Archive for the ‘Erddig’ Category

Two and three dimensions in Chinese porcelain

September 29, 2015
Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.2. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

I just noticed the delicate landscapes on these early-eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain vases at Erddig (on our database here and here). We can see the wall of a country mansion situated next to a waterway, with a figure leaning against a balustrade gazing out at the waves. Another figure approaches the gate over a wooden zig-zag bridge.

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Chinese porcelain vase, at Erddig, NT 1145621.1. ©National Trust Collections/Susanne Gronnow

Further along we see the waterway widening out, with a little boat coursing over the waves, a pagoda on the opposite bank and mountains above.

This decoration is derived from the tradition of Chinese landscape painting. But along their necks the vases have also been decorated with stylised floral and fungus ornaments which are part of the Chinese decorative art vocabulary. The globes along the necks have been painted with a diaper pattern that is reminiscent of openwork or basketwork. The silhouette of the vases is pear-shaped, but in section they are in fact octagonal.

So we have three-dimensional objects which are both curvaceous and angular. And we have painted decoration suggesting both pictorial distance and surface perforation. Not bad for a pair of small vases.

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.

Masculine chinoiserie

January 27, 2012

Silver monteith at Erddig, Wrexham, maker's mark TA or IA in monogram, London, 1689. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I have just been having an interesting conversation with Courtney Barnes over at Style Court about issues of femininity and masculinity in design and decoration. Courtney made the perceptive comment that, at least in recent times, chinoiserie or Chinese-style decoration has been seen as ‘feminine’, whereas japonisme or the taste for Japanese design is considered more something ‘for the guys’.

Detail of a chinoiserie motif on the Erddig monteith. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I am fascinated by how the meaning of certain motifs and styles changes over time, and indeed how feminine and masculine identity is expressed in different periods.

Detail of a chinoiserie motif on the Erddig monteith. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

Shown here is an example of ‘masculine’ chinoiserie, a silver monteith at Erddig, Wrexham, with chased decoration in the pseudo-Chinese style popular in Britain in the 1680s. Monteiths were used as punchbowls or to cool glasses and as such were an accoutrement of male conviviality. In Restoration-period Britain chinoiserie seems to have been ‘for the guys’ as well as for the ladies.

Betty Ratcliffe, artist in service

December 6, 2011

Model of the classsical ruins at Palmyra, created by Betty Ratcliffe in 1773 from mother-of-pearl, mica and glass and loosely based on illustrations in Robert Wood's 'The Ruins of Palmyra' (1753). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In response to a previous post on pagodas, a reader asked about the artist who created the model of the pagoda at Erddig. So here are some more of her works.

Needlework picture by Betty Ratcliffe, c. 1770, showing a spray of flowers including roses, honeysuckle and jasmine. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

Elizabeth Ratcliffe (c. 1735-c. 1810) was the daughter of a Chester clockmaker. She became a lady’s maid and companion to Dorothy Yorke, née Hutton (d. 1787), who spent her long widowhood in the family’s London house in Park Lane.

Pencil drawing by Betty Ratcliffe after Hubert Drouais the younger, depicting the sons of the Duc de Bouillon as Montagnards, 1765. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Yorke family recognised Betty’s talents and paid for her education. She seems to have excelled at fine and detailed work.

The Yorke family arms in cut paper, by Betty Ratcliffe. ©National Trust

There is a fascinating collection of servant portraits at Erddig, although sadly no picture of Betty – but she obviously lives on through her work.

On the paper trail

November 9, 2011

Fragment of a pomegranate wallpaper found under a tapestry in the Tapestry Room at Erddig. ©NTPL/Barry Hamilton

The National Trust’s wallpaper detective, Andrew Bush (his actual, but far too sensible title is Paper Conservation Adviser), has recently discovered a fragment of an early wallpaper at Stowe, Buckinghamshire that is identical to a rather bold pomegranate or proto-Paisley wallpaper found at Erddig in Wrexham.

View of the New Inn at Stowe in 1809 by J.C. Nattes. ©National Trust

The New Inn at Stowe was built in about 1717 to cater for the increasing numbers of people that were coming to visits its famous gardens. It stayed in use as an inn until about 1850, and after years of dereliction it has now been restored to serve as the National Trust’s visitor centre for Stowe.

Some of the wallpapers discovered at the New Inn. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Andrew was called in for a one-off visit to check if there were any significant wallpapers, but this turned into a more substantial project as more than sixty wallpapers gradually came to light, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The wallpaper fragment discovered at the New Inn, with the same pattern as the section found at Erddig. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

A tiny scrap of wallpaper found beneath one of the floorboards turned out to be of the same pattern as the Erddig paper, which could be dated through tax stamps to about 1715-20. The wallpaper would seem to be too grand for an inn, so it remains a puzzle as to how it ended up in an estate building at Stowe.

More about this story can be found in the latest edition of Arts, Buildings and Collections Bulletin. In this issue Sarah Kay also summarises the findings about the Regency card racks at Attingham which keen readers of this blog so generously helped us to unearth.

Degrees of exoticism

November 9, 2010

The state bedroom at Erddig. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I previously showed the red japanned cabinet at Erddig, but there is more chinoiserie at that extraordinary house. Right next to the cabinet is the state bed from about 1720 with its Chinese embroidered hangings.

Detail of the state bed, showing the Chinese embroidered silk and the gilded woodwork probably by John Belchier. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed was probably made by the London cabinetmakers John Hutt and John Belchier. It is a rare surviving example of a lit à la duchesse, a type of bed with a very deep tester introduced to England by William III’s architect Daniel Marot.

Craftsmen like Hutt and Belchier did not hesitate to combine east Asian and English elements. But at the same time their work shows great respect for and fascination with east Asian art and design.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the state bedroom, installed in the 1770s. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In the 1770s Philip Yorke I, the great-nephew of John Meller, and his heiress wife Elizabeth added another layer of chinoiserie to the house. It was they who moved the state bed upstairs and added the Chinese wallpaper to what now became the state bedroom.

The Chinese Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Philip Yorke I also created a ‘Chinese room’ for the display of porcelain, which was decorated with Chinese export paintings of crafts and trades.

One of the late-eighteenth-century Chinese export paintings in the Chinese Room, illustrating the pounding of rice. The printed border is European. ©NTPL/John Hammond

These pictures are meticulously realistic, and yet they are used mainly for decorative effect. Even though trade with China had increased hugely during the eighteenth century, the country had become more rather than less remote in European eyes.

Whereas around 1700 China was seen as an example to European nations, towards the end of the eighteenth century it was regarded as a country almost outside of history, where nothing ever changed.

Theatrical symmetries

October 15, 2010

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Due to lack of time this has to be a very short post, but I thought I would show another view of  this stunning bureau cabinet at Erddig, Wrexham. It seems to be a good example of the theatrical type of chinoiserie mentioned in the previous post

It was probably supplied to Erddig in the 1720s by the cabinet-maker John Belchier. The house was then owned by the wealthy barrister John Meller, who enriched it with magnificent furniture, much of which is still there.

Erddig's east front. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

The facade of Erddig, at the head of its canal, has something similarly theatrical about it. This may remind us that the theatricality of certain kinds of chinoiserie owes as much to the exuberance of the Baroque and the Rococo as it does to the perceived exoticism of China.