Chinoiserie furniture seems to be having a resurgence of late and it isn’t hard to see why. Beautiful detailed lacquer work sits well in almost all houses, be they in the manner of Billy Baldwin with clean lines, classic furniture and a mix of styles, an all out Chinoiserie explosion, or indeed just a one off statement piece.
Chinoiserie, a European interpretation of Chinese and East Asian artistic tradition, sees simple cabinets and tables take on a whole new life. The Chinoiserie style, although varied, is often characterised by Chinese figures in exotic looking landscapes which almost always feature colourful birds, dragons and the iconic pagodas. This exuberant decoration depicting wildlife or domestic scenes was thought by colonial-era Europeans to be typical of Chinese culture. There however were some who believed Chinoiserie to be an injustice to Chinese culture and arts, as well as overly feminine, and a sign of cultural confusion within Europe in the 18th century.
Chinoiserie has never really gone out of fashion as such. The style took a blow after the death of George IV, whose endorsement of the style as can be seen in some of the rooms in the Brighton Pavilion. In addition to this, the first opium war 1839-42, meant export from China became near impossible and people became generally less interested with the style.
Chinoiserie has, however, always been a popular choice for interiors favored by Kings and nobles alike, sitting well with Rococo furniture that was also in fashion in the mid to late 18th century. In 1754 the 4th Duke and Duchess of Beaufort commissioned
a Chinoiserie themed bedroom for Badminton House with William & John Linnell producing much of the furniture including the embellished bed with its imitation lacquer surface and pagoda-like canopy. A more contemporary interior is that of Coco Chanel’s living room providing excellent inspiration for a Chinoiserie interior; functional, elegant and chic. The 20th Century saw houses like Maison Jansen create fabulous Chinoiserie pieces for a larger market, although still proving popular with the higher classes. To this day the pieces appear to have an almost timeless quality, coffee tables like this 1950’s piece have simple clean form, oriental bamboo style legs and a highly decorated top. The actual make up of the piece is very simple, the art is in the detail. Top Photograph Courtesy of Etienne Gilfillan.