Archive for the ‘Chinoiserie’ Category

A Taste for China

May 29, 2014

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There has recently been a spate of books examining the west’s historical fascination with east Asia through the lens of literature and the history of ideas. I have previously featured Chi-Ming Yang’s Performing China and Yu Liu’s Seeds of a Different Eden.

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Teapot, Ginger Jar and Slave Candlestick, c. 1695. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Teapot, Ginger Jar and Slave Candlestick, c. 1695. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A new book by Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins, entitled A Taste for China: English Subjectivity and the Prehistory of Orientalism, once again approaches the subject by way of literary history. But at the same time it also sheds new light on a question that has long puzzled me: why were China and Chinese things so highly regarded in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe?

Chinese porcelain teapot, Zhangzhou ware, c. 1650-1670 with European silver-gilt mounts, c. 1660-1680, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139006). ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Chinese porcelain teapot, Zhangzhou ware, c. 1650-1670 with European silver-gilt mounts, c. 1660-1680, at Ham House (inv. no. 1139006). ©NTPL/Bill Batten

One of Zuroski Jenkins’s answers revolves around the theory of perception formulated by John Locke (1632-1704). According to Locke the mind is an empty receptacle which is gradually filled by external impressions and perceptions. In this view sophistication equals importation: the mind of a person of taste is like a collector’s cabinet, filled with wondrous things from across the globe.

This seems to explain why seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Europeans seemed to be so keen on collecting objects from cultures they barely understood, and to create decorative schemes that combined eastern and western styles without any sense of incongruity.

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Still Life with Silver Wine Decanter, Tulip, Yixing Teapot and Globe, c. 1690. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Pieter van Roestraten (1629–1700), Still Life with Silver Wine Decanter, Tulip, Yixing Teapot and Globe, c. 1690. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Zuroski Jenkins also argues that in the course of the eighteenth century there occurred a shift from this cosmopolitan idea of taste to a more polarised opposition between the self and the other, which increasingly defined China as something that stood in contrast to the British sense of identity.

These are just a few snippets from Zuroski Jenkins’s complex book, which I now want to reread to savour her analysis more fully. But it confirms my hunch that ‘China’ in 1700 and ‘China’ in 1800 were two radically different things.

Chinese wallpaper in National Trust houses

May 6, 2014
Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig, hung in the 1770s. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

As some of you will know, Andrew Bush, Dr Helen Clifford and I have been preparing a catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the care of the National Trust. This little publication is now available through the National Trust online shop at an introductory price of £9.99.

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We hope the catalogue will widen the interest into these beautiful wallpapers. We also hope it will lead to more exchange of information, as so much is still unclear about the origins and development of Chinese wallpaper.

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Writing the catalogue has been a voyage of discovery. For instance, we hadn’t realised before how closely related the wallpapers at Erddig and Nostell Priory actually are. Although they are both painted by hand, some motifs are practically identical, meaning that the same models or templates must have been used in the making of both papers.

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese wallpaper in the State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

There are also strong similarities between these two wallpapers and the ones preserved at Cobham Hall – now a school – and Milton Manor  House – still privately owned. Yet another one hung at Ashburnham Place and is now at Blair House, the presidential guest house in Washington DC – with thanks to Michael Shepherd and Robert M. Kelly for telling us about it. Through these discoveries we can now begin to identify a ‘1760s-70s style’ in Chinese floral wallpapers.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. ©National trust/Andrew Bush

Investigations by Lucy Johnson at Woburn Abbey have also just brought to light fragments of a Chinese wallpaper hung in 1752 which clearly relates to the wallpapers at Felbrigg Hall and Ightham Mote.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We are keen to explore the links with Chinese wallpapers elsewhere in Europe and America, as well as the original Chinese art-historical context. Organising a conference will be next on our agenda. So do please get in touch if you look after or know of anything to do with historic Chinese wallpapers.

