Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

The backstory of wallpaper

October 15, 2013
The Print Room at Blickling Hall, containing 52 European prints in paper frames, originally hung in the late eighteenth century and restored in 1974. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Print Room at Blickling Hall, containing 52 European prints in paper frames, originally hung in the late eighteenth century and restored in 1974. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

I have been perusing the recently-published book The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750. The book investigates the history of wallpaper from the perspective of its makers, sellers and hangers and is written by Robert M. Kelly, a historic wallpaper consultant and installer based in Lee, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Cupid after Angelica Kauffman, one of the pictures in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Downloaded

Cupid after Angelica Kauffman, one of the pictures in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Downloaded

Robert’s biography to date is wonderfully picaresque and includes teaching guitar in south side Chicago in 1968, a stint in a commune in the Rocky Mountains and working as a house-painter and paper-hanger in Munich (Bavaria, not North Dakota) before returning to the USA and becoming increasingly skilled and knowledgeable in the field of historic paint finishes and wallpapers.

The Chinese Room at Erddig, created in the 1770s, with Chinese pictures pasted onto its walls. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese Room at Erddig, created in the 1770s, with Chinese pictures pasted onto its walls. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the subjects discussed in The Backstory of Wallpaper is the development of the ‘print room’, the eighteenth-century practice of decorating walls by pasting prints with decorative borders onto them.

One of the Chinese paintings on paper used in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the Chinese paintings on paper used in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As Robert describes, some of these print rooms were made up with Chinese pictures and prints, as in the case of the 88 ‘Indian pictures’ hung by cabinetmaker Benjamin Goodison for the Countess of Cardigan (later Duchess of Montagu) in 1742.

Another Kauffman Cupid in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another Kauffman Cupid in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole seems to have used European prints in a similar way at Strawberry Hill in 1753, and interestingly he describes them as hung in the ‘new manner invented by Lord Cardigan’.

Rectangular Chinese picture on paper showing a stage in the production of silk. in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Rectangular Chinese picture on paper showing a stage in the production of silk. in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The research for the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the houses of the National Trust has suggested that such ‘Pinterest-style’ use of prints may have been the inspiration for the development of ‘proper’ Chinese wallpaper. However, print rooms using Chinese pictures remained popular even after the development of Chinese wallpaper – as usual, history refuses to follow a straighforwardly logical path.

Interwoven globe

October 8, 2013
The state bed at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The state bed at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The ever-stimulating Style Court blog has recently been featuring the exhibition currently on at the Metropolitan Museum in New York entitled Interwoven Globe, about how the international trade in textiles the early modern period influenced design across the world.

The Chinese embroidered silk inside the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millarthe Chinese silk embroidered hangings on the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

The Chinese embroidered silk inside the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millarthe Chinese silk embroidered hangings on the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

I am perusing the catalogue at the moment, and it is fascinating to read how European motifs ended up in Chinese silks, and how Chinese and Japanese motifs were in turn copied in Europe. Some ‘exotic’ textiles, such as Indian painted cotton palampores, actually combined elements from China, Persia, India and England.

Phoenix embroidered onto the white silk covering of the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

Phoenix embroidered onto the white silk covering of the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

This important exhibition is a suitable excuse for me to show some images of the rather gorgeous state bed at Calke Abbey, which is hung with Chinese embroidered silk. The bed was probably made for King George I in about 1715, and seems to have been given to Lady Caroline Manners by Queen Caroline when she married Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt, in 1734. Since the bed was hardly ever put up at Calke (it was too tall for most of the rooms in the family part of the house) the silk has been quite well preserved.

Qilin embroiderd onto the blue silk covers on the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Qilin embroiderd onto the blue silk covers on the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The blue material is like taffeta and is relatively light, while the white silk is heavier and has a satin finish. Tightly rolled peacock feathers were used for the knots in the tree trunks and the markings on the butterfly wings.

The art of hanging Chinese wallpaper

September 12, 2013
The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, hung with Chinese wallpaper in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, hung with Chinese wallpaper in 1752. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another insight we have gained while working on the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is that there was a lot of skill involved in installing them. The paper was physically different from western paper and the drops were often wider. Sometimes the scenery was panoramic, requiring the joins to be either very exact or fudged and disguised.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg, showing various artfully cut additions along the bottom.  ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg, showing various artfully cut additions along the bottom. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

If the paper didn’t quite fit the walls the paper hangers had various tricks up their sleeves to achieve a harmonious end result. They would cut motifs from extra rolls and stick them over the joins to disguise breaks in the scenery. If they needed more height they would add plant and rock motifs at the bottom, cropped in various artful ways to make these disjointed elements look more natural. And as we saw in a recent post about the wallpaper at Blickling, they sometimes added a bit of sky at the top.

The Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, with pairs of Chinese prints hung in an alternating pattern with various cut-out additions to create a wallpaper effect, possibly in the 1750s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondn the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, Devon

The Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, with pairs of Chinese prints hung in an alternating pattern with various cut-out additions to create a wallpaper effect, possibly in the 1750s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammondn the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, Devon

As Chinese wallpaper was very expensive – and, as catalogue co-author Andrew Bush has noted, you couldn’t just nip around the corner for an extra roll – this ‘cutting and pasting’ must have required considerable skill and nerves of steel.

