickens and eggs”

  1. Robert M. Kelly Says:

    One generalization that could be made is that the vast majority of western wallpapers were designed in repeating patterns, while large-scale eastern wallpapers were not. Another is that the vast majority of leather hangings were also put up in repeating patterns. The photo of the dining room directly above shows a leather design which is atypical – even thought the design hangs together nicely, there are few if any individual panels which repeat. This indicates that it was more costly to produce than a repeating pattern from one mould.

    The accompanying design over the fireplace is a good example of a more typical design that could have been installed a number of ways over a large space (if indeed it IS leather; it’s hard to tell from this remove). This design could have been hung straight-up, or, in opposition to itself.

    We could even be looking at an “A” on the left, and a “B” on the right. In this way western tradesmen and their clients exercised considerable ingenuity apart from the design itself.

  2. Susan Walter Says:

    Once you get leather in the mix you have to start looking towards the Moors for design influences. That would be the route to India and the chintzes, as well as those produced in Flanders, I assume. When do the Bateman’s leather wall hangings date from? 19thC? Where were they made? I’m curious because it may answer some questions about some rather odd patchwork leather wall treatment at Candé.

  3. Tim Butcher Says:

    The one element that would make me think these were influenced by chinese wallpapers would be the rocks. The depiction of ‘scholars rocks’ is most definitely from chinese origin.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Robert, yes it is interesting that the overall pattern of this set of leather hangings is repetitive, but that the details differ slightly from panel to panel.

    As you say it is rare to find repeating patterns in Chinese wallpaper, but I was recently surprised to find images of floral wallpapers that seem to be Chinese but at the same time are clearly repetitive: one in the Hunting Hall at Houghton Hall (said to have been hung late eighteenth century) and one in the Boudoir at Bowhill (probably hung 1830s). Presumably these were inspired by European wallpapers, showing how the inspiration went back and forth.

    I am trying to find out more about that cornucopia motif in the Dining Room at Bateman’s.

    Susan, yes but by this time – early eighteenth century – they seemed to have used a mixture of ‘oriental’ and baroque motifs on these leather wall hangings. They are often badly documented and very little seems to be known about individual producers, but they seem to have been made in England as well.

    Tim, indeed the rocks seem to be related to those picturesque rocks used in Chinese gardens and on scholars’ desks. But the Indian chintz producers then borrowed that motif and stylised it further, so that they sometimes ended up looking like little triangular mountains, and then European embroiderers copied those chintzes – so what we see on the leather hangings here may be Chinese rocks seen through an Indian and then through a British lens 🙂

  5. Princess of Eboli History Masquerade Says:

    Lovely pictures!!!!!!!!

  6. David Skinner Says:

    A good (and beautifully illustrated) discussion of the origins and influence of Indian chintzes and the tree of life motif is in ‘Féerie indienne: des rivages del’Inde au Royaume de France’ (Mulhouse 2009) by Jacqueline Jacqué and others. There is a similar set of gilt leather hangings with tree of life pattern in the library at Malahide Castle, outside Dublin. Although these are eighteenth century, they were hung over a wallpaper of circa 1820, so were put up as ‘antiques’ – perhaps those at Batemans were used in a similar spirit? One interesting aspect of the adaptation of the tree of life pattern by western manufacturers is the way in which Indian imaginary flowers were substituted by more botanically based blooms, linking in with embroidery and other arts. As far as I can see, the flowers at Batemans are tending towards the botanically recognisable. Irish wallpaper makers adapted chintz patterns as wallpapers, using both imaginary flowers and botanical ones. Tracing the origins of patterns such as the tree of life is indeed fascinating.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    David, thank you very much for that reference, I will try to get that book. And I have found a glimpse of the Malahide Castle hangings here:

    Yes Rudyard Kipling bought Bateman’s in 1902 and he ad his wife created or recreated the interiors we can see today, very much in the Edwardian antiquarian spirit. So the leather wall hangings were probably similarly introduced as ‘antiques’. It is interesting to speculate whether the part-Indian origin of the tree of life motif had a particular resonance for Kipling, in view of his previous life in India.

    It is true that the flowers look reasonably realistic, but on the other hand different types of flowers do sprout from the same stems, which is also a characteristic of the flowers on Indian chintz and of some of the flowers on Chinese wallpapers – particularly the later, more stylised wallpapers, and the floral designs used on border papers.

    And how interesting to learn that the chintz motifs also percolated through into wallpaper designs.