Alive and well

March 28, 2014
Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

Fromental has just produced a new wallpaper called Folly which was consciously inspired by Chinese wallpapers from the mid eighteenth century.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

With its tall decorative rocks, prominent lotus leaves and pomegranates, Folly clearly references the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall and Ightham Mote.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

Folly’s colour scheme, too, with its pale, misty atmosphere punctuated by blue-green leaves and vividly red flowers, is reminiscent of the look of mid-eighteenth-century Chinese wallpapers.

Section of a Chinese wallpaper from Eltham Lodge, probably hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Section of a Chinese wallpaper from Eltham Lodge, probably hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

But Tim Butcher of Fromental tells me that they were also influenced by some Chinese wallpapers in the V&A which are from the same period – and when you compare Folly to the Eltham Lodge wallpaper you can see what he means.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

In spite of all that, Folly is a clearly a contemporary wallpaper, not a facsimile.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

It conveys a softer, more delicate impression than its historical cousins, and it contains anticipatory hints of the highly coloured and finished Chinese wallpapers from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Part of 'Folly' by Fromental. ©Fromental

Part of ‘Folly’ by Fromental. ©Fromental

In this way ‘Folly’ is part of a living tradition: loving the past but reinventing it for the present.

Exotic and contemporary

March 21, 2014
Hunting scene in one of the Chinese wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Buitenplaatsen2012

Hunting scene in one of the Chinese wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Buitenplaatsen2012

Today Oud Amelisweerd, a small country house just outside Utrecht, was officially reopened as a museum by HRH Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Oud Amelisweerd ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Oud Amelisweerd ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

The house contains several Chinese wallpapers dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as historic European wallpapers.

Section of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Erfgoed Utrecht

Section of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Erfgoed Utrecht

The Chinese wallpapers are important both because of their quality and beauty and because they are related to similar wallpapers in Britain, for instance at Penrhyn Castle, at the Royal Pavilion, and at Saltram.

The foreground of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©DUIC

The foreground of one of the floral wallpapers at Oud Amelisweerd. ©DUIC

Much remains uncertain about the decorative history of Oud Amelisweerd, but the links between the Chinese wallpapers there and elsewhere are helpful in piecing together parts of the chronology.

Work by Armando at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Work by Armando at Oud Amelisweerd. ©Jeroen Wielaert/NOS

Following conservation work Oud Amelisweerd now also houses a collection of work by the contemporary artist Armando – to add a frisson of modernity to the frisson of exoticism.

Birds and flowers

March 4, 2014
©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust is now on its way to the printers and should be out by the middle of March.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We hope it will stimulate debate and research around the dating, stylistic development and social and economic contexts of Chinese wallpaper – as well as providing some jolts of visual beauty, of course.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

It is interesting to compare the wallpaper at Erddig, hung in the 1770s (seen here), with the wallpaper at Nostell Priory, mostly hung in 1771 (as seen in this post). They are technically and stylistically similar: fully painted (without the printed elements seen in earlier wallpapers), but with ‘painterly’ scenery quite close to traditional Chinese ‘bird and flower’ painting.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Later, nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers tend to more stylised – developing away from ‘art’ and more towards ‘design’, perhaps – but these late eighteenth century examples at Erddig and Nostell seem to define the ‘middle style’.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Such issues will become clearer as we compare more examples from historic houses and collections across the world, and hopefully our catalogue will make a small contribution towards that ongoing research.

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We also want to learn more about the Chinese background to this imagery. The Buddha’s hand citron, which appears in the Erddig wallpaper, for instance, has a number of auspicious meanings ranging – depending on the context – from the spiritual to the erotic, as I have just been discovering in the catalogue Beauty Revealed: Images of Women in Qing Dynasty Chinese Painting by the late Timothy Cahill and others.

Chickens and eggs

February 13, 2014
Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman's. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of leather wall-hangings in the Dining Room at Bateman’s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have recently been looking at the similarities between the flowering trees, birds and rocks on Chinese silk and on Chinese wallpaper. There seems to have been a lot of visual cross-fertilisation going on, not only between these different categories of Chinese products, but also involving the ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintz.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another element in this fascinating but confusing mix is the category of European leather wall-hangings, like this set at Bateman’s. Many of these hangings are clearly decorated with the same type of bird and flower imagery.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The closest parallels to these seem to the the stylised, serpentine ‘tree of life’ motifs on Indian chintzes. But those, in turn, seems to have been partly influenced by European embroideries and by Chinese garden imagery as seen on textiles, lacquer, porcelain and wallpaper.

