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Chinoiserie Furniture : Chinese Chippendale Style

From the time of the Restoration in England there had been some interest in utilising Chinese style design forms, or "chinoiserie" in French, which by the middle of the 18th century, the period of Georgian furniture, had evolved into a popular craze which designers such as Thomas Chippendale were only too happy to cater to. The publication in 1741 of an English translation of Jean Baptiste du Halde's "Description geographique, historique, etc. de l'empire de la Chine, et de al Tartarie Chinoise", which was based on reports by Jesuit missionaries in China, did much to arouse interest in "the Chinese taste" especially in the areas of chinese lacquer and porcelain.

Chinoiserie Mirror
Chinoiserie Mirror, 1760.
Carved pine, japanned and gilded.
Has a pagoda shaped top, a central alcove with a pierced, domed top and side borders of naturalistically carved branches and foliage. Also a lower ledge carved with rockwork and a double flight of steps leading up to a platform with Chinese fencing.

By 1750 the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were sporting "Chinese Pavilions and Boxes", and, in a note written the preceding year by a less than effusively admiring observer, Mrs Montagu, it is stated:

Thus has it happened in furniture ....... we must all seek the barbarous gaudy gout of the chinese; and fat-headed Pagods and shaking Mandarins bear the prize from the finest works of antiquity; and Apollo and Venus must give way to a fat idol with a sconce on his head.

However the stinging criticism loses its force when we note that Mrs Montagu herself later was to fall under the oriental sway of the chinoiserie when a new room of hers was decorated in the new taste.

Around 1753 saw the peak of the chinoiserie fashion in furniture as a publication of the day was given to remark on:

According to the present prevailing whim, everything is Chinese, or in the Chinese taste; or, as it is sometimes more modestly expressed, partly after the Chinese manner. Chairs, tables, chests, chimney-pieces, frames for looking glasses [mirrors], and even our most vulgar utensils are all reduced to this new-fangled standard; and without doors so universally has it spread, that every gate to a cow-yard is in T's and Z's, and every hovel for the cows has bells hanging at the corners. The good people in the city are, I perceive, struck with this novelty; and though some of them still retain the last fashion, the Gothic, yet others have begun to ornament the doors and windows of their shops with the more modern improvements.

Chinoiserie Design Books

William Halfpenny is generally thought to have got the ball rolling in England with his "New Designs for Chinese Temples" in 1750. A "New Book of Chinese Designs Calculated to Improve the Present Taste", by Edwards and Darly in 1754 continued the trend, and in the same year, Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director featured a number of Chinese designs. Sir William Chambers had actually been to China and his "Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils" spurred on things. Interestingly Chambers viewed the "Chinese craze" as he called it as a rather silly matter and over time distanced himself from his earlier work.

Chinoiserie Corner Cupboard by Chippendale
Chinoiserie Corner Cupboard by Chippendale, 1768.
Pine, with painted chinoiserie decoration.

Chinoiserie Furniture & Decorating

In general Chinese ornament and decorative forms were found to be very useful by furniture makers with the pagoda roof, bamboo framing, and fretwork all being easy on the eye and just as easy to apply on furniture.

Chinoiserie type decoration was most often seen in single rooms, usually a (ladies) bedroom, a dressing room, and sometimes a tea room.

Badminton House

The Badminton Bed
The Badminton Bed, 1754.
Beechwood, japanned in red, yellow and blue and gilded.
The bed is surmounted by a deep pagoda roof set at the angles of the cornice with gilt and carved wood dragons embellished with pendent icicle ornament. The headboard goes to the height of the posts and is made of open lattice work.

The most famous example of chinoiserie furniture and interiors is in the Chinese Bedroom at Badminton House, Gloucestershire. The bedroom, "finished and furnished very elegantly in the Chinese manner", was completed in 1754 after the owners, the 4th Duke and Duchess of Beaufort had ordered the furnishings for the room from the London workshop run by the designer William Linnell and his son, John.

Chinese Fretwork Back Armchair
Chinese Fretwork Back Armchair, 1754, by John Linnell.
Beechwood frame, gilt and japanned, with traces of red paint below; modern upholstery.
One of a set of eight at Badminton House.

The actual furniture consisted of a very large bedstead, a set of 8 lattice back chairs, a commode, kneehole dressing table, and a set of four open china stands, or dwarf bookcases, with all being lacquered in black and gold. The walls had matching painted Chinese wallpaper.

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