by Liza Laserow

Kina_slott_1763Architectural drawing of the Chinese Pavilion from 1763 by C.F. Adelcrantz

1280px-Kina_slott_detalj_2011cArchitectural detail of the Chinese Pavilion

Lacquer chair, English, c1679, japanned beechwood with the Duchess's coronet on the splat, in the Queen's Antechamber at Ham House, Richmond-upon-ThamesChair with chinoiserie painting

071211205419An English floor clock decorated with typical Chinoiserie details on lacquer.

071211205641Close up of detail

The fascsination for Chinoiserie occurred in Sweden during the early part of the 18th Century and Rococo period. It came from the expanding trade with oriental countries from where the merchantmen brought home pieces, especially from China and India. The trend showed mainly in architecture and interiors where silk, porcelain and lacquered furniture were natural. Lacquer was used by the Chinese to decorate furniture and at the same time prevent wood to rot. Mixed with ash or pigments they got colors such as black and red. By brushing on several thin layers they created a hard shiny surface that was adorned with attached ornaments and inlays of gold and mother of pearl.

The style was so popular that King Adolf Fredrik had a Chinese Pavilion built and given to his wife, Queen Lovisa Ulrika on July 24th 1753. Carl Hårleman and Carl Johan Cronstedt, the architects, built the original pavilion in Stockholm and then shipped to the park by Drottningholm castle to be mounted together. In a letter to her mother, Lovisa Ulrika wrote: “He took me to the side of the garden and surprised me with a real fairy pegeant, the King has built me a Chinese castle – the most beautiful of its kind”. 10 years after the completion the wood was rotten and had to be replaced by a material resistant to the harsh Swedish climate.

In Europe chinoiserie entered the repertory in the mid-to-late 17th Century from Athansius Kircher’s study of orientalism. It peaked in the mid 18th Century when the French painter Fancois Boucher incorporated it in his Rococo scenes and faded when Neoclassicism took  Europe by storm.