A closer look at the Uppark Chinese wallpaper

January 8, 2015
Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Recently we have been able to have a closer look at the Chinese wallpaper fragments from Uppark, which have been in storage. They were revealed under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark following a fire in 1989 and are proving to be very important.

The Little Parlour at Uppark, where the Chinese wallpaper hung between about 1750 and 1770. The chinoiserie cabinet dates from the same period. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Little Parlour at Uppark, where the Chinese wallpaper hung between about 1750 and 1770. The chinoiserie cabinet dates from the same period. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

We knew that the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark was early, of the block-printed type that appeared in about 1750. It is clearly similar in style to other surviving block-printed Chinese wallpapers from that time, such as those at Felbrigg Hall, Ightham Mote, and Woburn Abbey.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The motif of the two pheasants on a rock is also found in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The motif of the two pheasants on a rock is also found in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

But now we have been able to confirm that parts of this wallpaper are in fact identical to some of the wallpaper drops at Ightham Mote. The related section of the Ightham wallpaper can be seen in this previous post.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138491. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138491. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The colours of the Uppark wallpaper are remarkably fresh. Although it obviously suffered from the effects of the fire, it had only been exposed to light for about twenty years, having been covered over with another wallpaper in about 1770. So the surviving fragments make for an interesting comparison with the Ightham paper, in which the colours have changed due to over-painting with oil paint in about 1900.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The rock at left has been cut out from another section and applied to extend the length of the paper. The lady at right is probably also an addition. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The rock at left has been cut out from another section and applied to extend the length of the paper. The lady at right is probably also an addition. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The fragments also provide evidence of the artful cutting and pasting regularly deployed by the paper hangers to make the scenic Chinese wallpaper fit particular rooms. In one section rocks, flowers and a bird have been added to extend the paper at the bottom. The lady appearing nearby seems to have been added as well, probably taken from a different Chinese print or wallpaper.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, with a Chinese border paper representing mottled bamboo fretwork. On the left a different cut paper border can be seen underneath the bamboo border. Inv. no. 138497. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, with a Chinese border paper representing mottled bamboo fretwork. On the left a different cut paper border can be seen underneath the bamboo border. Inv. no. 138497. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Some of the fragments have the remains of border papers, which were commonly used to frame sections of wallpaper. One of them appears to be Chinese, a trompe l’oeil representation of mottled bamboo fretwork.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138494. The fragment includes a section of a European cut paper border in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern. Towards the right there is evidence of the paper hanger cutting the wallpaper in a serpentine line to disguise the overlap with a different section of wallpaper. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138494. The fragment includes a section of a European cut paper border in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern. Towards the right there is evidence of the paper hanger cutting the wallpaper in a serpentine line to disguise the overlap with a different section of wallpaper. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The other appears to be European, cut in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern reminiscent of the decorations on mid-eighteenth century furniture. In one area the cut paper can be seen emerging from underneath a damaged section of the ‘bamboo’ paper – perhaps evidence of a change of mind.

 

Sarah Staniforth awarded CBE

January 2, 2015
Sarah Staniforth ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Sarah Staniforth ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Sarah Staniforth, our former Museums and Collections Director, has been appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year’s Honours list. She stepped down from her National Trust position last year, although she is still involved in various honorary and voluntary roles.

Sarah was made a CBE for services to heritage. She worked for the National Trust for nearly thirty years and is known as an international authority on conservation practice. She is also currently the president of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC).

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In recent years Sarah was closely involved with the publication of the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (2008, updated 2011). In 2013 she published the reader Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation.

Having worked with Sarah for a number of years, I was delighted to hear this news.

Lyme Park carvings re-attributed

December 19, 2014
Detail with vessels from the carved limewood festoons in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.10. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail with vessels from the carved limewood festoons in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.10. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) Panel recently announced that a set of nine limewood carvings has been accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Lyme Park. These carvings were traditionally thought to have been made by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), but the AIL Panel and their advisers felt that they are more likely to be by another master carver.

The Saloon at Lyme Park with the limewood carvings on the walls. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzieire

The Saloon at Lyme Park with the limewood carvings on the walls. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzieire

Carvings displaying a similar, distinctive style of composition survive at nearby Chatsworth. Both of these groups may be the work of a local carver who learned from or was aware of Grinling Gibbons but went on to develop his own style.

