Archive for the ‘Mirrors’ Category

Ladies fishing in Chinese art

September 1, 2016
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Chinese print depicting a female figure holding a fishing rod in one hand and a recently caught fish in another, in the Study at Saltram, NT 873000. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

I have recently started to notice images of ladies fishing in various kinds of eighteenth-century Chinese art. It seems to have been a well-established theme.

A close-up of a mid 18th century Chinese mirror painting of a woman in a blue silk robe with a child at Saltram, Devon

Chinese mirror painting depicting a female figure fishing seated on rockwork on the banks of a river, a girl standing next to her, mid eighteenth century, in an English rococo gilded frame, in the Mirror Room at Saltram, NT 872171.1. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

This motif is seen on a variety of objects and in different media, including prints, mirror paintings and porcelain.


Chinese porcelain punch bowl, decorated in enamels with a scene of a lady fishing, a boy next to her holding up a fish, at Erddig, NT 1145613. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I am not entirely sure whether these female figures are supposed to represent upper-class ladies doing a spot of angling in their well-watered gardens, or whether they are romanticised images of peasant women fishing in order to supplement the family diet.

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Part of the painted decoration on the Chinese House, a garden pavilion at Stowe, showing a lady fishing, English, probably 1820s (restored 1990s), based on a Chinese image, NT 91820. ©National Trust/Emile de Bruijn

Or are they a bit of both, the Chinese equivalent of Queen Marie-Antoinette creating an idealised vision of country life at her Hameau at Versailles?

If anyone has any suggestions, do leave a comment.

Mirror world

September 6, 2010

The Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, Devon, with several mid-eighteenth-century Chinese mirror paintings in Rococo frames. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In a comment on my previous post about famille rose porcelain, Courtney Barnes reminded me of the role of the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) in the cultural exchange between east and west.

Courtney has also mentioned him in one of her previous posts about ‘Europeanoiserie’, or the interest in Europe in eighteenth-century China.

©NTPL/Rob Matheson

Mirror painting is another technique now associated with China which actually originated in Europe. Like famille rose, it became a sought-after export product that influenced the west’s image of China.

Castiglione is thought to have introduced mirror painting to the Chinese while working in the imperial palace workshops. Because of the Jesuits’ willingness to learn Chinese and to adapt to Chinese customs, they were able to infiltrate the Chinese elite, who valued their technical and scientific knowledge.

©NTPL/Rob Matheson

According to Graham Child in his book World Mirrors 1650-1900, painting on the ‘back’ side of glass panels was known in Italy in the fourteenth century. In this technique the paint is applied in reverse order, the details having to be put on first and the ground last.

The earliest mention of an English painted mirror is a report of one that was stolen from a dining room in Holborn, London, in 1660, and which had a landscape painted along the bottom. With mirror paintings the area to be painted had to be scraped free of the mirror amalgam first before the paint could be applied.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

By the mid-eighteenth-century the Chinese had adopted this technique and made it their own. Once again, the exotic was actually something familiar in disguise.

I am increasingly thinking that Chinoiserie and Chinese export art do not provide us with a window onto a distant world; that instead they show us a mirror, in which we see ourselves reflected.