Interior Decor how China influenced Western Taste Asian Art and Antiques
A little background on trade from the Far East
Interior decor how China influenced western taste and came into fashion in Europe during the early 1600’s. In 1602 the Dutch government granted a 21 year monopoly on all trade in Asia to the newly formed “Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie”.
The company is better known today as “The Dutch East India Company” or “VOC”. During these early days, with outposts all over Asia, “VOC” ships brought back an astounding array of objects from China, Japan, India, Jakarta and Indonesia. The company remained in business until 1799.
This trade made the Netherlands the epicenter for exotic goods and fashion for most of Europe. From there, these items were sold and traded across the continent being acquired by royal families and the wealthy. The taste for all things Asia, became almost insatiable and lasted for centuries.
As fabulous as all this was to westerners, up until the late 1800’s most of what was exported was made in Asia for export. The finest of Asian art, specifically from China and Japan were however not exported in significant amounts. Important Imperial porcelains, ancient bronzes, scrolls, accouterments of the literati classes and massive floor screens rarely left Asia as “Trade Goods”. The Chinese in those early days viewed westerners as unworthy of truly fine objects.
The best was yet to come.
The Flood of Asian Art to the West 1870 to 1930
During the later part of the 19th C. China’s Qing Dynasty fell into economic decline for a multitude of reasons. The power of the Imperial court began collapsing as poverty and turmoil swept the country. The turmoil lead to China’s great art treasures being sold to foreign collectors and museums. During this same period, Japan was going through an upturn economically and was willing to enter into additional trade with the west.
Consequently, a flood of Asia’s greatest art found it’s way onto ships bound for Europe and the United States. Before long much of it was on display in major museums and in the homes of wealthy collectors.
While westerners had seen many trade goods over the centuries, the latest wave was something very different. To many western eyes, it was newly exotic, the shapes, forms and quality were better and the demand leaped.
Click to enlarge any image in a new window.
Interior Decor How China Influenced Western Tastes Imperceptibly In Our Culture
After 0ver 400 years of trade between the east and west, the impact of this relationship on our material culture is so ingrained we hardly notice. Its omnipresence becomes more obvious with a little examination of what we see every day in our homes and spaces.
As a consequence, whether we know it or not, our eyes welcome the addition of Asian-Chinese looking objects into our living environments and see them as familiar. You’ve probably done more interior decorating influenced by Asian art than you realize already, as well as gardening.
Dishes and Thomas Chippendale
The expression a “Set of china” or “fine china” of course comes directly from the west’s acknowledgment that it was China where porcelain was first invented. The myriad patterns found originally on Asian ceramics are today routinely incorporated into western examples as well as textiles.
The English furniture designer Thomas Chippendale’s famous “Ball and Claw Foot” came directly from Chinese mythology. It was originally not the claw of a bird, but that of a dragon clutching the “pearl of perfection.” Thomas Chippendale also designed the famous “Chinese Chippendale Furniture” now coveted by museums and collectors around the globe.
Do you like Blue and White Porcelain? Thank Kublai Khan, Genghis’s Dad!
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) the first true blue and white plates and porcelains were made, the rest as they say, is history. During this relatively brief dynasty, the taste for blue and white exploded across the Mongolempire from eastern China to Turkey. Soon thereafter attempts were made to replicate the Yuan examples throughout the Middle-east, the most famous of these attempts were examples made at Iznik.
Several hundred years later blue and white Dutch and English delft were being produced and of course Staffordshire “Willow Pattern” being turned out in abundance by the late 1700’s.
To this day, blue and white porcelain remains the most collected porcelain in the entire world.
Fruits, Gardens and Textiles
As an aside many are unaware, the Peach, Apricot, Lemon and Orange were all brought to the west from China through Arab traders. Though we tend to think of them as being from “someplace around Europe”, they aren’t. Before we began printing images of them on drapes, table cloths and even Summer clothing, the Chinese had been depicting them for centuries on a wide variety of objects. They, of course, also did them on silk which the Chinese invented and introduced to the west. (It’s been written about many times, yes the Chinese invented paper in 105 AD.)
The next time you walk through a garden of tea roses, camelia’s, azelea, aster and peony bushes, realize you are in effect in a Chinese garden. We love them and have made them our own, but they are also quintessentially Chinese.
Now you know part of the reason why it is when you see a Chinese flower in a painting, you’re drawn to it. You’ve been seeing them all your life.
Decorating With Real Asian – Chinese Art and Antiques
If you’re a decorator or are trying your own hand at giving your own home a special look, do not be afraid to incorporate some authentic pieces of Asian art. The possibilities are pretty much endless, I guarantee you’ll be amazed by how much and how well a few well-selected pieces will fit right in. You also will be very unlikely of tiring of them, owning authentic objects always stand the test of time.
While modern decorative “filler” pieces from Ikea or some “Designer’s Warehouse” quickly become just wallpaper and accent pieces. Owning real things rarely ever become boring but instead, improve in the owner’s eye as time passes.