Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Multi-national screens

April 20, 2016
Six-fold incised lacquer screen decorated with scenes of Europeans hunting, one half of what was originally a twelve-fold screen, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Six-fold incised lacquer screen decorated with scenes of Europeans hunting, seventeenth century (NT 1140102), one half of what was originally a twelve-fold screen, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have just returned from speaking at a stimulating study day at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. As I mentioned earlier, I was talking about ‘Sino-Dutch’ interiors in late seventeenth-century England.

The other half of the twelve-fold incised lacquer screen, in a different room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

The other half of the twelve-fold incised lacquer screen (NT 1139776), in a different room at Ham. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

While I was there I also visited the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. I discovered that among the rich holdings of the MFA is a Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans out hunting. This reminded me of a screen with a similar subject at Ham House (separated in two parts, documented here and here), which had previously puzzled me.


Twelve-panel Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans in a landscape, about 1700, height 244 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1975.333, Keith McLeod Fund. © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

This kind of depiction of westerners, with big noses, prominent moustaches and wide, pantaloon-style trousers, is known from Japanese screens, where the subject was called ‘namban’ or ‘southern barbarians’ – since the western ships arrived in japan from the south.

The Japanese were clearly fascinated by these exotic foreigners. But here this subject and style of depiction has been transposed to incised or kuan cai lacquer, which as far as we know was only made in China.


Detail from the Chinese incised lacquer screen depicting Europeans in a landscape. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1975.333, Keith McLeod Fund. © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

So what was going on here? In their Arts of China handbook the MFA curators suggest that this type of screen was made in China, to be exported to Japan and to be sold there to the Dutch merchants based in Nagasaki.

That certainly sounds plausible, but I wonder whether there could also have been a market in China itself for screens decorated with quaint barbarians – a kind of chinoiserie in reverse? Either way, it is great to discover that the Ham screen is not an odd one-off but seems to have been part of a particular genre.

Consuming luxury: Asia in Amsterdam

March 18, 2016
Japanese lacquer cabinet on a Dutch gilt stand, c1630-50, in the Long Gallery at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames

Japanese lacquer cabinet (c. 1650) on a Dutch gilt stand (c. 1675), at Ham House, Surrey, NT 1140084. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is currently showing the major exhibition Asia in Amsterdam, about the impact of Asian luxuries on Dutch art and life in the seventeenth century. The museum is also organising a public study day on the same topic, on Saturday 16 April.

A close up of a mirror and curtains in the Queen Anne Room at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire

A state bed in the style of Daniel Marot, a japanned cabinet, marquetry table and Delft glazed earthenware vases, in the Damask Bedchamber at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I will be giving a talk at this study day about what I am tentatively calling the Sino-Dutch interior in seventeenth-century England. There was quite a lot of Dutch cultural, influence in Britain at that time, with gardening styles, Delft pots and the occasional Prince of Orange being brought across the North Sea. As Amsterdam was probably the most important European entrepot for Asian goods, the Asian and the Dutch inevitably mingled in the English interior.


Group portrait of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, his wife Amalia van Solms and three of their daughters, by Gerard van Honthorst, c. 1647, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. SK-A-874

As I am preparing my talk, I am becoming increasingly aware of the pivotal role of Amalia van Solms, the wife of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange. Frederik Hendrik was Stadtholder or ruler of most of the provinces of the Dutch Republic between 1625 and 1647.


Late-seventeenth-century tapestries inspired by Asian lacquer, made by the Soho workshop for Belton House, Lincolnshire, in about 1691, NT 436999. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

Frederik Hendrik and Amalia projected an almost royal political and cultural aura, acquiring and decorating a number of residences. Amalia pioneered the practice of taking apart lacquer coffers and cabinets and using the panels as wall decoration, juxtaposed with liberal quantities of Asian porcelain.

This taste spread across Europe and influenced the subsequent history of chinoiserie and interior decoration in general. Without Amalia’s initial moment of creative destruction we would probably never have had Coco Chanel’s Coromandel rooms at her rue Cambon apartment.

The well-travelled pagoda

March 9, 2016


The Japanese pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire.

The Pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The garden pavilion called the Pagoda, at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, has recently been restored. Its stone pillars had become eroded, the paint was flaking and its dragon finial was corroding.

Investigation of the paint layers by Lisa Oestreicher had revealed six successive decorative schemes. It was decided to recreate the third one, which was thought to date from shortly after the pavilion’s arrival at Cliveden in 1900.

Golden Dragon Weathervane on the top of the Chinese Pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire

View of the painted decoration on the Pagoda in the Water Garden at Cliveden. ©National Trust Images / Rob Stothard

Decorative artist Saskia Huning was commissioned to recreate the painted decoration and gilding. Several tones of green were used, as well as polychrome decoration, to give the Pagoda back its delicate sparkle. The colouring of the trompe l’oeil fluting on the columns was graded to suggest the effect of sunlight towards the outside and shadow towards the inside.

The sinuous zinc dragon (or is it a sea monster?) on the roof was repaired by conservator Anna-Lena  Adamson and its tongue welded back in place by Rupert Harris Conservation. The restoration is described in detail in the winter 2013-14 issue of ABC Bulletin.

Illustration from William Chambers 'Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils' (London 1757) at Springhill, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Plate showing Chinese ting garden pavilions, from William Chamber’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings. (1757, from a copy at Springhill, County Londonderry). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As I mentioned previously, the Cliveden Pagoda was originally part of the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. After the close of the exhibition it was purchased by the Marquess of Hertford and set up in the garden of his Paris residence, Bagatelle, in the Bois de Boulogne. In 1900 it was bought by William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor, and brought to Cliveden to provide added oriental ornament emphasis to the newly created Water Garden.

