Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Wonderful wucai

November 4, 2016
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One of a pair of covered wucai jars showing a scene from the opera Chang Sheng Dian, 1660-90, at Belton House, NT 433361.1-2. ©National Trust Images.

The National Trust’s ceramics adviser, Patricia Ferguson, has just published a book entitled Ceramics: 400 Years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces featuring highlights from the ceramics collections of the National Trust. It is a rich compendium of the many different types of ceramics you might encounter in a country house, describing how they were made, collected and used.

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One of a pair of covered wucai jars showing a scene from the opera Chang Sheng Dian, 1660-90, at Belton House, NT 433361.1-2. ©National Trust Images

One of the entries in the book is a pair of Chinese porcelain wucai covered jars, made between 1660 and 1690 and now at Belton House. As Patricia describes it, wucai refers to the polychrome decoration of these wares, literally meaning ‘five colours’.


Two Chinese porcelain wucai vases, decorated with a scene of a seated lady watching a dance performance and of ladies on a garden terrace, 1650-65, at Kedleston Hall, NT 108557.1-2. ©National Trust/Andrew Patterson

The design was first sketched out in cobalt blue and the vessel was then glazed and fired, whereupon the other colours were added in overglaze enamel, including iron red, iron yellow, copper green and manganese purple.


One of a pair of Chinese porcelain wucai covered jars, depicting women and children in a garden, at Wightwick Manor, NT 1287195.2. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley and Claire Reeves

These porcelains, with their vibrant colours, were in great demand in seventeenth-century Europe. They were grouped together on cabinets, chimneypieces and overdoors – something highlighted in the current display about garnitures at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which Patricia helped to curate.


One of a pair of Chinese porcelain wucai covered jars, depicting women and children in a garden, at Wightwick Manor, NT 1287195.1. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley and Claire Reeves

The pair of jars at Belton shows scenes from the opera Chang Sheng Dian (‘Palace of Eternal Youth’), about the tragic love story of princess Yang Guifei and emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty (618-907). On one vase she is depicted seated on a terrace awaiting the emperor’s return. On the other Xuanzong is seen fleeing after having sacrificed Yang Guifei to appease his rebellious soldiers.

Other wucai jars show similar scenes, many still to be reidentified. Prints and illustrated books probably served as the sources for these designs, showing the cross-fertilisation between the different arts in seventeenth and eighteenth-century China.

The craze for garnitures

October 11, 2016
Garniture of three blue-and-white baluster Delft vases, Kingston Lacy, Doret.

Garniture of three blue and white baluster vases made in delft and decorated with Chinese-style figures, late 1690s, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset (NT 1250639). ©National Trust/Robert Morris

A ground-breaking exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum is bringing together fifteen ‘garnitures’, meaning sets of vases meant to be displayed together – all from historic houses in the care of the National Trust.

Garniture of porcelain jars and vases from China, The Argory, County Armagh.

Garniture of Chinese porcelain jars and vases, 1770s, at The Argory, Co. Armagh (NT 563412, NT 563413 and NT 563420.1). ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The exhibition has been curated by Patricia F. Ferguson, the National Trust’s ceramics adviser. As Patricia relates, the taste for garnitures goes back to the early seventeenth century, when Asian ceramics began to be imported into Europe.

Arranged on tables, cabinets and chimneypieces, they would glint and shimmer in the light of candles and fires. In an age when China was inaccessible and porcelain rare, they were redolent of exoticism and sophistication.

A group of Japanese Hampton Court style hexagonal jars, porcelain, c.1680 at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Garniture of Japanese Kakiemon porcelain vases, ‘Hampton Court’ type, c.1680, at Dunham Massey, Cheshire (NT 929282 and NT 929283). ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

But when war broke out in China in the 1640s and the production of porcelain faltered, both Japanese and European manufacturers came in on the act. Examples of all of these types and styles, and more, are represented in the houses of the National Trust, and in this exhibition.

The free exhibition is in room 146 of the Victoria and Albert Museum until 30 April 2017.

