Europe & us in 99 objects

July 20, 2016
The Anglesey Leg, the world's first articulated wooden leg, in the Cavalry Museum at Plas Newydd, on the Isle of Anglesey, Wales

The 1st Marquess of Anglesey’s leg, at Plas Newydd (NT 1175888). ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In this year when political relationships have been so hotly debated, we have put together a selection of items from our collections that explore our rich and ancient cultural connections to the European continent.

Drawing inspiration from the British Museum’s ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’, this selection of objects – a digital diary of sorts – will help examine our nation’s cultural influence on the Continent, and equally, its influence on us.

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Antonio Canova (1757-1822), marble bust of Helen of Troy, 1816-7, at Mount Stewart, on loan from the Trustees of the Londonderry Estate. ©Trustees of the Londonderry Estate/Bryan Rutledge

Each weekday over a period of 99 days, my colleague Gabriella de la Rosa will be highlighting a particular object on our collections website. She’ll be looking at everything from Old Master paintings and priceless heirlooms to some of the more humble and unusual items in our collections.

The series has started with a prosthetic limb made for the 1st Marquess of Anglesey who lost his leg at the Battle of Waterloo, a marble bust by Antonio Canova that was used as a pawn in a diplomatic game and a Roman ring that may have inspired the fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien.

A gold ring at The Vyne, Basingstoke, Hampshire, with an inscription on the band and a lion's head marked on it

Gold ring, engraved with a head of Venus and an inscription, fourth century AD, at the Vyne (NT 719789) ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Drawn from over 200 special places, this digital attic of oddities and treasures will show that Britain’s story is one of a two-way traffic of delights, where the English Channel is not so much a fortress as a trading highway of influences and culture that has helped define who we are as a nation today.

The digital diary will be unfolding on the National Trust Collections website. Please check in regularly to uncover the remarkable stories these objects have to tell.

Cutting and pasting Chinese pictures

June 21, 2016
Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom which dates from the construction of the room c1760 at Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Picture inserted into the overmantel in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. NT 356855.

This picture, showing Chinese figures in a landscape, hangs above the chimneypiece in the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. The outlines of the imagery were printed with carved woodblocks, but the colours were added by hand.


The overmantel in the Chinese bedroom at Blickling. ©National Trust/Paul Bailey

The picture is different from the surrounding fully painted Chinese wallpaper. Usually overmantel frames like this were decorated with mirrors or European oil paintings, but here the presence of Chinese wallpaper must have made it seem appropriate to use a Chinese picture instead.

Detail of the Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese Bedroom which dates from the construction of the room c1760 at Blickling Hall, Norfolk

The Chinese picture with the yellow line showing where the two separate prints have been cut and joined.

At first sight it appears to be a single picture. But when we look more closely we can see that two separate prints have been cut and joined together – indicated by the yellow line in the above image. The scale of the print on the right is actually ever so slightly larger than the one on the left.

Buck Pal Chin Chip Rm 1914 RCIN 2101873

The Chinese Chippendale Room at Buckingham Palace in 1914, photograph by Sir Alexander Nelson Hood, RCIN 2101873. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

I was recently discussing a similar collage of Chinese prints, which is in store at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, with Dr Alexandra Loske, curator at the Pavilion, and Dr Clare Taylor of the Open University. Here it is when it was still in the so-called Chinese Chippendale Room at Buckingham Palace, set into the overmantel frame.


The chimneypiece and overmantel in the Chinese Chippendale Room at Buckingham Palace, originally from Eltham Lodge, Kent, RCIN 2580.

The overmantel and chimneypiece are very interesting too, beautifully carved in mid-eighteenth-century English rococo chinoiserie style. They were acquired for Buckingham Palace by King Edward VII in the early twentieth century and are thought to have originally come from Eltham Lodge, Kent.


