A Chinese wallpaper illustrating tea production

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing two men watering tea plants. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing two men watering tea shrubs. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I am writing a book about Chinese wallpapers in the British Isles – a follow-up, slightly more ambitious in scope, of the small catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the care of the National Trust that was published in 2014.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing labourers treading the leaves in large baskets. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing labourers treading the tea leaves in large baskets. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In the process of writing I came upon these detailed images of the Chinese wallpaper on silk at Saltram. This is a panoramic landscape wallpaper which shows the growing and treating of tea.

Detail of the wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing what appears to be a tea quality inspector at work, with clerks in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing what appears to be a tea quality inspector at work, with clerks in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Quite a few eighteenth-century Chinese wallpapers and paintings show scenes of agriculture or manufacturing, including the production of rice, tea, silk, and porcelain. The images tended to be based on illustrated treatises, such as the famous Yuzhi Gengzhitu, or ‘Treatise on Tilling and Weaving.’

Detail from the wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing carpenters making tea chests. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail from the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing carpenters making tea chests. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

For the Chinese these images confirmed the productive and orderly structure of their society, in which everyone was supposed to work together and know their place. This is expressed through the different types seen in this wallpaper, including labourers and craftsmen with the tools of their trade, clerks with lists at the ready and mandarins in their official robes and hats. For westerners these wallpapers provided a picturesque glimpse of how desirable products like porcelain, silk and tea were actually produced.

6 Responses to “A Chinese wallpaper illustrating tea production”

  1. meredithbdesign Says:

    I am so excited that you are doing this! can’t wait to see the finished tome…kudos to you for the work!

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you – I hope it will appeal to designers as well as art historians. We’re planning photo shoots at the moment, a lot of work, but exciting.

  3. Helene Gammack Says:

    I’ll look forward to the book. Interestingly I came across a reference to Chinese painted panels in an old house in the small Cotswold town of Wotton-under-Edge. They have long since been removed and are now in the V & A displayed alongside the Chinese Badminton bed. I think I saw old photos of them in situ at EH. The house is called Berkeley House, in the high street. You wouldn’t give it a second glance.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, Helene, the Wotton-under-Edge wallpaper is really interesting. When it was first acquired by the V&A in the 1920s it was thought to be Chinese, but then turned out to be English. I hope to illustrate this wallpaper in my book in the chapter about how the British taste for Chinese (and imitation-Chinese) things seem to have influenced the development of Chinese wallpaper. Europeans began using Chinese paintings and prints as ‘collage’ wallpaper from the late seventeenth century. At the same time wallpaper was being developed in Europe as a new type of wallcovering, some of it in the fashionable ‘Chinese’ style. Those factors appear to have given some Chinese workshops the idea begin to produce pictorial wallpapers for the European market – a new product, as they tended to use monochrome or patterned wallpapers in their own interiors. Early modern globalism in action!

  5. columnist Says:

    I’ve never seen wallpaper depicting these sorts of scenes, and they are quite fascinating. Your book project sounds very interesting, and I look forward to reading it, once it is completed. Good luck with all the hard work that will require its production!

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you, I will need it. I know of one other historic Chinese wallpaper with the same scenes, which is at Schloss Dyck in Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany, and was previously at Schloss Halbturn, a Habsburg seat in Burgenland in Austria.

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