Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

Fascinating fragments at Uppark

June 16, 2017
uppark 02

Section of Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, NT 138490. © National Trust/Paul Highnam

In the collection at Uppark, West Sussex, are some fascinating fragments of Chinese wallpaper, which emerged from beneath a later wallpaper after a fire in 1989. Apart from being stunning examples of Chinese woodblock printing (with colours added by hand), they also contain clues about how Chinese wallpapers spread through Europe in the mid eighteenth century.

uppark 01

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, showing how parts of various Chinese prints were added at the bottom. NT 138490. © National Trust/Paul Highnam

This section of wallpaper shows a pair of pheasants on a picturesque rock surrounded by peonies and other flowering plants and trees. These ‘scholar’s rocks’ (gongshi) have long been used in Chinese gardens as sculptural ornaments. In the Chinese visual tradition, pheasants are associated with ‘beauty’ and peonies with ‘rank’.

uppark 03

Ribbon-tailed bird (shoudainiao) in a print attached to the bottom of a Chinese wallpaper sheet, at Uppark, NT 138490 © National Trust/Paul Highnam

Most of these specifically Chinese references were lost on Europeans, but this did not prevent these wallpapers from being in high demand. To make this rare and expensive material fit specific walls, the paper-hangers deployed various ‘cutting and pasting’ techniques’, shrinking or expanding it as required.

uppark 04

Head and shoulders of a female figure collaged onto a section of the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, NT 138490. © National Trust/Paul Highnam

Looking closely at this fragment, we can see that parts of various different prints have been added at the bottom edge. On the left is a ‘ribbon-tailed bird’ (shoudainiao) on a scholar’s rock, depicted at a smaller scale than the main scenery, and in the centre we can see the head and shoulders of a female figure. Such prints could be bought in London in the same shops and paper-hanging establishments that offered Chinese wallpapers.

ightham mote 10

Section of the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote, Kent, NT 825922. © National Trust/Paul Highnam

Looking further afield, we find the same pair of pheasants at Ightham Mote, Kent. The wallpaper was clearly printed using the same woodblocks. The difference in colour is due to the diverging ‘biographies’ of the wallpapers: the one at Uppark remained covered up for much of its life, preserving its colours to a greater degree, while the one at Ightham was partly overpainted in about 1900 in an attempt to counteract the effects of ageing and damp.

ightham mote 06

Part of the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote, showing how it was arranged slightly differently to the paper at Uppark. NT 825922. © National Trust/Paul Highnam

Yet another identical pair of pheasants survives at Schloss Wörlitz in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, and copies of the print with the ribbon-tailed bird (actually showing a pair of birds) are at the Château de Filières, in Seine-Maritime, France. The whole of Europe was agog at these sophisticated Chinese products. More about these wallpapers and prints and other related examples will be revealed in my forthcoming book Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland.

Discovering immortality at Saltram

January 12, 2017
study-2013ab-12-oudamelseriesmaster-1

Chinese print showing a female figure with a hoe slung over one shoulder and an empty basket over the other, probably the immortal Lan Caihe, used as wall decoration in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Sometimes you are trying to work something out for ages, then you give up, then you come back to it and then suddenly the penny drops. As I am in the last stages of finishing the text for my forthcoming book on Chinese wallpapers in the British Isles, I decided to revisit the prints of female figures at Saltram, which had puzzled me for some time.

The Study at Saltram, Devon

The Study at Saltram, decorated with Chinese prints and paintings in the mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These prints depict female figures in elegant poses and with beautifully detailed clothes and accoutrements. I had long been wondering whether they might be ladies – because of their elegance – or peasants – because of the humble, outdoor nature of their dress – or perhaps even the Chinese equivalent of Queen Marie-Antoinette at her hameau, i.e. upper class ladies engaging in country pursuits or playing at being peasants.

