Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

A Chinese conundrum at Shugborough

April 19, 2013
The Chinese House at Shugborough. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The Chinese House at Shugborough. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The East India Company at Home project has been harnessing debate and research into the influence of the Asian trade on life in Britain. As part of its online archive of case studies, Stephen McDowall has just published a paper on Shugborough Hall’s Chinese connections.

Portrait of Thomas Anson (1695-1773), manner of John Vanderbank the Younger (1694-1739). Inv. no. NT1271032. ©National Trust Images

Portrait of Thomas Anson (1695-1773), manner of John Vanderbank the Younger (1694-1739). Inv. no. NT1271032. ©National Trust Images

Stephen demonstrates how Shugborough epitomises the paradoxes inherent in the use of Chinese objects and styles in Britain.

Plate from a Chinese porcelain armorial dinner service decorated with various symbols including the Anson crest and arms, reputedly given to Commodore Anson by the European merchants in Canton. Inv. no. NT1271545. ©National Trust Collections

Plate from a Chinese porcelain armorial dinner service decorated with various symbols including the Anson crest and arms, reputedly given to Commodore Anson by the European merchants in Canton. Inv. no. NT1271545. ©National Trust Collections

In about 1747 the owner of the Shugborough estate, Thomas Anson, added a Chinese House to the garden, probably inspired by the recent visits to China of his younger brother, Commodore (later Admiral and Baron) George Anson. Its design is said to have been based on a drawing of a Chinese building made by one of George’s officers. Moreover, it was George’s fortune, the result of the capture of a Spanish silver galleon, that enabled the embellishment and expansion of Shugborough from the mid-1740s onwards.

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Anson, Baron Anson of Soberton (1697-1762), by William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–1792). Inv. no. NT1271098. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Anson, Baron Anson of Soberton (1697-1762), by William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–1792). Inv. no. NT1271098. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

George Anson himself, however, is on record as condemning Chinese art and design as imitative, and he was generally rather rude about Chinese culture and society.  How do we reconcile his negative stance with the evidence of Chinese and Chinese-inspired decoration at the house?

Chinese mirror painting at Shugborough, one of a pair, mid-18th-century. Inv. no. NT1270818.2. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese mirror painting at Shugborough, one of a pair, mid-18th-century. Inv. no. NT1270818.2. ©National Trust Collections

The Chinese House was said at the time to be an authentic facsimile of Chinese architectural forms, but with the benefit of hindsight it looks more like a classic rococo chinoiserie folly. Moreover, the Chinese House was situated close to other garden pavilions and structures in classical and antiquarian styles, illustrating how flexible the concepts of authenticity and identity could be in mid-18th-century Britain.

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Yorke, Lady Anson (1725–1760), by studio of Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Inv. no. NT1271067. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Yorke, Lady Anson (1725–1760), by studio of Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Inv. no. NT1271067. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Stephen has also found a reference to George Anson’s wife Elizabeth being involved in the finishing of the Chinese House, which may be significant as ‘China’ – in its various meanings – was often associated with femininity in 18th-century Britain.

Chinoiserie cabinet possibly by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) in the Blue Drawing Room at Shugborough. Inv. no. 1270692. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Shakerley

Chinoiserie cabinet possibly by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) in the Blue Drawing Room at Shugborough. Inv. no. 1270692. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Shakerley

There are a number of Chinese objects at Shugborough, including an armorial dinner service and several mirror paintings, which were traditionally thought to have been brought back by George Anson. But there is not much actual evidence for that, and it is not clear whether ‘Chinese Shugborough’ was the creation of Thomas, George, or Elizabeth – or indeed all three. Shugborough appears to be a fascinating case study of the ambiguity of the idea of ‘China’ in Britain in the 18th century.

In a mottled mood

April 9, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper with its imitation bamboo trellis border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, inv. no. NT354141. ©National Trust Collections

Our little Chinese wallpaper study group was recently discussing the use of printed and painted paper borders which give a trompe l’oeil impression of mottled bamboo trelliswork. They were probably made by the same Guangzhou workshops which produced the actual wallpapers and they seem to have been particularly popular during the second half of the 18th century.

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fragment of a painted imitation bamboo trelliswork border, formerly at Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. E.948A-C-1978. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The discussion was sparked off by the border in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall. We also discussed a very similar border in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, originally from Hampden House, Buckinghamshire. There may be a direct link between the Blickling and the Hampden borders, as both houses were owned by the Earls of Buckinghamshire, albeit at different times.