The language of love in Chinese export paintings

September 7, 2016


I am reading Kristina Kleutghen’s fascinating new book Imperial Illusions: Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces. It analyses the surviving illusionist paintings which enjoyed a vogue at the Chinese imperial court in the eighteenth century, in particular those in the private quarters of the Qianlong emperor in the Forbidden City.

As part of that analysis Kleutghen also discusses the genre of ‘beautiful women paintings’ (meiren hua), which until recently have received scant scholarly attention. It is now becoming clear that what used to be regarded as generic and bland images of Chinese ‘gentlewomen’ are actually about desire and longing.


Chinese mirror painting depicting a lady in an interior gazing at a pair of doves and about to write something, mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall, NT 1270824. ©National Trust Collections/Sophia Farley

These ‘beautiful women’ are shown in private spaces such as gardens or the inner rooms of mansions. In a society where respectable women were kept from public view, this already made these images somewhat suggestive. In addition, the pictures contain various hints that the women are in fact waiting for or are about to welcome their lovers. They may be high-class courtesans or concubines, objects of desire surrounded by other luxury objects.

This imagery was also used in Chinese paintings made specifically for export to the west. In the mirror painting at Shugborough Hall, for instance, the lady is looking tenderly at a pair of cooing doves, who are presumably mirroring her own thoughts and feelings. The room contains two barrel-shaped ceramic seats, suggesting that she is expecting someone, or hoping that someone will visit. She stands next to a table poised to write something – perhaps a letter to her lover, or a love poem.


Chinese mirror painting depicting a lake with a couple and a single lady in the foreground, in the Hoare collection, Stourhead, but currently on display at Dyrham Park, NT 452429. ©National Trust Collections/Seamus McKenna

When seen in this light, another mirror painting, from the Hoare collection at Stourhead, also seems to be about love and longing. On the left a couple is seated on a bench, closely entwined, reading a book together – perhaps a love story? The lady on the right, by contrast, sits on her own, with only a servant girl for company, her head forlornly resting in her hand, again gazing at a pair of doves who seem to mock her loneliness.

The European buyers of these pictures probably understood very little of all that and likely regarded these scenes as just innocuous Chinese genre paintings. But now this new scholarship is allowing us to understand some of the meanings hidden almost in plain sight within these pictures.


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.

A Chinese wallpaper illustrating tea production

August 24, 2016
Detail from the Chinese wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing two men watering tea plants. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail from the Chinese wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing two men watering tea shrubs. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I am writing a book about Chinese wallpapers in the British Isles – a follow-up, slightly more ambitious in scope, of the small catalogue of the Chinese wallpapers in the care of the National Trust that was published in 2014.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing labourers treading the leaves in large baskets. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing labourers treading the tea leaves in large baskets. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In the process of writing I came upon these detailed images of the Chinese wallpaper on silk at Saltram. This is a panoramic landscape wallpaper which shows the growing and treating of tea.

Detail of the wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing what appears to be a tea quality inspector at work, with clerks in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing what appears to be a tea quality inspector at work, with clerks in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Quite a few eighteenth-century Chinese wallpapers and paintings show scenes of agriculture or manufacturing, including the production of rice, tea, silk, and porcelain. The images tended to be based on illustrated treatises, such as the famous Yuzhi Gengzhitu, or ‘Treatise on Tilling and Weaving.’

Detail from the wallpaper on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing carpenters making tea chests. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail from the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, showing carpenters making tea chests. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

For the Chinese these images confirmed the productive and orderly structure of their society, in which everyone was supposed to work together and know their place. This is expressed through the different types seen in this wallpaper, including labourers and craftsmen with the tools of their trade, clerks with lists at the ready and mandarins in their official robes and hats. For westerners these wallpapers provided a picturesque glimpse of how desirable products like porcelain, silk and tea were actually produced.

A ‘100 boys’ lacquer screen at Felbrigg

July 27, 2016
Detail of the Chinese Coromandel lacquer screen, c.1700, in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Detail of the Chinese incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, showing boys in a landscape, NT 1398429. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

The ‘Coromandel’ or incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall is fairly unusual in that it does not show the more commonly seen bird-and-flower or palace scenery. Instead it depicts a landscape overrun with boys.

The Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

The lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The motif of ‘100 boys’ (baizi) has a long history in Chinese art and decoration. As Patricia Welch notes in Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, it is said to originate with the founder of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE), who supposedly had 99 sons by his 24 wives and then adopted an orphaned baby boy to round the number up.

Detail of the Chinese Coromandel lacquer screen, c.1700, in the Dining Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Detail of the incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg (NT 1398429). ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Male children were particularly valued in traditional China because of the importance attached to continuing the family line and to the maintenance of filial duties and rites.

The symbolic qualities of the scenery are strengthened by the auspicious objects and animals that the children hold and play with.


Detail of the incised lacquer screen in the Dining Room at Felbrigg (NT 1398429). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the side panels of this seven-paneled screen is not Chinese, suggesting that it may originally have been half of a twelve-paneled screen – such large screens were often divided after being exported to the west.

The heyday of these incised screens was in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when they were very fashionable in Europe. This one may have been originally acquired by William Windham I (1647–89), who built the baroque west front of Felbrigg in the 1680s.

Leftovers from a wallpaper project

June 10, 2016

Two fragments of Chinese wallpaper found at Kingston Lacy. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

Kingston Lacy, Dorset, is not known for its Chinese wallpaper. It is largely the creation of the wealthy aesthete William Bankes (1786-1865), who transformed it into a showcase for his collections of antiquities and art between the 1830s and the 1850s.


Another fragment of Chinese wallpaper from Kingston Lacy, showing a camellia. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

None of the rooms at Kingston Lacy are known to have been decorated with Chinese wallpaper. And yet the fragments shown here were found by one of our libraries curators, Yvonne Lewis, tucked inside a seventeenth-century atlas in the library at Kingston Lacy. So who put them there and why is a bit of a puzzle.


Further fragments – it appears they are leftovers from larger sheets which were cut up, perhaps to obtain small motifs to cover the joins between the wallpaper drops. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

Stylistically these fragments appear to date from the nineteenth century. The flowering tendril growing around a thicker branch or trunk is a motif often found in nineteenth-century Chinese wallpapers, probably derived from Indian chintzes.


Small fragment of Chinese wallpaper showing part of what appears to be a magnolia, and also illustrating the fibrous nature of the paper. NT 1257039 ©National Trust/Simon Harris

Having been kept in the dark, the colours of these fragments are very well preserved, reminding us of the almost garish appearance that these wallpapers originally had.

The white leaves represent another puzzle. Were they left white on purpose, to inject a element of monochrome chic? Or were they originally painted with ultra-fugitive pigments – perhaps light greens to illustrate fresh new growth – which have disappeared in spite of the fact that the fragments were kept inside a book?

Asian heirlooms

May 25, 2016
The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, is a creation of the early 1750s, as William Windham II was remodeling the house with the help of architect James Paine. It was then called the Bow Window Dressing Room.

Close up of the wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom at Felbrigg House, Norfolk

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper hung at Felbrigg Hall in 1752, NT 1400532. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The Chinese wallpaper was supplied by Paine in 1751  – it is identical to the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark, West Sussex, where he was also involved – and hung by the London paper-hanger John Scrutton in the spring of 1752.


One of the mahogany armchairs in the Chinese style at Felbrigg Hall, part of a group of six, NT 1398493.1 – NT 1398493.6. ©National Trust/Sue James

Windham grumbled about the cost of hiring a London specialist, ‘at 3s.6d per diem while at Felbrigg & 6d per mile traveling charges, which I think a cursed deal.’ But looking at the careful cutting and pasting of the wallpaper, condensing or stretching it to make it fit the room, it is clear that this required a high degree of skill and design sense.

A 1771 inventory mentions six mahogany Chinese-style English armchairs in this room, with fretwork backs and armrests, and these are still in the house today. The fire-screen in the room, listed as having been decorated with ‘India paper’ – a Chinese picture or fragment of wallpaper – is now gone, but a similar example survives at Osterley Park.