Part of a Chinese wallpaper panel from Eltham Lodge, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E.2087-1914. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2016

The name Eltham Lodge will be familiar to those who know the Chinese wallpaper collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum owns a group of important early Chinese wallpaper panels that was removed from Eltham Lodge in 1911.

That makes me wonder if the chimneypiece and overmantel at Buckingham Palace, the collage of Chinese prints at the Royal Pavilion and the Chinese wallpaper at the V&A were all originally in the same room at Eltham Lodge? I don’t know if there is any hard evidence for that, but it would seem to be a possibility, and the Chinese Bedroom at Blickling provides  a suggestive parallel.

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.

Chinese wallpaper: trade, technique and taste

April 11, 2016

Section of a Chinese bird-and-flower wallpaper, late eighteenth century, showing a small citrus tree in an ornamental pot on a stone stand. Victoria and Albert Museum, E.2854-1913

I am just looking back on the conference on the subject of Chinese wallpaper in the west that took place between Thursday 7th and Saturday 9th April. It has been a frenetic but extremely productive and enjoyable few days.

It was the first ever conference looking at Chinese wallpapers in the round, presenting some of the groundbreaking work and research now being carried out in this area. It is becoming more and more clear that Chinese wallpaper wasn’t just a form of Chinese export art, or a just form of European chinoiserie, but that it was (and is) a global product firmly rooted in both east and west.

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Chinese prints used as wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram, near Plymouth (NT 872998). The shading on the clothes, trees and architecture is a stylistic feature adopted from western art.

Coutts & Co generously hosted day one of the conference, at their premises at 440 Strand in London. The conference delegates were given guided tours of the Chinese wallpaper originally acquired by banker Thomas Coutts around 1800.

The focus of this day was on the taste for and trade in Chinese wallpapers. We were fortunate in having been able to secure speakers from Europe, America and China. The subjects ranged from the earliest uses of Chinese pictures as wall decoration in the west all the way to the continuing popularity of Chinese wallpaper today.


Conservation work revealing a European wallcovering underneath a Chinese landscape wallpaper at Oud Amelisweerd, near Utrecht, The Netherlands. This discovery helped to date the introduction of the Chinese wallpaper.

The second day of the conference was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where we were the guests of the Asian Department. During the morning there were talks on the technical side of Chinese wallpapers, with insights into how they were made and examples of how they have been conserved, provided by some of the foremost conservation practitioners in the field.


A section of the Chinese bird-and-flower wallpaper from Moor Park, Hertfordshire, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (E.533-1937), which was being treated as the conference delegates visited the conservation studio. It is closely related to Chinese wallpapers at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, and Temple Newsam, Leeds.

Then in the afternoon the colleagues at the V&A made a number of Chinese wallpapers from their extensive collection available to view. It was hugely exciting to see these beautiful and fascinating wallpapers up close and to discuss them with so many knowledgeable people. We also had the privilege of being able to witness one section of wallpaper being worked on in the paper conservation studio.


The Saloon at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, with the Chinese bird-and-flower wallpaper on a cream ground that hung there between 1816 and 1822. After Augustus Charles Pugin, Royal Collection, RCIN 918161. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

On the third day there was an optional excursion to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. This was a chance to see an actual example of the use of Chinese decoration in a British historic interior. Although the Pavilion is unique in its exuberance and opulence, the creative use of Chinese objects and materials is a thread that runs through the history of western design and decoration between the sixteenth century and the present.

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Unused section from the Chinese bird-and-flower wallpaper hung in the Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor, in the early 1830s. The unused sections have been kept in store at Penrhyn ever since and retain their original, almost shockingly bright colours. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

We are extremely grateful to everyone at Coutts, the V&A, the Royal Pavilion and the National Trust who have made this event possible. The speakers have been very generous with their time and expertise. And personally I want to pay tribute to my good-humoured, indefatigable and generally brilliant co-organisers Andrew Bush, Alexandra Loske and Anna Wu.

A few more images and conversations relating tho this conference can be found on Twitter via @ChineseWP2016.

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.