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ problem: which came first? It may prove to be impossible to identify the Ur-version of this type of decoration, but we can certainly learn more by making further comparisons.

Silk and paper crossovers

January 29, 2014
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Chinese painted silk coverlet, 1760-1800, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. © V&A Images

On her ever-inspiring Style Court blog Courtney Barnes has just posted images of a delicately painted Chinese painted silk coverlet in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is thought to date from the second half of the eighteenth century.

Nostell

Chinese wallpaper hung at Nostell Priory in 1771 by Thomas Chippendale. ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

As Courtney writes in her post, this coverlet has some striking similarities with Chinese wallpaper, particularly in the way the trees and flowers, birds and rocks have been combined in artful vignettes against a neutral background. The picturesque rocks – and the basket and the lantern hung in the tree in the V&A coverlet – indicate that we are looking at carefully arranged garden scenes rather than untamed nature.

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Detail of the Chinese painted silk coverlet in the Victoria and Albert Museum. © V&A Images

The floral borders in the coverlet also have parallels in Chinese wallpaper. They appear in the borders which were supplied as separate strips to be fitted around the edges of the larger paper drops.

Chinese wallpaper border, hung in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle in the early 1830s. ©National Trust/Andrew Nush

Chinese wallpaper border, hung in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle in the early 1830s. ©National Trust/Andrew Nush

These borders are clearly idealised representations of ‘floweriness’: various different flowers appear to grow from the same stem or tendril.

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Pole screen decorated with Chinese painted paper at Osterley Park, probably second half eighteenth century. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The same serpentine floral patterns sometimes also broke free from their restricted border role, filling entire panels of paper or silk.

Attingham

Chinese painted silk upholstery at Attingham Park, first half nineteenth century. ©National Trust

You could almost call this an example of ‘the periphery taking over the centre’.

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Detail of the Chinese painted silk coverlet in the Victoria and Albert Museum. © V&A Images

Stylistically, the garden scenery on the V&A coverlet seems to have elements of both eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wallpapers.

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Detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle, hung early 1830s. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The scenery looks fairly realistic and ‘painterly’, which tends to be a characteristic of earlier, eighteenth-century wallpapers. But the tufts of grass in the foreground have something of the stylised look, and the colouring, of grass in nineteenth century wallpapers.

chinese_wallpapers_cover

Some of this will be included in the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust, due to be published in early March. But this coverlet in the V&A was new to me and the fascinating relationship between painted papers and painted silks clearly needs further research.

Peeling back the years

January 23, 2014
Fragments of Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke's Bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Fragments of Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Exciting things are coming to light at Woburn Abbey, the seat of the Duke of Bedford – and in quite a literal sense. Historic interiors consultant Lucy Johnson has been discovering the remains of an early Chinese wallpaper in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom there, which had been hidden by later wallcoverings.

Section of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Section of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

What makes this discovery even more interesting is that these fragments seem to relate to a Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall: the head of a bird visible on one of the sections of wallpaper in the 4th Duke’s Bedroom is identical to a bird that is part of the wallpaper scheme in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall.

Part of a bird on the Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke's bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Part of a bird on the Chinese wallpaper recently discovered in the 4th Duke’s bedroom at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Andrew Bush, the National Trust’s paper conservation adviser, has established that the Felbrigg wallpaper was printed in outline and then painted in by hand. It looks like the Woburn paper was produced in the same way, presumably by the same workshop.

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Since we know that the Felbrigg scheme was put up in 1752, by a London paper hanger called John Scrutton, it would seem likely that the Woburn paper was put up in about the same period.

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper discovered at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper discovered at Woburn Abbey. ©Woburn Abbey

And indeed Lucy has found references in the Woburn archives to the decorating firm of Crompton and Spinnage having hung ‘India paper’ in ‘His Grace’s Bedroom’ in that very same year. This wallpaper must have represented the height of chinoiserie fashion in the early 1750s.