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda's Museum, inv. no. S06489.  ©Breda's Museum

Sections of Chinese wallpaper framed with a faux bamboo trelliswork paper border, second half 18th century, from a house at no. 10 Ginnekenstraat, Breda, which was demolished in 1961. Breda’s Museum, inv. no. S06489. ©Breda’s Museum

Anna Wu and Sander Karst told us about another similar border which frames two ‘pictures’ made up of sections of wallpaper that had formerly hung in a town house in Breda, in the Netherlands.

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick's widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Imitation bamboo chair made of turned, carved and painted beech, c. 1790, owned by David Garrick’s widow. Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. W.27-1917 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The taste for mottled bamboo caught on in England to the extent that the actor David Garrick and his wife had a number of faux mottled bamboo chairs in their villa on the Thames at Hampton between the 1770s and the 1790s.

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (nv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Corner of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Belton House (inv. no. NT433859), showing the faux bamboo European paper border and the imitation bamboo trim on the doorframe. ©National Trust Images/Martin Trelawny

Even as late as 1840 imitation mottled bamboo woodwork and paper borders were still fashionable, as can be seen in the Chinese bedroom at Belton House.

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the 'wallpaper' in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Detail of a Chinese watercolour picture pasted on the wall as part of the ‘wallpaper’ in the Study at Saltram, inv. no. 871979. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A representation of a decorative mottled bamboo fence in an elegant Chinese garden is visible in one of the pictures used as ‘wallpaper’ on the walls of the Study at Saltram, probably in the late 1760s.

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled 'The Eighteen Scholars', by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

Detail of a mottled bamboo armchair, in scroll 4 of a set of hanging scroll paintings entitled ‘The Eighteen Scholars’, by an anonymous Ming-dynasty artist. ©National Palace Museum, Taipei

In China mottled bamboo was  considered a rare and refined material suitable for scholars and other members of the elite, as is explained in an online exhibition of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The patterning was thought to add a sophisticated touch of natural boldness to fencing, fretwork, furniture and other objects.

Mottled bamboo and goat's hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Mottled bamboo and goat’s hair writing brush by Li Dinghe, mid-19th-century. ©The Palace Museum, Beijing

Jonathan Hay has recently written a fascinating study, entitled Sensuous Surfaces, about how materials like mottled bamboo interacted with other patterns, textures and shapes in Chinese interiors during the late Ming and early Qing periods, creating subtle interweavings of visual delight and cultural meaning.

Hybrids in time and space

March 12, 2013
The Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle, Powys. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle, Powys. ©National Trust Images/Paul Highnam

The Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle is an extraordinary alamgam of objects, periods and styles. It was originally constructed in the 1660s within the medieval castle walls as part of a baroque state apartment for William Herbert, 1st Earl and later 1st Marquess of Powis. It would then have been used as a ‘great chamber’ or ‘saloon’.

One of a pair of commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois, probably 1760s. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois, probably 1760s. ©National Trust Collections

The colour of the paneling and the name of the room are relatively recent, however, dating from a 1930s redecoration by Sir Edward Guy Dawber for George, 4th Earl of Powis of the 3rd creation. In addition to European pictures and furniture, the room also contains a number of magnificent Asian lacquer objects dating mostly from the 18th century.

Chinese black lacquer screen, late 17th century, with English mounts of c. 1715. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese black lacquer screen, late 17th century, with English mounts of c. 1715. ©National Trust Collections

The pair of commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois, a French cabinetmaker with a shop in London, probably dates from the 1760s. The Chinese lacquer incorporated in them most likely came from a Chinese screen. An actual Chinese six-fold black lacquer screen decorated with similar scenery stands nearby.

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer dressing-cum-writing boxes, c. 1730. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer dressing-cum-writing boxes, c. 1730. ©National Trust Collections

The Blue Drawing Room also contains a rare pair of Japanese dressing-cum-writing boxes, hybrids items of furniture combining Japanese and European shapes and motifs. The Japanese craftsmen were probably not aware that the frames above were intended for mirrors and so dutifully lacquered the back panels with beautiful mountain landscapes.