Section with musical instruments of the limewood carvings in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.9. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Section with musical instruments of the limewood carvings in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.9. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lyme Park was donated to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Newton in 1946, but much of its contents, including the carvings, remained in private hands. The AIL scheme is of huge benefit to the National Trust in allowing important collections to be preserved in their historical settings. But the scheme also helps to throw a spotlight on individual groups of items, occasionally leading to interesting re-attributions such as this one.

Showing its true colours

December 16, 2014
Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Following a thorough course of treatment, a sixteenth-century tapestry is almost ready to return to Powis Castle. It shows the reception of a group of European diplomats in Damascus. A detailed analysis of the tapestry by Helen Wyld can be found here, but its subject and history still remain enigmatic.

The image above actually shows the back of the tapestry, with its original warm colours.

The front of the Powis Castle 'Embassy' tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

The front of the Powis Castle ‘Embassy’ tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

On the front side the exposure to light caused the yellow dye to fade over time, turning the foliage from green to blue – a common feature of these tapestries.

Detail of a head from the 'Embassy' tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Detail of a head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

As part of its treatment the tapestry was sent to the De Wit royal tapestry workshops in Mechelen, Belgium, where it underwent so-called ‘wet cleaning’.

Detail of head from the 'Embassy' tapestry after conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Detail of head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry after conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Then it was sent to the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling Hall for conservation stitching, to remove old crude repairs and improve the overall strength of the tapestry. Soon it will once again be on display at Powis Castle, ready for a new lease of life.

A sense of Romantic humour

November 28, 2014
Two wings of an altarpiece, painted by William Bankes, watercolour on vellum, c.1803. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

Two wings of an altarpiece, painted by William Bankes, watercolour on vellum, c.1803. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

William Bankes, the collector and all-round man of taste who created the house and collections at Kingston Lacy as we can still see them today, was in many ways a product of the Romantic era. He knew Lord Byron, he sketched Gothic architecture and he traveled around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, picking up works of art and antiquities on the way.

Miniature portrait of a young William Bankes by George Sanders, 1812, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1251251. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Miniature portrait of a young William Bankes by George Sanders, 1812, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1251251. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Exiled from Britain because of his homosexuality, he spent his later years in that most romantic of cities, Venice, allegedly making secret trips back to Dorset to see his beloved Kingston Lacy under the cover of darkness.

View of Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

View of Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

We have recently been able to purchase from Lowell Libson a pair of watercolours on vellum painted by Bankes in about 1804, when he was a student at Cambridge. These pictures were once the wings of an altarpiece which Bankes created for his rooms at Trinity College, as an irreverent set-piece of neo-Gothic interior decoration.

Left-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900102. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

Left-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900102. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

The left-hand panel depicts a kneeling knight bearing the Bankes coat of arms, probably a medievalised self-portrait, with the words ‘Domine Labia Mea Apenies’ (Thou O Lord wilt open my lips) coming from his mouth. Above the knight hovers an angel holding a scroll reading ‘Gloria in Excelsis deo’ (Glory be God in the highest), and the scene is surmounted by the Bankes coat of arms.

Right-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900103. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

Right-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900103. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

The right-hand panel shows a group of cloaked and hooded mourners around a coffin covered with a pall exclaiming ‘Orate pro anima Wulie’ or pray for Wulie’s – William Bankes’s – soul. In this scene the coat of arms has been replaced by an ominous skull with the inscription ‘Non Deus est Mourton’ – God is not dead.

The ruins of the Corfe Castle, on the Kingston Lacy estate, which William Bankes knew well. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The ruins of the Corfe Castle, on the Kingston Lacy estate, which William Bankes knew well. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Although the altarpiece was clearly intended as part of an elaborate theatrical joke, which apparently included the burning of incense and the occasional chanting of services, Bankes was also using it to express the various interests and personal characteristics that would find their full flowering in the creation of Kingston Lacy. He was imaging himself as a romantic knight, he was picturing his own funeral as something out of a classic Gothic novel, he was being irreverently ‘Papist’ and borderline blasphemous, and he was indulging his love of Gothic architecture and decoration.

Drawing of Gothic cloisters, by William Bankes, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1252998. ©National Trust

Drawing of Gothic cloisters, by William Bankes, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1252998. ©National Trust

This acquisition was made possible by grants from the Art Fund as well as from the Ervin-DesChamps Fund through the Royal Oak Foundation.

The coffee house redux

November 14, 2014
The Antiquarian Society, cartoon by George Cruikshank, 1812. ©Society of Antiquaries of London

The Antiquarian Society, cartoon by George Cruikshank, 1812. ©Society of Antiquaries of London

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting a talk about Chinese wallpaper to the Society of Antiquaries of London at their splendid premises in Burlington House. The Society was founded in 1707 and its aims are to support research into the material past, to foster public understanding of our heritage and to engage in the formulation of public policy on the care of our cultural property.