In fact its history goes back even further, as it is a copy of a pavilion that was erected in the garden of the château de Romainville, near Paris, in the 1780s. That pavilion, in turn, was based on the designs of ting-type garden pavilions in William Chambers’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings, published in 1757.

That just goes to prove that a pavilion is never just a pavilion.

Space for contemplation

February 25, 2016
The Oval Pavilion at Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire.

The Oval Pavilion, built in the 1740s, at Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire. Images/Chris Lacey

Fellow Twitterer K. Alexander (亞天恩, @thian_un) just mentioned how nice it would be to have a hermitage where one could retreat for a bit of sustained thinking and writing. In response I suggested this charming structure, the Oval Pavilion at Farnborough Hall, Warwickshire, as a model for the ideal retreat.

c18th domed ceiling at Farnborough with rococo plasterwork possible by W Perritt in the oval pavilion

Rococo plasterwork decoration inside the Oval Pavilion, Farnborough Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

In good weather you could sit on the open lower level, admiring the landscape and perhaps doing a bit of sketching. The contemplation and writing could take place in the cosy and yet light-filled room upstairs.

The only problem might be that the exuberant rococo decoration would be rather distracting and might lead to frivolous thoughts.

Fashion and style

January 22, 2016
Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839), by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), c. 1810. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839), by Louis Ducis (1775-1847), c. 1810, NT 608957, at Attingham Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I took part in a panel discussion at the Royal College of Art yesterday, part of their History of Design programme. The theme of the seminar was ‘research in action’, exploring the benefits and challenges of interacting with the public.

This reminded me of my previous linking with Unmaking Things, the lively blog run by second-year students of the History of Design course. I was inspired then by the observation made by Marilyn Zapf that the internet has the effect of making any object into a ‘found object’ – whether it is an ephemeral piece of packaging or a fine art masterpiece.

In a recent post Connie Burks writes about the difference between fashion and style – the former being more about historical trends, whereas the latter is more about individual choice, and is therefore more difficult to reconstruct. Connie mentions how style is often revealed by the way an individual combines different garments, patterns, textures and colours.

That, in turn, reminded me of the above portrait of Caroline Murat, who was something of an early-nineteenth-century style icon. The sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and married to one of his generals who became King of Naples, she channeled both French and Italian elements in her surroundings and her dress.

As Brittany Dahlin mentions in her recent thesis on Caroline Murat, she deliberately wore black velvet because of its associations with traditional Neapolitan female dress. At the same time the dress is tailored and cut in the high-waisted ‘Empire’ style, which of course had associations with French cultural and political dominance.

So perhaps this picture provides a glimpse of the fluid boundary between fashion and style.


New look collections website

August 20, 2015

The National Trust collections website has recently had an upgrade. The new look will hopefully make it easier to browse and search the collections and learn more about the individual objects.

When you scroll down the landing page you will see a selection of historic houses with particularly noteworthy collections.

If you choose to explore a particular property, you will be presented with some highlights of that collection. If you want to find out more about a specific object you can click through to find additional information.

Of course it is also possible to search the entire collections database. We continue to improve and refine the collections website, so do let us have your feedback.

Do Chinese wallpapers show the gardens of Guangzhou?

June 23, 2015
Chinese painting on paper showing a garden, used as wallpaper at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese painting on paper showing a garden, used as wallpaper at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Two papers presented at the Chinese garden history conference, held at the University of Sheffield last week, gave me a lot to think about with regard to the – at first sight unrelated – subject of Chinese wallpapers.

Photograph by Felice Beato showing Howqua's garden, Canton, 1860. ©J. Paul Getty Trust

Photograph by Felice Beato showing Howqua’s garden, Canton, 1860. ©J. Paul Getty Trust

Liyuan Gu spoke about rockwork in Chinese gardens and Josepha Richard discussed the gardens of Guangzhou (Canton) in the nineteenth century. The images both Liyuan and Josepha showed were very reminiscent of Chinese wallpapers.

Chinese wallpaper previously at Beaudesert, Staffordshire, illustrated in Nancy McClelland's book Historic Wallpapers (1924).

Chinese wallpaper previously at Beaudesert, Staffordshire, illustrated in Nancy McClelland’s book Historic Wallpapers (1924).

Many Chinese wallpapers show floral imagery, and it is generally assumed that most of these wallpapers were made in Guangzhou, the international port from where they were shipped to the west.

Photograph by John Thomson of a garden in Guangzhou, probably Howqua's garden, 1870s. ©J. Paul Getty Trust

Photograph by John Thomson of a garden in Guangzhou, probably Howqua’s garden, 1870s. ©J. Paul Getty Trust

The visual evidence shown at the conference strongly suggests that at least some of these wallpapers specifically show the gardens of Guangzhou, or of the wider Lingnan region, with their abundant use of water, their stone embankments and balustrades and their profusion of potted shrubs and dwarf trees.

Chinese wallpaper in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle, including decorative rockwork and a stone-edged waterway in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Michael Caldwell

Chinese wallpaper in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle, including decorative rockwork and a stone-edged waterway in the foreground. ©National Trust Images/Michael Caldwell

So this would seem to confirm the link between the wallpapers and Guangzhou. And it also provides more clues as to what we are actually seeing in Chinese wallpapers: a glimpse of Guangzhou on our British walls.


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