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer knife boxes, second quarter of the 18th century. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of Japanese lacquer knife boxes, second quarter of the 18th century. ©National Trust Collections

The pair of knife boxes is similarly hybrid, combining European shapes with exquisite Japanese lacquer decoration. It is rather nice that the room as a whole is a similarly evocative mixture of native and exotic, old and (relatively) new.

Chinese wallpaper families

March 5, 2013
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room at Ightham Mote, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As the work on the catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in National Trust houses progresses, an informal ‘advisory committee’ has sprung up around it consisting of a dozen or so academics, curators and conservators. We bombard each other with information and queries and general enthusiasm – a genuine little liquid network.

The Drawing Room at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Drawing Room at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

This morning one member of the group, Dr Clare Taylor, mentioned the similarities between the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote in Kent and the one at at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk. They are in fact almost identical, which makes them a good example of how Chinese wallpapers were sometimes produced as multiples, with the combined use of printing and hand-painting resulting in near-identical copies.

Detail ofthe  Chinese wallpaper at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Another member of the group, conservator Allyson McDermott, then chipped in by saying she had examined the Ightham paper in the past, and found that it had had quite a hard life, with quite a lot of overpainting and restoration over time. This probably explains the difference in colouring between the Ightham and the Felbrigg papers.

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A pheasant identical to one in the Ightham paper can be seen behind the bell cord. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. A pheasant identical to the one in the Ightham paper can be seen behind the bell cord. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Allyson also mentioned that a Chinese wallpaper that was discovered under later wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, was also rather similar, and indeed it has the same ‘frosted’ palette of a white background, subfusc greens and bright reds, purples and blues.

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper found under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark, West Sussex.

Fragment of Chinese wallpaper found under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark, West Sussex.

We know that the Felbrigg paper was hung in 1752, and the Uppark paper is thought to have been put up in about 1750, so this appears to be a relatively early type of Chinese wallpaper. The Ightham one is said to have been hung in about 1800, which suggests that it was hung or stored somewhere else before coming to Ightham.

The antiquarian setting of the Drawing Room at Ightham, with its Jacobean fireplace, is in some ways quite incongruous for a Chinese wallpaper, but that is part of the fascination of this subject: to learn more about the different ways people used Chinese wallpaper in different places and at different times.

Looking ahead

February 22, 2013
The Boudoir at Bowhill, created in the 1830s for the 5th Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch.

The Boudoir at Bowhill, created in the 1830s for the 5th Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch.

I have been reading some of the papers of the Attingham Trust’s 60th Anniversary conference, held in London in October 2012. The Trust is well known for organising the scholarly summer schools which allow heritage professionals and aficionados from across the world to gain a greater understanding of the historic houses and gardens of Britain.

Bowhill

Bowhill

The papers provide a fascinating snapshot of the current environment for historic houses and gardens. I was particularly struck by the lively paper presented by the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, chairman of the Buccleuch Group, which not only includes the family’s ancestral houses and estates but also a host of commercial activities. The Duke of Buccleuch’s outlook is not only cheerful, but also very personal, reminding us of the huge value individuals and families bring to the preservation of heritage.

Speaking of the personal, I am a fan of the Boudoir at Bowhill, one of the Buccleuch houses, with its wonderful 1830s decor which includes a Chinese wallpaper. Bowhill features in the recently published book by James Knox, The Scottish Country House.

Framing China

January 25, 2013
Chimney-board in the Yellow Taffeta Bedroom at Osterley Park, decorated with a Chinese picture of birds, insects, flowers and rocks surrounded by decorative floral patterns, second half 18th century, possibly originally used as wall decoration. ©National Trust Collections

Chimney-board in the Yellow Taffeta Bedroom at Osterley Park, decorated with a Chinese picture of birds, insects, flowers and rocks surrounded by decorative floral patterns, second half 18th century, possibly originally used as wall decoration. ©National Trust Collections

When I was at Osterley Park yesterday I noticed this chimney board covered with Chinese painted paper. I was wondering if it might be a remnant of what had once been the decoration of the walls of one of the rooms.

View of the Chinese Room at Erddig, showing the Chinese pictures on paper mounted on the walls in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

During the third quarter of the 18th century it seems to have been popular to decorate walls with Chinese pictures on paper or sections of Chinese wallpaper, framed with paper borders or gilded fillets.

Some of the 17 Chinese paintings hung in the bedroom of the 5th Lord Leigh's sister at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, in 1765. They were sold from the house in 1981.

