Two papers presented at the Chinese garden history conference, held at the University of Sheffield last week, gave me a lot to think about with regard to the – at first sight unrelated – subject of Chinese wallpapers.
Liyuan Gu spoke about rockwork in Chinese gardens and Josepha Richard discussed the gardens of Guangzhou (Canton) in the nineteenth century. The images both Liyuan and Josepha showed were very reminiscent of Chinese wallpapers.
Many Chinese wallpapers show floral imagery, and it is generally assumed that most of these wallpapers were made in Guangzhou, the international port from where they were shipped to the west.
The visual evidence shown at the conference strongly suggests that at least some of these wallpapers specifically show the gardens of Guangzhou, or of the wider Lingnan region, with their abundant use of water, their stone embankments and balustrades and their profusion of potted shrubs and dwarf trees.
So this would seem to confirm the link between the wallpapers and Guangzhou. And it also provides more clues as to what we are actually seeing in Chinese wallpapers: a glimpse of Guangzhou on our British walls.