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


The Georgian landscape garden was already home to Greek temples and Gothic ruins and Chinese bridges, pagodas or summer houses were happily accommodated. Western interpretations of these architectural wonders were not in the main faithful but picked on key features of design. In particular the broad upcurving eaves of pagodas were a popular element.

Sir William Chambers had the advantage of visiting Canton in his youth and his dramatic Pagoda for Kew Gardens, completed in 1762 was one of the most accurate imitations of a Chinese building in Europe.  This became well known through the dissemination of engravings.

Pavilions with bells and dragon finials, garden seats and bridges were popular in the fashionable gardens of private and royal estates. The style grew familiar to the less privileged classes when it was incorporated into the supper-boxes and walkways of the London pleasure-gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh in the 1740s.

The pagoda Battersea Park

The pagoda in Battersea Park, close to the venue for the Decorative Fair. Courtesy of The Friends of Battersea Park.


The most extravagant enthusiast for this style was Catherine the Great who commissioned a whole village (although not completed) in the Chinese style at Tsarskoe Seloin Russia in the 1780s. Similarly the Chinese Pavilion built for Queen Louisa Ulrika in 1753 at Drottningholm Palace, Sweden is an extraordinary example of the chinoiserie style.

Regency Period

The late C18th saw the decline in vogue for the Chinese style. Interest was only revived by the flamboyant fantasy of the discerning Prince Regent, later George IV. The Royal Pavilion at Brighton takes its oriental inspiration seriously; it is not contained in one room or one area of design but is evident in both the interior and exterior of the pavilion. Influences come from across the orient and are visible throughout especially in the splendid and lavish Music Room and Banqueting Room. Furniture of simulated bamboo and carved Chinese figures are set against Chinese-style wall paintings, and lit by Chinese lanterns.

Brighton Pavilion Banqueting-Room

Brighton Pavilion Banqueting-Room

1930s & Beyond

Chinoiserie gradually waned during the C19th, when the appeal of the East had to compete with other exotic tastes, such as the “Turkish,” the Egyptian, the Gothic, and the Greek. It enjoyed a brief revival in interior design, however, in the 1920s and 30s. Chinese rooms for the wealthy and cinemas for the masses were in vogue. Modernist designers created interiors dominated by dramatic black and scarlet lacquers and mirrors. Gold was used lavishly often in conjunction with large Chinese patterns. Chinese style garments, in particular wide sleeved coats were fashionable, as were hairstyles and oriental pearls and jade.


Early C20th hand-painted silk folding screen in the chinoiserie style, French, that was offered at a past Decorative Far.


However the influence, even if not the fashion of chinoiserie persisted in to the modernist era. Danish furniture designer Hans Wegner (1914 – 2007) is frequently referred to as the “master of the chair”. In 1944 he embarked on a series of at least nine “Chinese” chairs inspired by portraits of Danish merchants seated in Ming Dynasty chairs. These were variations on the horseshoe and yokeback chair designs of which the wishbone or Y CH24 chair is perhaps the best known. Wegner employed particularly intricate woodwork and joinery skills in very simple designs which provided an inspiration to a whole generation of Scandinavian cabinetmakers. The strict mitred corners of many of the Haslev furniture designs are reminiscent of sophisticated Ming joinery which used no glue or nails.

Hans Wegner china chairs from a past Decorative Fair

Hans Wegner chairs, for sale at a past Decorative Fair, show the Chinese Ming influence.