When the Swedish-born Scottish architect Sir William Chambers retired from his trips to China after 1749, he brought with him a resurgence of Chinoiserie, or Chinese-esque design. Popular in Europe since the 17th century when the East India companies began trading, Chinoiserie reached its zenith from 1750 to 1765, gracing boudoirs, textiles, and gardens alike.
The still standing ten-storyed Pagoda at Kew Gardens, completed by Chambers in 1762, is a longstanding example of Europe’s interest in imitating the Chinese arts. Not quite the colorful splendor it was in its heyday, the pagoda originally boasted a roof of varnished iron plates with a dragon perched at each corner. A total of 80 dragons carved of wood and gilded in gold once adorned the pagoda. None remain today.
Pagoda, Kew Gardens, Present Day
Pagoda, Kew Gardens, 1763
The fashionable, overcome with the asian craze, decorated their homes with porcelain, silks, and laquerware, adding elements from Chinese fret on staircases, wallpaper, and floors to the marvelous commodes, vases and mirrors of the period. Even everyday objects like sugar bowls were not spared the far east touch. Much of this design, however, was derived from the artist’s internal repertoire, a definite reimagination of the east with a westerner’s unique flair for the Chinese manner. Chinese euro-style, so to speak.
Sugar bowl with pagoda style lid, Victoria and Albert Museum
Carved Dragon Canopy Bed, Victoria and Albert Museum
As you may have noticed from above, Victoria and Albert Museum have a very nice collection. Definitely worth checking out.
For everything chinoiserie, including a modern spin with an incredibly cute presentation, visit Chinoiserie Chic.
Have expensive tastes and a budget to match? De Gournay manufactures hand-painted Chinoiserie wallpaper reproductions from the 18th-19th century that are positively stunning.