The Chinese taste in British gardens

A 'peacock pheasant' perched on a camellia, plate 67 in George Edward's Natural History of Uncommon Birds, 1745.

A peacock pheasant perched on a camellia, plate 67 in George Edwards’s Natural History of Uncommon Birds, 1745.

This Friday (19 June) I will be speaking at the New Approaches in Chinese Garden History conference, organised by the Centre for East West Studies at the University of Sheffield.

The conference is in honour of Dr Alison Hardie, who has been central to burgeoning field of scholarship on Chinese gardens. I am looking forward to learning more about historical Chinese gardens from an international group of speakers including Lucie Olivová, Georges Métailié, Lei Gao, Bianca Rinaldi and Peter Blundell Jones.

Detail of pheasants in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, hung in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of pheasants in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall, hung in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

In preparing my own paper, which will be about the changing significance of the Chinese taste in British gardens, I came across the wonderful plate shown at the top of this post, of a peacock pheasant on a camellia, from George Edwards’s 1745 book A Natural History of Uncommon Birds.

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bushsh

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bush

Although Edwards claimed to have drawn the camellia from a real plant – and camellias were indeed beginning to be grown in Britain at that time – the picture is strongly reminiscent of a Chinese bird-and-flower painting.

Detail of a cockerel in an English printed cotton, about 1780. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Detail of a cockerel in an English printed cotton, about 1780. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

In the decades following the publication of that book by Edwards you can see the Chinese bird-and-flower imagery ricocheting back and forth between east and west: in the Chinese wallpapers that were starting to be produced in Guangzhou for export to the west, and in the European imitations of that wallpaper, for instance in the form of printed cottons.

Did the European interest in Chinese plants stimulate the development of Chinese wallpaper? Or was it the other way around? We may never find the exact answer to that question, but it is nevertheless useful to discover these correlations between gardens and interiors.

2 Responses to “The Chinese taste in British gardens”

  1. First Night Design Says:

    Beautiful!

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Isn’t it? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: