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East Meets West

Let’s talk chinoiserie. It is a French term, meaning “Chinese-esque”, and refers to a recurring aesthetic and design theme created by European artisans since the seventeenth century, which reflect Chinese influences. Chinese decorateive arts are heavily based in lacquer, asymmetry, ceramics, and fanciful vignettes. The earliest beginnings of Europe’s obsession with the “orient” began in the arts of the nations with active East India Companies (stock and trade in in cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium) – Holland, England, and Portugal. Western designers were inspired to imitate the technical precision of Chinese ceramics  – particularly in Holland, in the Dutch town of Delft wherein in artisans heavily copied the white-and-blue tea services of the Ming dynasty. Hence the term – Delftware. It is said by Daniel Franklin Wright, in his thesis Chinoiserie in the novels of Robert Hans van Gulik, that this design aesthetic (a creation of “Chinese” goods by European artisans) was less interested in closely emulating Chinese styles than in creating fashionable exotica for the domestic market.

Images from Top Left Clockwise: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9

Edward Said, the famed sociologist, in his seminal book Orientalism, actually gives Chinoiserie a negative connotation wherein the fashion became a usurping of false Eastern ideals. European artisans were merely copying the visual style without understanding its spiritual or religious meaning and importance. In this way, the West was colonizing and patronizing the East.  Indeed, he postulates that the design first became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe because the West was viewed as a “fantasy”, “fiction” and place for the “other”. European artists often cosmetically stole forms from China and skewed the perspective using Western and Classical painting techniques – Chinese painting did not adhere to the laws of exact representation and perspective. Western artists used imaginary scenes to essentially create interior design that offered mental escapism. Indeed, I do not see Chinoiserie as either “negative” or “positive”, I believe it represents an homage to the beauty of certain eastern aesthetics. Modern day decor using these Eastern influences combines straight lines, bright neons, and nontraditional minimalist decor with the ornate details of Chinoiserie. I see this style as a beautiful combination of two worlds, coexisting together.

A bamboo chair painted a glossy cornflower blue, and a whimsically patterned wallpaper – in Delftware blue! Image found HERE.

Chinoiserie bedding meets ultra modern, neon, diagonal rugs. The gilded frame brings several eras and styles together! Image found HERE.

Dragons, Pagoda Lamp, Red Glossy Mirror! Image found HERE.

From the Domino Magazine Files, circa May, 2007. Cheery wallpaper (France meets China, look closely), 1st edition iPod, white wall clock decal.  Image found HERE.

Seaside Cottage meets China. Image found HERE.

Anthropologie’s Whisting Thorn Wallpaper.

Delftware Stencils found via The Royal Design Studio.

Baroque pastels meet Chinoiserie details. Image found HERE.

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