  8. Mary Hamer Says:

    Fascinating discussion. I note that Andrew Lycett’s biography of Kipling speaks of the Bateman’s examples as ‘fine eighteenth century English ‘Cordoba’ leather hangings acquired from the Isle of Wight’: Kipling’s father, Lockwood, had been trawling the dealers of Southern England on his son’s behalf. Rather than simply falling in with an Edwardian taste for the antique, Rudyard himself went to great lengths to fit the furnishings to the period of Bateman’s. He was absolutely in love with the house but complained a little ruefully that ‘the worst of the place is that it simply will not endure modern furniture’.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mary, thank you so much for that reference – would you be able to give me the page number in Lycett’s biography where that is mentioned, so I can add it to our catalogue record of the hangings?

    How interesting that Kipling’s father was involved with the redecoration of Bateman’s. He seems to have been a versatile artist and designer (as well as a teacher and curator), making illustrations, terracotta reliefs and ceramic designs. Kipling junior’s charming bookplate of him riding on an elephant while engrossed in a book is by Kipling senior (see

    Kipling senior also helped to create the Indian-style Durbar Room at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s residence on the Isle of Wight (see for instance and One wonders whether he found the leather hangings while on the Isle of Wight for that commission?

    And what a nice quote from Kipling junior about the pleasurable problems of having to furnish Bateman’s with antiques 🙂

    • Mary Hamer Says:

      You’ll find the information on p.470 of Lycett, Emile. Lockwood was an absolutely remarkable man in his own right: You can tell how his scholarship and taste helped to educate and inform Rudyard’s. Before getting involved in furnishing Bateman’s he’d helped to decorate Naulakha, the Kiplings’ house in Vermont, sending fabrics from India and making a plaster panel in the nursery. In researching and writing my novel, Kipling & Trix I became fascinated by his strengths nd failings as a father too.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you very much indeed, I will add that reference (with a mention of your help in alerting us to it) to the catalogue entries.

  11. Andrew Says:

    Oh, sorry, Emile, I thought you would have known the detail about the Isle of Wight. It is mentioned in a variety of places, for example:

    There is a tantalising suggestion here that the leather hangings came from the old Osborne House that Victoria had demolished over 50 years before.

    But the biography is no doubt a better place to start for a reliable source! Hopefully the notes will allow you to find something contemporaneous: apparently there is a letter by Kipling in 1902 describing the purchase of the leather wall hangings. See

    The NT prints website seems to think they are from Spain (an understandable although I think mistaken conclusion) –

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much Andrew. Some of my colleagues probably knew about this, but it hadn’t found its way onto the collections database yet, to which I will now add these references.

    Interesting possibility that they came from the old, pre-Victoria & Albert Osborne House, which sounds plausible in view of Kipling senior’s involvement there – but as you say we would need some firm documentation.

    And yes I think these hangings are more likely to be English, or perhaps Dutch or Flemish, than Spanish. I think this might be a case of ‘caption creep’ – the description starting out as ‘Cordoba’ (meaning Cordoba-style), to the word then losing its hyphens and then being copied as definitely Spanish 🙂

  13. Andrew Says:

    Ah, now – the old Osborne House was a simple three-storey Georgian property constructed by the Blachford family. They inherited the estate (through marriage) in 1705. Like many English families, they made money in the slave trade.

    Lady Isabella Blachford (née Fitzroy, daughter of the 3rd Duke of Grafton) sold the estate to Victoria and Albert in 1845. She was the widow of Barrington Pope Blachford, MP for Newtown, who died aged 32 in 1816 (his great-grandfather married the heiress Elizabeth Mann in the 1670s, through whom the Blachfords acquired the property some 20 years after her death in 1685!). Their only son Fitzroy also died young, aged 26 in 1840, although there was also a daughter, Isabella Eliza. I believe it was Barrington’s father Robert Pope Blachford who built/extended the old house in the 1770s. He died in 1790.

    So it is not entirely clear where the Cordoba hangings came from! Would they have been fashionable in the 1770s? Or possibly a relic from an older house?

    Here is a watercolour of the old house. The porch of the old house – just visible on the the right facade in the watercolour – was reused as the entrance to the walled garden in the new Osborne House.

  14. Andrew Says:

    Sorry, missed off a great – it was his great-great-grandfather, another Robert.

    Also, we don’t seem to have a link to the hangings and screen at the NT Collections website. Here they are:

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, thanks very much indeed for those additional facts and references. These leather hanging seem to have been a late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century taste, so if they did come from the old Osborne House they may have been a remnant of the older structure.

  16. Andrew Says:

    I see you have updated the NT Collections website already!

  17. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    But of course – such useful information needs to be captured 🙂

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