Archive for the ‘Ightham Mote’ Category

Fascinating fragments at Uppark

June 16, 2017
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Section of Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, NT 138490. © National Trust/Paul Highnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mellow albarello

March 13, 2014
Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

In the March issue of Apollo I read a piece by Emma Crighton-Miller about Delft blue-and-white which mentioned that albarelli – maiolica apothecary jars – are sometimes adapted and used as water jars by Japanese tea ceremony devotees.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

An example of a Japanese-made water jar inspired by the albarello look, in the Freer collection, can be seen here.

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

This shows rather nicely how the taste for exoticism is not exclusively western. Indeed, Japanese tea taste is a rich mixture of international influences, including wares and materials from both Asia and Europe.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub's face. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub’s face. ©National Trust Collections

With that in mind the original albarelli do indeed have an air of wabi – the imperfect, modest beauty associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. Perhaps we could even call it ‘Hispano-Moresque wabi‘ or ‘Italian wabi‘?

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman's head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman’s head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

These particular albarelli were bequeathed to the National Trust by antiques dealer Reginald Sneyers in 1989. They are on display at Ightham Mote, an ancient half-timbered house that was carefully restored by the Colyer-Fergusson family in the late nineteenth before being given to the National Trust by American philanthropist Charles Henry Robinson in 1985.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

So like that Japanese pseudo-albarello in an American collection, these jars, too, convey a multi-layered message about how we value and channel the past. In heritage, nothing is ever straightforward.

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.