Above is an impression of one of the Society’s meetings in Regency times, but fortunately the Fellows who came to my talk yesterday were not quite so rowdy.

Lloyd's Coffee House, cartoon by George Woodward, 1798, at Calke Abbey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Lloyd’s Coffee House, cartoon by George Woodward, 1798, at Calke Abbey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Apart from being wonderfully rude, the Cruikshank cartoon also hints at the very real creative and intellectual ferment that can arise when like-minded people get together and start exchanging and debating ideas – I have mentioned this ‘coffee house’ or ‘liquid network’ effect in a previous post.

Indeed I think there was some of that going on at the Society yesterday, facilitated, as in the coffee houses of old, by the availability of refreshments. I was certainly stimulated and challenged by the questions asked by the Fellows following my talk and by the further discussions afterwards.

And the Antiquaries have taken the coffee house into the twenty-first century, by making these talks available online complete with audio, video and synchronised slides. So for those who are interested, my talk is available here.

A happy ending and a new beginning

November 11, 2014
A pair of black basalt ware vases by Wedgwood & Bentley, 1770-5, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A pair of black basalt ware vases by Wedgwood & Bentley, 1770-5, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

It was recently announced that a public appeal organised by the Art Fund to prevent the Wedgwood Museum collection from being sold had been successful.

The Wedgwood breakfast service in the China Room at Penrhyn Castle. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Wedgwood breakfast service in the China Room at Penrhyn Castle. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Because the Wedgwood Museum Trust shared a pension fund with Waterford Wedgwood plc, it became responsible for a huge pension deficit when the company went into administration in 2009.

Black basalt Wedgwood bust of the actor David Garrick (1717-79) in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Black basalt Wedgwood bust of the actor David Garrick (1717-79) in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

As a result, the Wedgwood Museum collection of more than 80,000 pieces was under threat from being broken up. But the Art Fund’s appeal was supported by a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, by other grants from private trusts and foundations, and by gifts from 4,000 members of the public.

A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases, c.1765, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A pair of Wedgwood earthenware vases, c.1765, in the Library at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Ownership of the collection will be transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum, but it will remain on display at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston.

Two black Wedgwood vases on the corner of the fireplace in the Morning Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Two black Wedgwood vases on the corner of the fireplace in the Morning Room at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Wedgwood Museum website shows some of the amazing objects in the collection, illustrating the spirit of innovation of the company’s eighteenth-century founder, Josiah Wedgwood, and the ingenuity and elegance of the company’s products.

Wedgwood Queen's Ware cream bowl, decorated with views of Shugborough and Richmond Castle, at Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire. ©National Trust Images/Mark Fiennes

Wedgwood Queen’s Ware cream bowl, decorated with views of Shugborough and Richmond Castle, at Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire. ©National Trust Images/Mark Fiennes

This post features just some of the many Wedgwood items that survive in the historic houses of the National Trust, from table wares to decorative objects and including classical motifs as well as contemporary celebrities. Wedgwood’s influence is – and remains – everywhere.

Phoenix hunt

November 7, 2014
Phoenix (fenghuang)  in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The omens must be favourable for my colleague Andrew Bush, our paper conservation adviser, because he has recently reported a number of sightings of the elusive and auspicious Chinese phoenix, or fenghuang.

Andrew found one in the Chinese wallpaper at Nostell Priory, which was hung by Thomas Chippendale in 1771.

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. The bird was cut out and moved (to allow for a chimneypiece), which accounts for its slightly awkward position on the peony branches.©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Erddig. The bird was cut out and moved (to allow for a chimneypiece), which accounts for its slightly awkward position on the peony branches.©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Then he recognised the same bird in the Chinese wallpaper at Erddig, which is thought to have been hung during the 1770s.

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Cobham Hall. ©Mark Sandiford

Phoenix (fenghuang) in the Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Cobham Hall. ©Mark Sandiford

And lo and behold there it was again in the Chinese wallpaper at Cobham Hall, where Bromwich, Isherwood and Bradley supplied Chinese wallpaper in 1773.

These phoenixes are more than just vaguely similar: they share the same stance, shape and disposition of feathers, suggesting they are all based on the same master design.

