Pap, China, painting and drawings.
Two portions of wallpaper, which apparently were adjacent panels in a continuous series, depicting scenes of everyday life. Chinese, first half of 18th century.
Height: 241.3 cm, Width: 83.9 cm
British Galleries, room 52d
Made in Canton (now Guangzhou), China for export to Europe
Chinese wallpapers with continuous scenes of daily life are rarer than those showing bird and plant life. This one is unusual, as the outlines are printed. Usually, Chinese wallpapers were entirely painted by hand, making them expensive in Europe. [27/03/2003]
This wallpaper panel is one of a pair. The panel was produced in China for export to Europe. The design, which stretches across this piece and its pair, is a park-like scene with Chinese figures and buildings.
Painted wallpaper panels of this type have few obvious antecendents in the native Chinese tradition of interior design. Their manufacture was the result of partnerships between Chinese and European commercial entrepreneurs. The widespread availability of Chinese goods in Britain, particularly from the early 18th century, signalled an episode of enormously profitable commerce for merchants of the East India Company as well as for successive Chinese emperors, whose officials closely supervised the trade. Some made vast fortunes through trading these and other such commodities.
Materials & Making
Papers like these were manufactured in the port city of Guangzhou (Canton), a major centre for the production of trade items. There are similarities in colour and design between different kinds of export commodity, and it seems likely that craftsmen who painted paper panels also turned their hand to painting silk, another European favourite. While most of these Chinese wallpapers were painted freehand, this particular panel had the outlines of the design block printed in black before being painted in watercolours.
Ownership & Use
Having first reached Europe in the 1690s, Chinese wallpapers were popular in Britain throughout the Georgian period. Entire Chinese palaces as well as individual Chinese rooms were constructed in Europe, papers like this playing a prominent part in their decoration. A complete set of panels, anything between 25 and 40 rolls, must have been difficult to put up because of the sequence that had to be observed. They were not pasted straight onto the walls but were mounted onto stretched canvas and nailed up. This allowed the owners of these expensive commodities to move and reuse them at will. High-impact wallpapers have remained a lively presence in interior design to this day. Historic pieces are being conserved and copied and used in new settings.