The Cabinet Room at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Japanese lacquer cabinet, late seventeenth century, at Felbrigg Hall, NT1398387. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The ‘very fine India cabinet, brown and gilt’ also listed in the Bow Window Dressing Room is still in the house, albeit in a different room. It is in fact a Japanese lacquer cabinet, decorated with herons in relief against a background of transparent lacquer showing the grain of the wood. It dates from the late seventeenth century and may have come to Felbrigg in the time of Windham’s grandfather, William Windham I, who built the west front of the house in the 1680s.

In rebuilding Felbrigg William II showed an antiquarian sensibility, respecting the earlier parts of the building. The same attitude is evident inside, as he combined the newly fashionable Chinese wallpaper with his family’s older Asian heirlooms.

China and Italy

May 13, 2016
Capriccio of Roman Ruins by the Sea with Preparations for a Sacrifice by attributed to Giovanni Ghisolfi (Milan 1623 ¿ Milan 1683)

Capriccio of Roman Ruins by the Sea, attributed to Giovanni Ghisolfi, about 1660-80. NT 1514001 ©National Trust Images/Marcus Leith

At the moment I am trying to finish an article on the parallels between chinoiserie and the Grand Tour in eighteenth-century Britain. I thought I might preview some of my thoughts here.

A gouache at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, one of six from the Anglo Chinese School, This one depicts a lakeside terrace with a party making music

Chinese painting on paper depicting the garden of a mansion with elegant company making music, probably early nineteenth century, at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, NT 1446600. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Both phenomena were about the allure of the distant and the exotic. Italy was admired for its beautiful landscapes and ancient ruins. China captured the imagination because of its picturesque mountains and towering pagodas.

View towards the fireplace in the Chinese Room at Erddig, Wrexham, Wales

Chinese paintings on paper used as wall decoration at Erddig, Wrexham, installed 1770s, NT 1153435. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Of course Italy was much closer to Britain than China, both geographically and culturally. Rome had always been part of Britain’s heritage, while China was a distinctly ‘other’ civilisation.

The wall and fireplace in the Print Room at Blickling Hall

The Print Room at Blickling Hall, created in the 1780s or early 1790s. The fashion for using European prints as wall decoration may have been inspired by the similar (and contemporary) use of Chinese pictures. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

People traveled to China for business and profit, while travel to Italy tended to be undertaken for pleasure and edification.

The Tower of the Winds in June on the Shugborough Estate, Staffordshire.

The Tower of the Winds at Shugborough, Staffordshire, completed in about 1765, a copy of the Horlogium of Andronikos Cyrrhestes in Athens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

And yet both ancient Rome and contemporary China were seen by the British as models, as admirable civilisations that should be emulated. Indeed, part of China’s appeal was that it combined ‘ancient virtue’, comparable to that of Rome, but that it was also a source of ‘modern commerce’, resulting in a flood of porcelain, tea and silk coming to Britain’s shores.

Chinese House in June on the Shugborough Estate, Staffordshire.

The Chinese House at Shugborough, built in 1747, allegedly based on a sketch by a naval offier who visited Canton, but probably inspired by illustrated books such as Du Halde’s General History of China (English edition 1736). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

And part of the appeal of Italy was also materialistic, in that it provided British travelers with almost endless shopping opportunities, the results of which can still be found in country houses and museums across the land.

Delft tile at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire.

Delft glazed earthenware plaque copying a plate from Nieuhof’s Embassy … to the … Emperor of China (Dutch edition 1665, English edition 1669), illustrating a pineapple plant and a banana plantain, late seventeenth century, at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire, NT 452248. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

And just as the importation of Chinese goods stimulated the production of imitations in pseudo-Asian or ‘chinoiserie’ styles, so the Grand Tour was hugely influential on British artists, architects and designers.

The Lake of Avernus by Jakob Philipp Hackert (Prenzlau 1737 ¿ San Piero di Careggi 1807)

Painting depicting Lake Avernus near Naples by Jakob Philipp Hackert, 1800, at Attingham Park, Shropshire, NT 609001. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I am not saying that the Grand Tour and chinoiserie are identical in all their aspects, but I do think that some of the parallels between them are striking.