Some of the 17 Chinese paintings hung in the bedroom of the 5th Lord Leigh’s sister at Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, in 1765. They were sold from the house in 1981.

This practice is an intriguing example of Asian objects being inserted, literally and figuratively, into a western decorative framework, conceptually similar to the encasing of Asian porcelain in European ormolu mounts.

Some of the Stoneleigh Abbey pictures when they hung at Albemarle House, Virginia, from which they were sold in 2010. ©Sotheby's

Some of the Stoneleigh Abbey pictures when they hung at Albemarle House, Virginia, from which they were sold in 2010. ©Sotheby’s

In some cases there seems to have been a practical element to this as well, as a means of making the expensive and relatively scarce ‘India paper’ cover larger expanses of wall.

The Chinese Room at Carton House, County Kildare, decorated c. 1759. Image from Lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.co.uk

The Chinese Room at Carton House, County Kildare, decorated c. 1759. Image from Lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.co.uk

Stella Tillyard, in her book Aristocrats (1994), quotes the Countess of Kildare writing from Carton House to her husband in London: ‘My dear Lord Kildare, don’t let Louisa forget the India paper, and if you see any you like buy it at once for that I have will never hold out for more than three rooms, and you know we have four to do; for I have set my heart upon that which opens into the garden being done, for ‘tis certainly now our only and best good living room.’ Perhaps Lord Kildare didn’t manage to obtain any more, as the end result was a careful composition of framed fragments.

View of the interior of a Santa Monica residence decorated by Schuyler Samperton, incorporating Chinese wallpaper panels produced by Fromental. ©Schuyler Samperton Interior Design

View of the interior of a Santa Monica residence decorated by Schuyler Samperton, incorporating Chinese wallpaper panels produced by Fromental. ©Schuyler Samperton Interior Design

And this practice persists to this day, with framed sections of both antique and new Chinese wallpaper being used as decorative focal points.

Lyme Park’s rococo moment

January 22, 2013
Detail of one of the pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Detail of one of the pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Among the items recently accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Lyme Park are some pieces of wonderfully sculptural rococo furniture.

One of a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

One of a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

This allocation includes a pair of carved giltwood side tables with Portoro marble tops and two pairs of carved giltwood wall brackets. One of the pairs supports two Chinese Dehua porcelain female figures.

Pair of carved giltwood brackets, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Pair of carved giltwood brackets, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

The rococo furniture at Lyme was originally acquired by Peter Legh XIII, who inherited the house in 1744. He finished the decoration of a number of rooms remodeled by his uncle Peter Legh XII in the 1730s and early 1740s.

Female figure in Chinese Dehua porcelain, Kangxi period (1662-1722), on English carved giltwood bracket, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Female figure in Chinese Dehua porcelain, Kangxi period (1662-1722), on English carved giltwood bracket, mid 18th century, accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Lyme Park. ©National Trust Collections

Pseudo-Chinese birds, perhaps echoing the decoration of the Chinese porcelain in the house, appear on some of the rococo girandoles introduced by Peter XIII. At the same time he also seems to have added the 17th century oak paneling that came from another family house, Bradley in Lancashire, demonstrating the eclecticism of the middle of the 18th century.

View of the Drawing Room at Lyme, showing one of the rococo carved giltwood girandoles. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View of the Drawing Room at Lyme, showing one of the rococo carved giltwood girandoles. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The giltwood chandeliers and the harpsichord by Hitchcock also date from this period.

View of the Saloon at Lyme, with one of the carved giltwood rococo chandeliers and the contemporary harpsichord. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

View of the Saloon at Lyme, with one of the carved giltwood rococo chandeliers and the contemporary harpsichord. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light: Peter XIII ended up separated from his wife, led astray by his mistress and his manipulative sister, being wheeled up and down the galleries at Lyme in a bath chair. Following Peter XIII’s death in 1792 the house entered a period of neglect which wouldn’t be reversed until his great-nephew Thomas Legh came of age in 1813.

Globalised lacquer

January 3, 2013
The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Balcony Room at Dyrham Park, with the so-called Javanese lacquer table in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In mid-December I attended the Global Commodities conference at the University of Warwick, which examined the role of material culture in shaping world-wide connections in the early modern period. It was an extremely stimulating event that brought together social historians, economic historians and art historians.