Partition in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, decorated with fragments of prints in a slightly less sophisticated manner, suggesting a later, amateur hand.©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Partition in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, decorated with fragments of prints in a slightly less sophisticated manner, suggesting a later, amateur hand. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These techniques were first noticed by conservator Mark Sandiford a number of years ago when he was working on the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg. When I was at Saltram recently  I noticed exactly the same ‘tricks of the trade’ being used in the Chinese Dressing Room there.

The multiple layers of Chinese wallpaper

September 5, 2013
The Chinese wallpaper and border papers in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall. ©National Trust

The Chinese wallpaper and border papers in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall. ©National Trust

The work on our catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is progressing well. Over the next few months I will be featuring a few sneak previews here.

The Chinese Bedroom at Blickling. The ivory pagodas may have come from Lady Suffolk's villa Marble Hill in Twickenham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Chinese Bedroom at Blickling. The ivory pagodas may have come from Lady Suffolk’s villa Marble Hill in Twickenham. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

One of the striking things about Chinese wallpapers is that they force you to look at them in a multi-channel, multi-layered way. They are simultaneously art and decoration, eastern and western, realistic and fantastic. They relate both to the history of interior design and to the history of global trade. They document subtle shifts in social and cultural attitudes, but also illustrate the techniques of Chinese paper making, printing and painting, and of European wallpaper hanging.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper ©National Trust

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper ©National Trust

Mirroring this complexity, we have had a lot of help in our research from a diverse group of academics, curators, conservators, historic interiors specialists and present-day Chinese wallpaper manufacturers. In an article just published in issue 50 of the National Trust’s Views magazine, entitled A Multi-Channel Approach to Chinese Wallpaper, I have tried to chart the development of the project so far, and the way it has drawn in a multiplicity of experts. We hope that we can build on this informal Chinese wallpaper study group following the publication of the catalogue, perhaps resulting in further events and publications.

Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (d. 1767) in masquerade dress, by Thomas Gibson, c. 1720.  ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (d. 1767) in masquerade dress, by Thomas Gibson, c. 1720. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Chinese wallpaper at Blickling Hall is a good example of how new insights can be gleaned by combining family history, art history and material evidence. At the outset we already knew that Henrietta Howard, Lady Suffolk, had helped her nephew John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire, to redecorate Blickling in the run-up to his marriage in 1761.

Inscription on the back of one of the Chinese border papers at Blickling. Photograph by Mark Sandiford

Inscription on the back of one of the Chinese border papers at Blickling. Photograph by Mark Sandiford

This was confirmed when Mark Sandiford and Philippa Mapes removed the Chinese wallpaper from the walls for conservation treatment in 2002. On the back of the border papers they found inscriptions mentioning ‘1758’, ‘Suffolk’ and ‘Lott 30’, suggesting that Lady Suffolk had purchased these borders at auction, and possibly the wallpaper as well. She also had Chinese wallpaper at her own house, Marble Hill, in Twickenham, and this has recently been recreated.

Transcription of a faint Chinese stamp on the back of one of the Chinese border papers at Blickling. Drawn by Mark Sandiford

Transcription of a faint Chinese stamp on the back of one of the Chinese border papers at Blickling. Drawn by Mark Sandiford

One of the Chinese border papers at Blickling was also found to have a faint Chinese stamp on the reverse – perhaps the name of the paper manufacturer, although it has proved difficult to decipher so far. Yet another intriguing discovery was the fact that the sky of the landscape wallpaper is separate and not Chinese. It was probably added by the paper hangers, perhaps to extend the height of the wallpaper to fit this particular room. Recently we discovered that some other Chinese wallpapers surviving in Britain also have added skies, for instance the one at Harewood House.

The Chinese Bedroom at Blickling during conservation work in 2002, showing the sky section added to the Chinese wallpaper. Photograph by Mark Sandiford

The Chinese Bedroom at Blickling during conservation work in 2002, showing the sky section added to the Chinese wallpaper. Photograph by Mark Sandiford

Much remains to be discovered about this wallpaper, and Chinese wallpapers in general, but by combining all the physical and documentary evidence, and by comparing wallpapers in different houses (and even different countries), we are beginning to gain a greater understanding of their make-up, significance and development.

Keeping up with the Jansens

May 7, 2013
Dutch family taking tea, c. 1680, attributed to Roelof Koets II (c. 1650-1725). ©Sotheby's

Dutch family taking tea, c. 1680, attributed to Roelof Koets II (c. 1650-1725). ©Sotheby’s

The 17th-century Dutch family shown in the painting above are clearly very proud of their tea things. The wife and the child are dressed to the nines and the splendid Javanese lacquer table is filled expensive-looking tea utensils.

Javanese lacquer table in the Duchess's Private Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Javanese lacquer table in the Duchess’s Private Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

At this time the drinking of tea was still a relatively exotic and glamorous activity in Europe – perhaps reflected in the fact that it is the husband in the painting, the head of the household, who demonstratively holds the teapot. And it was obviously deemed appropriate to have a trendy oriental lacquer table to go with this trendy oriental drink.

