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.

A Chinese romance

February 16, 2016

Chinese porcelain teapot, early eighteenth century, decorated in blue and white with a scene from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Erddig, NT 1145624. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I recently supplied a little feature on the theme of ‘romance’ in our collections for the Spring 2016 issue of the National Trust Magazine. My colleague Gabriella de la Rosa has now added a version of this feature to the collections pages of the National Trust’s website.

One of the objects in this feature is a Chinese blue and white porcelain teapot at Erddig. It is decorated with a scene from a famous Chinese play, The Romance of the West Chamber, written by the Yuan-dynasty playwright Wang Shifu.

NT 499329.1

One of a pair of Chinese porcelain baluster-shaped vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Lyme Park, NT 499329.1. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The Romance of the West Chamber is the story of Zhang Sheng, a poor young scholar, and Cui Yingying, the daughter of the Prime Minister, who fall in love without their families’ approval. The scene on the Erddig teapot shows Yingying in a garden at night waiting to meet her lover.

The plot is a kind of Chinese Romeo and Juliet, except that it ends happily, with Zhang Sheng doing well in the civil service examinations, rising to high office, and being able to marry his sweetheart.

NT 1245606a

Chinese porcelain bowl with everted rim, Kangxi period (1662-1722), decorated in blue and white with scenes from The Romance of the West Chamber, at Polesden Lacey, NT 1245606, ©National Trust/Andrew Fetherston

All this would have been lost to eighteenth-century British tea drinkers and porcelain collectors. It was only in the 1980s, with Craig Clunas’s article on the West Chamber as a decorative theme on Chinese porcelain (see this bibliography under 1982), that these scenes began to be properly understood in the west.

Gabriella has assembled a few more Chinese ceramics with ‘West Chamber’ imagery in our collections.

The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption

February 11, 2016

Country House cover FINAL 4

Historic England has recently published a volume of essays entitled The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption, edited by John Stobart and Andrew Hann.

A Chinese white porcelain teapot,  c.1650-70, at Ham House, Surrey

Chinese porcelain teapot in European silver mounts (NT 1139006), on a Javanese lacquer table (NT 1140034), both late seventeenth century, at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

As Jon notes in his introduction, the book is essentially about looking at the country house as ‘a nexus of complex flows of goods, people and ideas.’ The volume contributes to the burgeoning debate about ‘material culture’, considering art history, social history and economic history not as separate realms but as an interrelated matrix.

The various essays extend this matrix well beyond the shores of Britain, including Finnish, French, Irish, Dutch and Spanish perspectives on the country house.

Cup of cappucinno and a pot of tea on a tray in the Orangery Cafe, Ham House and Garden, Surrey.

Coffee and tea as served in the Orangery Café at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

I contributed an essay on the changing significance of Asian and pseudo-Asian objects and styles in British country house interiors and gardens.

The debate is brought into the present through discussions about how the country house is ‘served up’ and ‘consumed’ today.

Chinese wallpaper conference

February 5, 2016
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Detail from one of the prints used as wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. NT 872998 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

Regular readers of this blog may remember me mentioning the possibility of a conference on Chinese wallpapers in historic houses. I am happy to announce that this conference is going ahead and will take place in London on 7 and 8 April, with an optional excursion on 9 April.

The Dressing Room with hand painted wallpaper from China at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Section including a phoenix from the painted bird-and-flower wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Nostell Priory, supplied by Thomas Chippendale in 1771. NT 959651 ©National Trust Images/J. Whitaker

Day one will be hosted by Coutts & Co, who still have an eighteenth-century landscape wallpaper in their boardroom that was owned by the founder of the firm, Thomas Coutts.

Day two will be at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and will include the viewing of sections of Chinese wallpaper from their collection and a visit to their paper conservation studio.

The optional excursion on day three is a visit to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, to see the role Chinese wallpaper played in the Prince Regent’s decorative vision (and again including the viewing of some archived wallpaper).

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Figure of a labourer in the landscape wallpaper painted on silk in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram. NT 872999 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

The conference will look at Chinese wallpaper in the round, including Chinese, European, art-historical, economic, social and conservation perspectives.

We are fortunate in having been able to assemble an authoritative group of speakers from from Europe, America and China, who will be sharing some of their latest research.

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Detail of a bird of prey in the painted bird-and-flower wallpaper at Erddig, probably hung in the 1770s. NT 1153114 ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

More information about the conference papers and the speakers can be found on the conference website, which includes a booking link.