Lady Bearsted’s Chinese taste

Lady Bearsted's bedroom at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s bedroom at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The other day I had a conversation with Katy Lithgow, the National Trust’s head conservator, about the revival of the taste for Chinese decoration in European and American interiors in the 1920s and 1930s.

Japanned gramophone player in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446524. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Japanned gramophone player in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446524. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

I mentioned the flamboyant interiors of Rose Cumming, the American decorator who combined Chinese wallpaper, lacquer and ceramics with up-to-the-minute shiny fabrics and jewel-like colours.

Chinese Tang dynasty terracotta horse in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446360©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Chinese Tang dynasty terracotta horse in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446360©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Katy told me that some of the rooms at Upton House were furnished in a similar style, in particular the bedroom and bathroom of Dorothy, Viscountess Bearsted (1882-1949).

'Chinese Chippendale' armchair at Upton, inv. no. 446427.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

‘Chinese Chippendale’ armchair at Upton, inv. no. 446427.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

These rooms, along with the rest of the house, were remodeled for Lord and Lady Bearsted by the architect Percy Morley Horder (1870-1944) in the late 1920s.

Queen Anne period japanned cabinet at Upton, inv. no. 446499. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Queen Anne period japanned cabinet at Upton, inv. no. 446499. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s bedroom had a neo-Georgian chinoiserie theme, with a number of pieces of lacquer, japanned and faux bamboo furniture set against wall paneling painted a kind of celadon colour.

Lady Bearsted's bathroom at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Lady Bearsted’s bathroom at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Her bathroom was even more dramatic, with aluminium-leaf walls, lacquer red pillars and – originally – a Chinese-style art deco pendant light fitting.

Chinese Dehua porcelain figure of Guanyin used as a lamp stand in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446359.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Chinese Dehua porcelain figure of Guanyin used as a lamp stand in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446359.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

All this chimes with what Rose Cumming and other interior designers were doing in America at that time and shows what an international phenomenon the interbellum chinoiserie revival was.

6 Responses to “Lady Bearsted’s Chinese taste”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    That bathroom really is something. I always think of it as along the same lines as the Courtauld bathroom at Eltham Palace, which is gold leaf. Aluminium leaf would have won in those days though — much more cutting edge. I’ve always been surprised that the Bedaux’s at Candé stuck to tame old trompe l’oeil ceilings and turquoise ceramic tiles. I would have thought they were very much into this sort of uber fashionable chinoiserie. They certainly had Chinese furniture, including a bed from an opium den.

  2. robert dyer Says:

    Emile, I’m an admirer of well done Chinoiserie. I confess this is the first use of the word interbellum that I’ve encountered. Interesting…!

  3. CherryPie Says:

    A fascinating bathroom, but I am not sure it is one to relax in…

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Susan, yes and aluminium doesn’t tarnish, so it is easier to maintain than silver leaf.

    Here is a link to the images of the chateau de Candé bathroom on your blog: http://bit.ly/VHAlhx I think that tilework is stunning and at the same time quite subtle. You say it is a bit tamer than Upton, but actually I think the taste is quite similar, combining eighteenth-century elements with ‘moderne’, with a bit of oriental thrown in.

    Robert, yes I do apologise, that is my Dutch background showing through 🙂 – ‘interbellum’ being the standard Dutch term for ‘between the two World Wars’. I hope it catches on in English as I think it is an elegant, succinct word! And the similar term ‘antebellum’ is used in American English, I think, to mean ‘before the Civil War’?

    Cherie, yes you would probably be tempted to play those ‘thirties records deep into the night, wouldn’t you? 🙂

  5. Jo Allen Says:

    Most beautiful bathroom I have ever stepped into. Wish it was mine!

  6. Susan Walter Says:

    Thanks for putting in the link Emile.

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