But then I noticed the dainty hoe again that one of the figures carries over her shoulder. And I remembered that Christer von der Burg, the collector of and expert on Chinese prints, had once told me that one of the immortals carries a hoe. And then after some searching online the name Lan Caihe came up.

The Chinese Bedroom with wallpaper depicting scenes from daily life, at Saltram, Devon

Two female figures, probably immortals, pasted onto a partition in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Lan Caihe is one of the eight immortals, a group of deities connected to Daoism. Their characters and exploits exemplify Daoist thought and teachings. Various folk tales developed around the different immortals, emphasising their whimsicality and untrammelled spirit.

Lan Caihe is an androgynous immortal, sometimes depicted as a young man, sometimes as a young woman. She often carries a basket of flowers, a reference to the fleeting nature of life. She travelled around making a living from singing and dancing and is often shown with castanets or a flute hanging from a hoe slung over her shoulder.

study-2013ab-7ed_edited-1

Chinese print depicting a female figure with a fishing rod and a fish, possibly an immortal or other deity, used as wall decoration in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

So the figure at Saltram with the hoe and the basket could well be Lan Caihe. Perhaps the fact that nothing hangs from the hoe and that the basket is empty may relate to a particular story, perhaps with some kind of stern message to the effect that ‘the music is over, the flowers are gone.’

If that figure is indeed Lan Caihe, then perhaps the other similar figures at Saltram are immortals as well, or deities of some other type. Certainly the cape made of leaves that one of them wears – a nicely ‘untrammelled’ fashion statement – seems to point in that direction. But I haven’t worked out who they are yet. I will need to wait patiently for another flash of insight – or for one of you readers to tell me.

Cataloguing Chinese hairstyles

December 5, 2016
-

Chinese porcelain saucer dish decorated with a female figure sitting on a bench with a child offering her a lotus flower, Kangxi period (1662-1722), at Polesden Lacey, NT 1245638.1. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

As part of my research into Chinese wallpaper I have been noticing the elegant hairstyles of many of the female figures. I have been trying to work out whether certain hairstyles can be associated with certain periods, which in turn might help with dating wallpapers that we don’t have much documentation for.

Ch ex3 DR rm

Female and male figure in a Chinese woodblock print used as wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, NT 872998. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

I have facetiously dubbed one of the hairstyles ‘the triple gourd’, as the hair is piled up and tied in such a way that it forms three globular shapes, ending in a loop.

large_shg0384-nt-1270511-2-2

Chinese porcelain serving dish, part of a 25-piece dinner service, depicting two female figures in a garden, c. 1695-1710, at Shugborough, NT 1270511.2.2. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Another hairstyle could be called ‘the kidney bean’, as the hair rises up from the back of the head in one slightly curved vertical shape.

Both of these styles can be seen in mid-eighteenth-century wallpapers, but on porcelain they seem to appear earlier, perhaps from the late seventeenth century onwards.

Newly conserved wallpaper in the private quarters at Saltram, Devon

Chinese painting on paper depicting female figures in a garden, used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century, NT 873000. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Some Kangxi-period (1662-1722) porcelain depicts female figures with more voluminous, globular hairstyles, which one might call ‘the persimmon’.

-

Chinese porcelain plate decorated with a lady seated at a table, her head resting in her hand, c. 1690-1720, collection of Captain George Francis Warre, given to the National Trust by Mrs. George Warre, 1961, at Dudmaston, NT 813530. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

And in addition to those there appear to be other hairstyles, fabric haircoverings and a variety of hair ornaments as well as flowers or flower-shaped jewellery.

The Chinese Bedroom with wallpaper depicting scenes from daily life, at Saltram, Devon

Chinese woodblock prints of female figures pasted onto a partition in the Chinese dressing room at Saltram, NT 872998. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Some of these styles may have been regional, while others may have been associated with particular classes or roles, but much of this remains unclear. Regardless of whether the descriptive names suggested above catch on, I think the time has come for a proper taxonomy of Chinese historical hairstyles.