British printed cotton with a chinoiserie design, c. 1775-80, possibly used as a curtain, at Winterthur. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

British printed cotton with a chinoiserie design, c. 1775-80, possibly used as a curtain, at Winterthur. ©Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

But to top all that Andrew has now spotted the same phoenix in a different medium, produced on the other side of the world: it also appears on a British printed cotton, dated to the late 1770s. This textile is now in the Winterthur collection, and is illustrated in the splendid new book Printed Textiles by Linda Eaton. In spite of the more western appearance of the design, the bird is clearly related to the fenghuang in the Chinese wallpapers at Nostell, Erddig and Cobham Hall.

It is tempting to speculate about the exact relationship between these Chinese painted wallpapers and that British printed cotton design. As yet we only have this limited visual evidence, but it is clear that there was some kind of cross-cultural, cross-medium exchange going on.

‘A delight in her business’

November 4, 2014
Portrait of Mrs Mary Garnett by Thomas Barber the elder, c.1800, at Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 108766. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Mrs Mary Garnett by Thomas Barber the elder, c.1800, at Kedleston Hall, inv. no. 108766. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I was recently made aware of this portrait of Mrs Mary Garnett (1724-1809), the housekeeper at Kedleston Hall. She is shown in the Marble Hall at Kedleston, with the guidebook to the house in her hand, as if ready to take a visitor round. Mrs Garnett must have been considered a fairly important member of the household to have had her portrait painted. The presence of the guidebook in the picture hints at the already well-established practice of respectable sightseers being allowed entry to country houses. By all accounts Mrs Garnett was rather good at this ‘public-facing’ part of her job.

Caesars' Hall, the everyday ground-floor entrance hall at Kedleston Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Caesars’ Hall, the everyday ground-floor entrance hall at Kedleston Hall. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Several appreciative descriptions of Mrs Garnett’s performance as a house guide have been preserved, but the most glowing and informative was one by James Plumptre who visited in 1793:

‘We entered the house at the Servant’s Hall, by a door under the Portico, put down our names, and were then shewn up into the Grand Hall, where the Housekeeper joined us. Of all the Housekeeper[s] I ever met with at a Noblemans Houses [sic], this was the most obliging and intelligent I ever saw. There was a pleasing civility in her manner which was very ingratiating, she seem’d to take a delight in her business, was willing to answer any questions which were ask’d her, and was studious to shew the best lights for viewing the pictures and setting off the furniture.’

Part of the Marble Hall at Kedleston Hall. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Part of the Marble Hall at Kedleston Hall. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

So not just country house visiting and country house guidebooks, but also visitor reviews were already clearly in evidence in the eighteenth century.

The familiar hidden in the exotic

October 29, 2014
Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram, mid eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I have been reading the late James Cahill’s book Pictures for Use and Pleasure (on the recommendation of Christer von der Burg), which deals with the so-called professional painting tradition in eighteenth-century China. Traditionally the almost monochrome, semi-abstract paintings produced by scholar amateurs have ranked most highly in the canon of Chinese art. But Cahill makes the case that the colourful, realistic and detailed pictures produced by professional painters are also worthy of note.

Chinese picture showing an aspect of silk production, mounted on the wall in the Chinese Room at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Chinese picture showing an aspect of silk production, mounted on the wall in the Chinese Room at Erddig in the 1770s. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These professional or ‘academic’ paintings were intended for specific occasions or seasons, or to decorate specific rooms. As such they are among the ancestors of the Chinese wallpaper with colourful and detailed decoration produced specifically for export to the west (and it was because Christer knows of my interest in Chinese wallpapers that he kindly alerted me to this book).

Chinese coloured print showing a female figure in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bushted crop

Chinese coloured print showing a female figure in the Study at Saltram. ©National Trust/Andrew Bushted crop

Cahill makes the point that many Chinese professional paintings employ techniques and devices originally derived from western painting. During the late Ming and early Qing periods (roughly equivalent to the seventeenth century) some western illusionistic techniques like linear perspective, chiaroscuro and the depiction of interconnected spaces were introduced to China by Jesuit painters working at the imperial court and through the circulation of western prints.

Chinese painting on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion, probably mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese painting on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion, probably mid eighteenth century, at Shugborough Hall. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

These techniques also appear, by now completely internalised, in Chinese wallpaper or pictures used as wallpaper, especially in the depiction of volumetric shading in costumes and perspective and spatial recession in architecture. Taking that one step further, I wonder if this might have been one of the factors that made Chinese pictures and wallpaper so attractive to Europeans: it was excitingly exotic, and yet it included elements that would, on an unconscious level, have been comfortingly familiar to the western eye.

 


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