The catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is now on its way to the printers and should be out by the middle of March.
We hope it will stimulate debate and research around the dating, stylistic development and social and economic contexts of Chinese wallpaper – as well as providing some jolts of visual beauty, of course.
It is interesting to compare the wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s (seen here), with the wallpaper at Nostell Priory, mostly hung in 1771 (as seen in this post). They are technically and stylistically similar: fully painted (without the printed elements seen in earlier wallpapers), but with ‘painterly’ scenery quite close to traditional Chinese ‘bird and flower’ painting.
Later, nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers tend to more stylised – developing away from ‘art’ and more towards ‘design’, perhaps – but these late eighteenth century examples at Erddig and Nostell seem to define the ‘middle style’.
Such issues will become clearer as we compare more examples from historic houses and collections across the world, and hopefully our catalogue will make a small contribution towards that ongoing research.
We also want to learn more about the Chinese background to this imagery. The Buddha’s hand citron, which appears in the Erddig wallpaper, for instance, has a number of auspicious meanings ranging – depending on the context – from the spiritual to the erotic, as I have just been discovering in the catalogue Beauty Revealed: Images of Women in Qing Dynasty Chinese Painting by the late Timothy Cahill and others.