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Dyrham (inv. no. NT452980). ©National Trust Collections

Ulrike Körber, who is connected to the José de Figueiredo Laboratory at the University of Évora, gave a fascinating lecture about the complex manufacturing and trade patterns of east Asian lacquer in the 16th and 17th century. She described how objects could be designed in one place, made in another, lacquered or relacquered in a third and used in a fourth. Globalisation is clearly not just a recent phenomenon.

The Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House, with the so-called Javanese table raised on a European base. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This reminded me of the unusual lacquer tables at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, and  Ham House, Surrey, which have traditionally been called ‘Javanese’. They both date from the late 17th century and somehow reached England through the East India trade. The one at Ham was adapted to the needs of chair-sitting Europeans by being mounted on a barley-twist base, a telling example of the appropriation – at once practical and symbolic – of an Asian object into a European setting.

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

Close-up of the table at Ham (inv. no. NT1140034). ©National Trust Collections

But we are not even sure whether these tables did indeed come from Java. There are some related tables in a few German collections, dating from around the same time and with similar distinctive pie-crust rims, but drum-shaped instead of rectangular.

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

Drum-shaped, reputedly Javanese lacquer tea table (Teetrommel), formerly in the state apartments of the Residenz, Rastatt, Baden. ©Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

I am hoping to correspond further with Ulrike and with some of the other conference participants to try to find out more about this rare category of lacquer objects – and of course I would very much welcome any suggestions here too.

Mixing and matching

December 14, 2012
A Chinese empress with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A Chinese empress with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

It seemed madly ambitious: to make all of the UK’s publicly owned oil paintings available online via one website. But now the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC have completed their epic project, and as of yesterday 211,861 paintings are accessible via the Your Paintings site.

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The National Trust is the largest single collection on the site, with 12,567 paintings. But the National Trust hasn’t just contributed to this project, we have also greatly benefited by having had all of our paintings photographed in colour for the first time.

The Your Paintings site provides unprecedented opportunities for locating works by particular artists and discovering links between collections on a national scale.

A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I just spotted these wonderful images of hyper-elegant Chinese figures by Robert Jones. They were made to decorate the Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and they seem to depict the Prince Regent’s daydreams about the Chinese imperial court as a place of unquestioned power, vast wealth and refined luxury.

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The work of William Alexander was among the sources for Jones’s fantasy vision. Alexander accompanied Earl Macartney on a diplomatic mission to Beijing from 1792 to 1794. On his return he provided the illustrations for a number of books about China, including Sir George Staunton’s official account of the Macartney embassy (1797) and his own book The Costume of China (1805).

Although his work is generally realistic, it has a picturesque sense of composition and detail – as in the pictures shown here, also accessible through Your Paintings – that appealed to other artists and consumers of chinoiserie.

Scottish orientalism

December 11, 2012
Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I gave a talk at Ham House yesterday to some of the volunteers who help to open the house to the public. The volunteers all know Ham inside out, so I tried not to talk about the house itself but about the wider context of orientalism and baroque decoration.

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, formerly at Ham House. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, formerly at Ham House. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Nevertheless the discussion did occasionally circle back to Ham, which in many ways is such a wonderful baroque time capsule. One of the interesting questions from the audience was whether it was known who had made the rare sets of japanned chairs at Ham, with their hybrid sino-European outlines.

Japanned armchair attributed to John Ridge, 1682, at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Japanned armchair attributed to John Ridge, 1682, at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

One of those chairs resides in the V&A, and I had recently noticed that the excellent online catalogue entry for it mentions the furniture maker John Ridge. The link is explained by the fact that a set of japanned chairs at the palace of Holyroodhouse is similar to the sets at Ham in having front stretchers with elaborately shaped outlines. The Holyrood chairs, in turn, have been associated with John Ridge’s 1682 account for a japanned suite supplied to the Duchess of Hamilton.

Coromandel lacquer cabinet on a japanned stand attributed to John Ridge, c. 1690, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch. © Christie's

Coromandel lacquer cabinet on a japanned stand attributed to John Ridge, c. 1690, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch. © Christie’s

While doing an online search for John Ridge I also spotted a Coromandel lacquer cabinet dating to about 1690 with a japanned stand which has been attributed to him. It came up at auction at Christie’s a few years ago and has a provenance from the Dukes of Buccleuch. These attributions are all relatively tentative, but it is interesting that they seem to be associated with Scottish patrons, perhaps indicating the existence of a Scottish version of baroque orientalism.


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