Archive for the ‘Porcelain’ Category

Fragments of a global puzzle

July 14, 2017

One of a set of three Japanese porcelain covered jars made in Arita, Japan, 1715-35, on painted wooden Spanish colonial stands, at Shugborough, Staffordshire, NT 1270509.1-3. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

At Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire, three Japanese porcelain covered jars stand proud on gold, red and black painted wooden stands. They are not just visually striking, but also provide intriguing evidence of the global trade networks of the mid eighteenth century.

As Patricia Ferguson writes in her recent book Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces, these vases were made in Arita, Japan. This type of porcelain was known by Europeans as Imari, from the Japanese port through which it was shipped abroad.

Portrait in pastels of Admiral Sir George Anson (1697-1762) by Francis Cotes (1726-70), at Shugborough Hall, NT 1270614. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

The decoration of the vases consists of classic East Asian motifs such as phoenixes, shishi Buddhist guardian lions and convulvulus. But the bold way in which those elements have been combined was the result of the Japanese producers searching for novelty in order to keep satisfying the western market. The black and red background colours of some of the panels seem to evoke Asian lacquer, which was also popular in Europe.

The Chinese House, a garden pavilion in the park at Shugborough Hall, built in about 1747. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The vases may have been part of the cargo of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, which was captured by Admiral George Anson as it was sailing from Acapulco to Manila in 1743. Admiral Anson left his property to his brother Thomas, the owner of Shugborough, and for some time the Arita vases were kept in the ‘Chinese House’ that the latter had built in the park.

The impressive painted wooden stands, imitating lacquer, also seem to point to a Spanish colonial provenance. The late-baroque style in which they have been decorated is reminiscent of the pseudo-oriental or hybrid decorative art produced in Mexico and Manila. This is a developing area of research (see for instance Teresa Canepa’s recent book Silk, Porcelain and Lacquer: China and Japan and their Trade with Western Europe and the New World, 1500-1644) and we still need to learn more about what was made where.

Cataloguing Chinese hairstyles

December 5, 2016

Chinese porcelain saucer dish decorated with a female figure sitting on a bench with a child offering her a lotus flower, Kangxi period (1662-1722), at Polesden Lacey, NT 1245638.1. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

As part of my research into Chinese wallpaper I have been noticing the elegant hairstyles of many of the female figures. I have been trying to work out whether certain hairstyles can be associated with certain periods, which in turn might help with dating wallpapers that we don’t have much documentation for.

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Female and male figure in a Chinese woodblock print used as wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, NT 872998. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

I have facetiously dubbed one of the hairstyles ‘the triple gourd’, as the hair is piled up and tied in such a way that it forms three globular shapes, ending in a loop.


Chinese porcelain serving dish, part of a 25-piece dinner service, depicting two female figures in a garden, c. 1695-1710, at Shugborough, NT 1270511.2.2. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Another hairstyle could be called ‘the kidney bean’, as the hair rises up from the back of the head in one slightly curved vertical shape.

Both of these styles can be seen in mid-eighteenth-century wallpapers, but on porcelain they seem to appear earlier, perhaps from the late seventeenth century onwards.

Newly conserved wallpaper in the private quarters at Saltram, Devon

Chinese painting on paper depicting female figures in a garden, used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century, NT 873000. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Some Kangxi-period (1662-1722) porcelain depicts female figures with more voluminous, globular hairstyles, which one might call ‘the persimmon’.


Chinese porcelain plate decorated with a lady seated at a table, her head resting in her hand, c. 1690-1720, collection of Captain George Francis Warre, given to the National Trust by Mrs. George Warre, 1961, at Dudmaston, NT 813530. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

And in addition to those there appear to be other hairstyles, fabric haircoverings and a variety of hair ornaments as well as flowers or flower-shaped jewellery.

The Chinese Bedroom with wallpaper depicting scenes from daily life, at Saltram, Devon

Chinese woodblock prints of female figures pasted onto a partition in the Chinese dressing room at Saltram, NT 872998. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Some of these styles may have been regional, while others may have been associated with particular classes or roles, but much of this remains unclear. Regardless of whether the descriptive names suggested above catch on, I think the time has come for a proper taxonomy of Chinese historical hairstyles.

Beth Katleman’s Rococo vision

June 6, 2011

Beth Katleman, Folly. ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

I recently spotted these images of an extraordinary porcelain relief entitled Folly, by New York-based artist Beth Katleman. The work is five meters long and consists of 3,500 individual porcelain pieces. It is inspired by the riotous wall decorations of the Rococo period.

Facsimile of a Regency chinoiserie wallpaper in the Bow Room at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Folly is reminiscent of eighteenth-century Rococo and chinoiserie tapestries, wallpaper and printed cotton, with their floating islands populated with whimsical figures and fantasy structures.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

The work also references the more extreme forms of plaster decoration, and the phenomenon of the porcelain room, with its walls covered with figurines, vases, cups and plates.

Detail of the mantelpiece in the Paper Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But upon closer inspection Katleman infuses these ‘high culture’ sources with a healthy dose of kitsch. The floating islands are populated by porcelain casts that the artist has taken from flea-market finds, including pencil sharpeners in the shape of famous monuments and cast-off plastic dolls.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Katleman aptly emphasises the surrealist potential of the Rococo style. At the same time she subverts the domestic associations of interior decoration, transforming the elegant into the uncanny. 

Detail of toile de Jouy in the Ante-Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Folly will be shown by Todd Merrill at Design Miami/Basel from 13 to 18 June. Subsequently it will be part of the exhibition Flora and Fauna, MAD About Nature, at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, from 28 June until 6 November.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Another edition of the work will travel to London to be shown, again by Todd Merrill, at the Pavilion of Art and Design, from 12 to 16 October. 

Chinoiserie plasterwork and carved wood decoration in the Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Todd Merrill website features a short video about Folly featuring Beth Katleman.

How were they used?

March 9, 2011

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Our curators have been puzzled by a group of objects in the collection at Attingham, in Shropshire.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, J. & P. Munn, New Bond Street, London, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

These small, dainty containers, made of cardboard and porcelain, have been described as card racks. They seem to date from around 1820.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

They were clearly designed to be hung from a wall or another vertical surface, but as they are only about 15 cm tall they could not have held anything larger than calling cards or small items of stationary.

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, English or French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Their varied and sophisticated designs seem to indicate that they were fashionable objects which played a role in the social life of the house. 

One of a pair of card racks made of decorated cardboard, French, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Were they used to collect visitors’ calling cards? If so, why were there so many of them in the same house and why did they come in sets of twos and threes?

One of a set of three card racks made of porcelain, this one showing a view of Attingham, Coalport, c. 1820, at Attingham. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Do leave a comment if you know more about the use of these Regency relics.