Javanese lacquer table in the Balcony Room at Dyrham Park. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Javanese lacquer table in the Balcony Room at Dyrham Park. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Javanese lacquer tables from that period haven’t survived in large numbers, but they can still be found in a few English and German public collections.  I have just published a little article about them in the May 2013 issue of the National Trust’s Arts, Buildings and Collections Bulletin.

Global stories in domestic spaces

April 30, 2013
Chinese ivory model of boat, at Osterley Park (NT771742.2). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese ivory model of boat, at Osterley Park (NT771742.2). ©National Trust Collections

Osterley Park recently hosted an oral history event for local Hounslow residents. There are significant Sikh and Tamil communities living near Osterley, and the event sought to explore the connections between their heritage and the collection at Osterley, which is rich in Asian objects.

Japanese lacquer cabinet, early 18th century, on an English giltwood stand, at Osterley (NT771821) ©National Trust Collections

Japanese lacquer cabinet, early 18th century, on an English giltwood stand, at Osterley (NT771821) ©National Trust Collections

Participants learned about the Child family of Osterley, who were deeply involved in the trade between Britain and Asian in the 17th and 18th century. In addition people were encouraged to bring in objects that had a personal or cultural significance, and to share their thoughts and feelings about them.

Indian embroidered silk valance (NT772441) on the bed in Mrs Child's Bedroom at Osterley. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Indian embroidered silk valance (NT772441) on the bed in Mrs Child’s Bedroom at Osterley. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Objects can appear strange and exotic, of course, and the lure of the unknown seems to have been one of the reasons behind the popularity of Asian goods in 18th-century Britain.

Massive Chinese porcelain lidded vase, mid 18th century (NT771446.1) at Osterley. ©National Trust Collections

Massive Chinese porcelain lidded vase, mid 18th century (NT771446.1) at Osterley. ©National Trust Collections

Equally, the collection at Osterley demonstrates how people try to ‘own’ the unknown, both literally by collecting exotic objects, and symbolically by having their coats of arms put on them and by fitting them into familiar decorative schemes.

Mandarin duck from the Osterley menagery, in William Hayes's 'Portraits of Rare and Curious Birds and their Descriptions from the Menagery of Osterley Park', 1794. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Mandarin duck from the Osterley menagery, in William Hayes’s ‘Portraits of Rare and Curious Birds and their Descriptions from the Menagery of Osterley Park’, 1794. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Oral history events such as this one are part of the Global Stories in Domestic Spaces project, sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and masterminded by the East India Company at Home research team.

One of a set of Chinese porcelain dishes decorated with the Child coat of arms (NT771442), early 18th century with later additions, at Osterley. ©National Trust Collections

One of a set of Chinese porcelain dishes decorated with the Child coat of arms (NT771442), early 18th century with later additions, at Osterley. ©National Trust Collections

This event will also feed into the exhibition Trappings of Trade: A Domestic Story of the East India Company which will be on view at Osterley between July and November this year.

Reframing China

April 26, 2013
Chinese mirror painting depicting two women sitting at the water's edge, in an English rococo frame, possibly late 1750s, at Saltram (inv. no. NT872228.1). ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Chinese mirror painting depicting two women sitting at the water’s edge, in an English rococo frame, possibly late 1750s, at Saltram (inv. no. NT872228.1). ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

A while ago I mentioned some of the different ways in which Chinese pictures have been framed in the west.

Chinese picture on paper showing a dance performance in a palace courtyard, in an English rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, mid 18th century (inv. no. NT1271100.4). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese picture on paper showing a dance performance in a palace courtyard, in an English rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, mid 18th century (inv. no. NT1271100.4). ©National Trust Collections

While doing some research on the forthcoming catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the houses of the National Trust I recently came upon a few more examples of this phenomenon.

Chinese mirror painting depicting a landscape with a woman sitting at the water's edge and a town in the distance, in a neoclassical frame, at Osterley Park, c. 1760 (inv. no. NT771801). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese mirror painting depicting a landscape with a woman sitting at the water’s edge and a town in the distance, in a neoclassical frame, at Osterley Park, c. 1760 (inv. no. NT771801). ©National Trust Collections

Chinese pictures have an interesting an puzzling relationship with Chinese wallpaper. The popularity of Chinese pictures in Europe in the late 17th century, which were sometimes mounted into the wall paneling, seems to have stimulated the development of purpose-made Chinese wallpaper during the 18th century.

Chinese picture on paper depicting a stage in the production of silk, with a Chinese paper border and mounted as wallpaper at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Collections

Chinese picture on paper depicting a stage in the production of silk, with a Chinese paper border and mounted as wallpaper at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Collections

Even at the end of the 18th century, though, Chinese pictures were still being used as ‘wallpaper’, alongside ‘proper’ Chinese wallpaper. As ever, the marketplace has a habit of creating diversity and disrupting clear-cut, teleological stories.

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.


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