The craze for garnitures

October 11, 2016
Garniture of three blue-and-white baluster Delft vases, Kingston Lacy, Doret.

Garniture of three blue and white baluster vases made in delft and decorated with Chinese-style figures, late 1690s, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT 1250639). ©National Trust/Robert Morris

A ground-breaking exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum is bringing together fifteen ‘garnitures’, meaning sets of vases meant to be displayed together – all from historic houses in the care of the National Trust.

Garniture of porcelain jars and vases from China, The Argory, County Armagh.

Garniture of Chinese porcelain jars and vases, 1770s, at The Argory, Co. Armagh (NT 563412, NT 563413 and NT 563420.1). ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The exhibition has been curated by Patricia F. Ferguson, the National Trust’s ceramics adviser. As Patricia relates, the taste for garnitures goes back to the early seventeenth century, when Asian ceramics began to be imported into Europe.

Arranged on tables, cabinets and chimneypieces, they would glint and shimmer in the light of candles and fires. In an age when China was inaccessible and porcelain rare, they were redolent of exoticism and sophistication.

A group of Japanese Hampton Court style hexagonal jars, porcelain, c.1680 at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Garniture of Japanese Kakiemon porcelain vases, ‘Hampton Court’ type, c.1680, at Dunham Massey, Cheshire (NT 929282 and NT 929283). ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

But when war broke out in China in the 1640s and the production of porcelain faltered, both Japanese and European manufacturers came in on the act. Examples of all of these types and styles, and more, are represented in the houses of the National Trust, and in this exhibition.

The free exhibition is in room 146 of the Victoria and Albert Museum until 30 April 2017.

The language of love in Chinese export paintings

September 7, 2016

9780295994109-uk

I am reading Kristina Kleutghen’s fascinating new book Imperial Illusions: Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces. It analyses the surviving illusionist paintings which enjoyed a vogue at the Chinese imperial court in the eighteenth century, in particular those in the private quarters of the Qianlong emperor in the Forbidden City.

As part of that analysis Kleutghen also discusses the genre of ‘beautiful women paintings’ (meiren hua), which until recently have received scant scholarly attention. It is now becoming clear that what used to be regarded as generic and bland images of Chinese ‘gentlewomen’ are actually about desire and longing.

shg0175

Chinese mirror painting depicting a lady in an interior gazing at a pair of doves and about to write something, mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall, NT 1270824. ©National Trust Collections/Sophia Farley

These ‘beautiful women’ are shown in private spaces such as gardens or the inner rooms of mansions. In a society where respectable women were kept from public view, this already made these images somewhat suggestive. In addition, the pictures contain various hints that the women are in fact waiting for or are about to welcome their lovers. They may be high-class courtesans or concubines, objects of desire surrounded by other luxury objects.

This imagery was also used in Chinese paintings made specifically for export to the west. In the mirror painting at Shugborough Hall, for instance, the lady is looking tenderly at a pair of cooing doves, who are presumably mirroring her own thoughts and feelings. The room contains two barrel-shaped ceramic seats, suggesting that she is expecting someone, or hoping that someone will visit. She stands next to a table poised to write something – perhaps a letter to her lover, or a love poem.

large_dyr2683

Chinese mirror painting depicting a lake with a couple and a single lady in the foreground, in the Hoare collection, Stourhead, but currently on display at Dyrham Park, NT 452429. ©National Trust Collections/Seamus McKenna

When seen in this light, another mirror painting, from the Hoare collection at Stourhead, also seems to be about love and longing. On the left a couple is seated on a bench, closely entwined, reading a book together – perhaps a love story? The lady on the right, by contrast, sits on her own, with only a servant girl for company, her head forlornly resting in her hand, again gazing at a pair of doves who seem to mock her loneliness.

