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Key Periods in the Development of Chinoiserie Style in the West – How Taste Travelled. Part II

Georgian Country House Chinoiserie and Chinese Chippendale – 1740-1770

The English embraced the new fashion which was particularly suited to light, feminine spaces: wealthy women’s bedrooms, dressing rooms and drawing rooms in stately homes. One of the earliest complete Chinoiserie interiors in Britain was commissioned by Charles, 4th Duke of Beaufort (d.1756) for the Chinese Bedroom at Badminton House and supplied by John and William Linnell in 1753-55. An escapist fantasy, the room was a European rococo interpretation of ‘Chinese’ design and motifs. The Chinese style Badminton Bed is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Chinese Room with its elaborately carved doorcase and Pagoda at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire

The Chinese Room with its elaborately carved doorcase and Pagoda. Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. Image courtesy The National Trust.

An extraordinary Chinese Room was created at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire in 1760, with an extravagance of woodcarvings by Luke Lightfoot. Wallpaper was key to many of these interiors; both hand painted and of English design and manufacture. Saltram in Devon has four Chinese papers which are probably the earliest still to be seen in Britain, dating from the reign of K’ang Hsi (1662-1722). Houses such as Nostell Priory, Erdigg, near Wrexham and Belton House Lincolnshire also retain papers.

Carved Wood Ho-Ho Birds,from an C18th mirror

Pair of carved wood ho-ho birds with traces of gilding, elements from an 18th century chinoiserie mirror. Offered at a past Decorative Fair.

‘Thus it is happened …we must all seek the barbarous gaudy goût of the Chinese; and fat headed Pagods and shaking Mandarins bear the prize from the greatest works of antiquity; and Apollo and Venus must give way to the fat idol with a sconce on his head.’ So wrote Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu (society hostess and bluestocking) in 1749, describing the rage for chinoiserie decoration in England. The craze was at its height from 1740-1770.

In furniture the major exponent of the time was the much admired Thomas Chippendale, who believed his delicate Chinese, fret-back chairs to be ‘very proper for a lady’s Dressing Room’. His tea tables and china cabinets were embellished with fretwork glazing and railings, ca 1753 – 70, but sober homages to early Qing scholars’ furnishings were also assimilated. The tang evolved into a mid-Georgian side table and squared slat-back armchairs suited English gentlemen as well as Chinese scholars. Chippendale’s work of this period can be seen at Dumfries House in Ayreshire, Scotland.

Carved Wood Ho-Ho Birds,from an C18th mirror