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Detail of a peony in the Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Lucy is preparing an exhibition about these and other discoveries at Woburn (opening on 11 April) which will highlight the links between the orientalist elements in the interiors and the Asian plants and chinoiserie garden features outside.

Chinese wallpaper’s tetrapod moment

December 10, 2013
Recently conserved panel of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the V&A, formerly at Eltham Lodge. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Recently conserved panel of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the V&A, formerly at Eltham Lodge. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The early history of Chinese wallpapers is tantalisingly vague. At some point during the first half of the eighteenth century Chinese pictures, which were in demand in Europe as wall decoration, seem to have morphed into panoramic wallpaper. We don’t know exactly when that crucial transition – like the first tetrapod crawling out of the sea onto dry land – took place, but a few surviving wallpapers are known to date from that early period.

Another Eltham Lodge wallpaper panel, which had been conserved earlier. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another Eltham Lodge wallpaper panel, which had been conserved earlier. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Yesterday I was listening to a fascinating talk by V&A conservator Susan Catcher about one of those Chinese Ur-wallpapers. She was describing the hair-raising process of treating a panel from the Eltham Lodge wallpaper, which seems to have been originally hung during the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

The Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The Chinese wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The wallpaper had to be given a new backing, but the extremely brittle and fragile condition of the paper made this an unexpectedly tricky task. Susan had to call in the help of all available colleagues to limit the time the paper was kept moist, but the whole procedure still took ten days. The wallpaper was relined onto Chinese xuan paper coloured to an appropriate tint with Japanese yasha dye (a fuller account of the project can be found here). Susan told us that this panel was due to be installed behind the chinoiserie bed from Badminton House in the V&A’s British Galleries today.

Section of the Felbrigg wallpaper during conservation. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Section of the Felbrigg wallpaper during conservation. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

This Eltham Lodge wallpaper is stylistically quite close to the Chinese wallpaper surviving at Felbrigg Hall, which we know was purchased in 1751 and hung in 1752. The scenery in these wallpapers has been depicted in a rather painterly manner, quite different from the smoother and more stylised look of later Chinese wallpapers. Similar early Chinese wallpapers survive or have been recorded at Dalemain, Ightham Mote, Newhailes and Uppark in Britain and at Oud Amelisweerd in Holland.

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

By the way, the catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the historic houses of the National Trust, which I have mentioned earlier, is due to be published in March 2014.

Portrait of a lady

November 12, 2013
Chinese mirror painting showing an elegant lady seated at a table, mid-eighteenth century, in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

Chinese mirror painting showing an elegant lady seated at a table, mid-eighteenth century, in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Rob Matheson

I managed to see the exhibition Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900 at the V&A yesterday. It is a heroic and I think successful attempt to represent the entire history of Chinese painting in one exhibition, drawing on loans from museums across the world.

Pictures of elegant Chinese ladies. mid-eighteenth century, mounted on a room dvider in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Pictures of elegant Chinese ladies. mid-eighteenth century, mounted on a room dvider in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Among other things, the exhibition explains the distinction in Chinese painting between the professional and scholarly styles. The former was colourful, realistic and decorative, whereas the latter tended to be monochrome, high-minded and individualistic.

Chinese picture showing ladies in a garden, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture showing ladies in a garden, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Because of my current research into Chinese wallpaper (and Chinese pictures used as wallpaper) I am completely biased towards Chinese professional paintings, which influenced the wallpapers made for the west. I was fascinated by some pictures by Ren Renfa of c. 1500, for instance, showing people engaged in elegant pastimes and including a landscape painting mounted on a movable screen, evidence of the early ‘architectural’ use of Chinese painting.

Chinese picture of a lady with a mottled bamboo fishing rod, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bush

Chinese picture of a lady with a mottled bamboo fishing rod, mid-eighteenth century, in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Bush

In the same section of the exhibition, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: 1400-1600’, there are a number of paintings with elegant ladies. V&A curator Luisa Mengoni explained to me how these figures don’t just represent physical beauty, but also reference cultured accomplishments such as music and dance, and refinement more generally. Beauty is never just beauty.