The European buyers of these pictures probably understood very little of all that and likely regarded these scenes as just innocuous Chinese genre paintings. But now this new scholarship is allowing us to understand some of the meanings hidden almost in plain sight within these pictures.

 

A Chinese wallpaper illustrating tea production

August 24, 2016
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.

A ‘100 boys’ lacquer screen at Felbrigg

July 27, 2016
Detail of the Chinese Coromandel lacquer screen, c.1700, in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Detail of the Chinese incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, showing boys in a landscape, NT 1398429. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The ‘Coromandel’ or incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall is fairly unusual in that it does not show the more commonly seen bird-and-flower or palace scenery. Instead it depicts a landscape overrun with boys.

The Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

The lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The motif of ‘100 boys’ (baizi) has a long history in Chinese art and decoration. As Patricia Welch notes in Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, it is said to originate with the founder of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE), who supposedly had 99 sons by his 24 wives and then adopted an orphaned baby boy to round the number up.

Detail of the Chinese Coromandel lacquer screen, c.1700, in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Detail of the incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg (NT 1398429). ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Male children were particularly valued in traditional China because of the importance attached to continuing the family line and to the maintenance of filial duties and rites.

The symbolic qualities of the scenery are strengthened by the auspicious objects and animals that the children hold and play with.

-

Detail of the incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg (NT 1398429). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the side panels of this seven-paneled screen is not Chinese, suggesting that it may originally have been half of a twelve-paneled screen – such large screens were often divided after being exported to the west.

The heyday of these incised screens was in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when they were very fashionable in Europe. This one may have been originally acquired by William Windham I (1647–89), who built the baroque west front of Felbrigg in the 1680s.

Cutting and pasting Chinese pictures

June 21, 2016
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom which dates from the construction of the room c1760 at Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Picture inserted into the overmantel in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. NT 356855.

This picture, showing Chinese figures in a landscape, hangs above the chimneypiece in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. The outlines of the imagery were printed with carved woodblocks, but the colours were added by hand.

CMS_356855

The overmantel in the Chinese bedroom at Blickling. ©National Trust/Paul Bailey

The picture is different from the surrounding fully painted Chinese wallpaper. Usually overmantel frames like this were decorated with mirrors or European oil paintings, but here the presence of Chinese wallpaper must have made it seem appropriate to use a Chinese picture instead.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom which dates from the construction of the room c1760 at Blickling Hall, Norfolk

The Chinese picture with the yellow line showing where the two separate prints have been cut and joined.

At first sight it appears to be a single picture. But when we look more closely we can see that two separate prints have been cut and joined together – indicated by the yellow line in the above image. The scale of the print on the right is actually ever so slightly larger than the one on the left.

Buck Pal Chin Chip Rm 1914 RCIN 2101873

The Chinese Chippendale Room at Buckingham Palace in 1914, photograph by Sir Alexander Nelson Hood, RCIN 2101873. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

I was recently discussing a similar collage of Chinese prints, which is in store at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, with Dr Alexandra Loske, curator at the Pavilion, and Dr Clare Taylor of the Open University. Here it is when it was still in the so-called Chinese Chippendale Room at Buckingham Palace, set into the overmantel frame.

559324-1443800521

The chimneypiece and overmantel in the Chinese Chippendale Room at Buckingham Palace, originally from Eltham Lodge, Kent, RCIN 2580.

The overmantel and chimneypiece are very interesting too, beautifully carved in mid-eighteenth-century English rococo chinoiserie style. They were acquired for Buckingham Palace by King Edward VII in the early twentieth century and are thought to have originally come from Eltham Lodge, Kent.

2007BM4865_jpg_l

Part of a Chinese wallpaper panel from Eltham Lodge, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E.2087-1914. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2016

The name Eltham Lodge will be familiar to those who know the Chinese wallpaper collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum owns a group of important early Chinese wallpaper panels that was removed from Eltham Lodge in 1911.

