Last week I met some friends for dinner at The Wolseley Restaurant, St James’, Piccadilly. I have walked past the building with its grand facade many times but had never ventured in until last week. What a wonderful surprise! The original 1920’s Chinoiserie revival interior survives and it inspired me to write about the Chinoiserie style in this months blog. https://www.thewolseley.com/history
Chinoiserie comes from the french word ‘chinois’ meaning Chinese, A style in the 18th century inspired by the import to Europe of silks, porcelain and laquer ware from China, Japan and Asia made possible by the trading with the East India Company. The demand grew and grew and the height of this fashionable style was between 1750-1765. It influenced British furniture makers and craftsmen who began to create their own designs in architecture, furniture, decorative items and fashion to feed the consumers’ insatiable appetite for this style.
FISHING LODGE WITH PAGODA ROOF, circa 1750
THE GREAT PAGODA, KEW GARDENS
Designed by architect Sir William Chambers for Princess Augusta, founder of Kew Gardens.50 metres high, completed in 1762. He specialized in garden buildings, designing many for Kew – the bridge and the aviary in addition to the pagoda. He travelled to China returning with original designs which he adapted to english surroundings.
THE CHINESE HOUSE, STOWE
A garden pavillion commissioned by Viscount Cobham in 1738. Attributed to William Kent.
THE EAST INDIA COMPANY HOUSE 1748
This was the British East India Company headquarters in London, the East India company extended to headquarters in India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and British Hong Kong.
The import of tea made Tea drinking a fashionable pastime and a way to show off ones’ wealth.
OIL ON CANVAS ‘TEA LEAVES’ BY WILLIAM MCGREGOR PAXTON
This painting depicts ladies taking tea. Note the tea bowls which are most probably imported from China. Handles were not on tea bowls until after 1750. They then became a teacups. Tea was usually taken in the drawing room or if there were just ladies present, then tea would be taken in the ladies private boudoir or bedroom.
WHITE ENAMEL ON COPPER TEA CASKET, DECORATED WITH POLYCHROME COLOURS.
. The 2 small flasks were brown and green tea leaves and the larger centre flask for sugar. Note the lock.
Tea and sugar were very expensive commodities therefore had to be stored safely and securely by the housekeeper or mistress of the house. Lockable tea caddies, caskets and teapoys were the outcome of this need. They were usually decorative objects made from various woods, silver, tortoiseshell, porcelain and enamel. Some were very ornate and highly decorated as shown in the example above.
Jean Pillemont (1728-1808) was a french artist who settled in London. He attributed greatly to Chinese designs and published two collections of his designs in 1755 and 1762. Many of his designs were copied and adapted to a variety of porcelain. textiles, furniture and wallpapers.
DECORATIVE PLATE 1755 FROM THE BOW PORCELAIN FACTORY
Famille rose design
Renowned cabinet makers in that time were Thomas Chippendale and William and John Linnell (father and son}. ‘Chinese Chippendale’ is a universal term to describe pieces made in this period. The Linnells designed furniture for the China Room in Badminton House, the ‘Badminton Bed’ being one of the most well known of their designs. Now housed on permanent display at the V&A museum.
THE BADMINTON BED about 1754, WILLIAM AND JOHN LINNELL. V&A Museum
The Badminton Bed, designed and manufactured by William and John Linnell. V&A Museum.
Thomas Chippendale was born in 1718 into A Yorkshire family of carpenters. He moved to St Martins Lane, London in 1748 which had become ‘the place to be’ if you were a cabinet maker. He set up his cabinet making business there, he produced and published pattern directories in 1754, 1755 and 1762 which were a huge success and his designs were much in demand at home and abroad and by 1755 he was employing between 40 – 50 craftsmen made up of cabinet makers, carvers and upholsterer. cash flow was always a problem as people never paid on time. He died in 1779 and his son Thomas took over the business, cash flow continued to be a problem and the business closed in 1804.
CHINA CABINET, THOMAS CHIPPENDALE
CHINESE CHIPPENDALE DINING CHAIRS, THOMAS CHIPPENDALE
THE CHINESE ROOM, CLAYDON PARK (National Trust) has survived in tact and is one of the most elaborate examples of chinoiserie interior design in the country. It was designed by Luke Lightfoot in 1769. Intricate carving adornes the doors, fireplace and tea alcove.
THE CHINESE GALLERY, THE ROYAL PAVILION. JOHN NASH 1820
A folding screen decorated in the chionoiserie style was a popular way of bringing the style into a room as depicted in this painting by Francis Boucher.
LA TOILETTE BY FRANCIS BOUCHER, 1742
With a great choice of sumptious silks now available, it became fashionable to wear them. Gentlemen sported a long flowing silk coat called a ‘banyan’.
Chinoiserie re-emerged in the 1920’s. It is seen in architecture, interior decoration, furniture, decorative items and ladies fashion.
1920’s bathroom decorated in the Chinese style
1920’s cocktail cabinet with chinoiserie decoration.