In a comment on a previous post, François-Marc Chaballier kindly alerted us to a current exhibition entitled ‘China at Versailles’, about the diplomatic and cultural links between the French and Chinese courts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I immediately ordered the catalogue and am eagerly awaiting it.
Looking at the exhibition’s web pages I saw the above picture of a chinoiserie pavilion built near the Petit Trianon at Versailles for Queen Marie-Antoinette in about 1776.
The low, stretched-out silhouette of this pavilion reminded me of the so-called Chinese Dairy at Woburn Abbey, which was designed by Henry Holland for the 5th Duke of Bedford in 1787 and completed in 1794.
This application of the Chinese style to an ornamental dairy is unique in Britain. In France, however, the fashion for ornamental dairies (as described by Meredith Martin in her recent book Dairy Queens) coincided with a taste for garden pavilions in the Chinese style. The idealisation of milking, butter-making and country life in general chimed with the ‘physiocratic’ view of China as an admirably stable and productive agricultural society.
Marie-Antoinette had dairies included in her Hameau or ornamental village at Versailles in the mid-1780s. Her husband, Louis XVI, built another one for her at the Château de Rambouillet in 1787.
The link between China and dairies was made even more explicit in the garden structure built by François-Joseph Bélanger for Claude Baudard de Saint James at Neuilly-sur-Seine in the late 1780s: a chinoiserie pavilion with a dairy in a ‘grotto’ immediately below it.
Henry Holland is known to have visited Paris in 1787. It seems likely that he saw at least some of these pavilions and dairies and that they informed his design of the Chinese Dairy at Woburn – but this is just a hunch and needs more research.