That makes me wonder if the chimneypiece and overmantel at Buckingham Palace, the collage of Chinese prints at the Royal Pavilion and the Chinese wallpaper at the V&A were all originally in the same room at Eltham Lodge? I don’t know if there is any hard evidence for that, but it would seem to be a possibility, and the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling provides  a suggestive parallel.

Leftovers from a wallpaper project

June 10, 2016
large_CMS_KLA00038

Two fragments of Chinese wallpaper found at Kingston Lacy. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

Kingston Lacy, Dorset, is not known for its Chinese wallpaper. It is largely the creation of the wealthy aesthete William Bankes (1786-1865), who transformed it into a showcase for his collections of antiquities and art between the 1830s and the 1850s.

kla00032

Another fragment of Chinese wallpaper from Kingston Lacy, showing a camellia. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

None of the rooms at Kingston Lacy are known to have been decorated with Chinese wallpaper. And yet the fragments shown here were found by one of our libraries curators, Yvonne Lewis, tucked inside a seventeenth-century atlas in the library at Kingston Lacy. So who put them there and why is a bit of a puzzle.

large_CMS_KLA00036

Further fragments – it appears they are leftovers from larger sheets which were cut up, perhaps to obtain small motifs to cover the joins between the wallpaper drops. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

Stylistically these fragments appear to date from the nineteenth century. The flowering tendril growing around a thicker branch or trunk is a motif often found in nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers, probably derived from Indian chintzes.

large_CMS_KLA00037

Small fragment of Chinese wallpaper showing part of what appears to be a magnolia, and also illustrating the fibrous nature of the paper. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

Having been kept in the dark, the colours of these fragments are very well preserved, reminding us of the almost garish appearance that these wallpapers originally had.

The white leaves represent another puzzle. Were they left white on purpose, to inject a element of monochrome chic? Or were they originally painted with ultra-fugitive pigments – perhaps light greens to illustrate fresh new growth – which have disappeared in spite of the fact that the fragments were kept inside a book?

Asian heirlooms

May 25, 2016
The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, is a creation of the early 1750s, as William Windham II was remodeling the house with the help of architect James Paine. It was then called the Bow Window Dressing Room.

Close up of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg House, Norfolk

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752, NT 1400532. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Chinese wallpaper was supplied by Paine in 1751  – it is identical to the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, where he was also involved – and hung by the London paper-hanger John Scrutton in the spring of 1752.

large_FEL3311

One of the mahogany armchairs in the Chinese style at Felbrigg Hall, part of a group of six, NT 1398493.1 – NT 1398493.6. ©National Trust/Sue James

Windham grumbled about the cost of hiring a London specialist, ‘at 3s.6d per diem while at Felbrigg & 6d per mile traveling charges, which I think a cursed deal.’ But looking at the careful cutting and pasting of the wallpaper, condensing or stretching it to make it fit the room, it is clear that this required a high degree of skill and design sense.

A 1771 inventory mentions six mahogany Chinese-style English armchairs in this room, with fretwork backs and armrests, and these are still in the house today. The fire-screen in the room, listed as having been decorated with ‘India paper’ – a Chinese picture or fragment of wallpaper – is now gone, but a similar example survives at Osterley Park.

The Cabinet Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Japanese lacquer cabinet, late seventeenth century, at Felbrigg Hall, NT1398387. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The ‘very fine India cabinet, brown and gilt’ also listed in the Bow Window Dressing Room is still in the house, albeit in a different room. It is in fact a Japanese lacquer cabinet, decorated with herons in relief against a background of transparent lacquer showing the grain of the wood. It dates from the late seventeenth century and may have come to Felbrigg in the time of Windham’s grandfather, William Windham I, who built the west front of the house in the 1680s.

In rebuilding Felbrigg William II showed an antiquarian sensibility, respecting the earlier parts of the building. The same attitude is evident inside, as he combined the newly fashionable Chinese wallpaper with his family’s older Asian heirlooms.