Chinoiserie is having a moment. There is no doubt about it. With a fascinating history, it is a timeless style that creates an elegant, feminine and incredibly interesting statement. Discover the origins, its widespread popularity and why it has been celebrated through centuries.
It is not surprising chinoiserie has stood the test of time, with its whimsical depictions of elaborate Chinese characters, exotic animals, birds, boats, flowing water and blossoming trees. It is an intriguing genre. Since its inception it has had various incarnations, but its essential aesthetic has remained and its wonders are being seen through modern classical interior design.
Travelling abroad in 16th century Europe was uncommon for most of the population and understandably people were fascinated by objects from far away and distant lands, with particular reference to China and India, which was becoming a popular location for trade. As word of Chinese sophisticated porcelain and lacquering techniques travelled through Europe, and the Indian textile trade and tea trades took off, so did a growing fascination for the “exotic orient” and its commodities – from the porcelain pottery (still referred to today as ‘China’) to textiles, furniture and art.
This new aesthetic was a breath of fresh air at a time when Europe was still following the rules of classicism and baroque design, inspiring artists and tastemakers alike. But it was Louis XVI who built the Trianon de Porcelaine, a short-lived structure constructed near Versailles, and is considered to be the first Chinoiserie building in Europe. After its construction, chinoiserie swept through Europe in the 17th and 18th century, and peaked in popularity from 1750 – 1765. It was seen across furniture, fabric and pottery, porcelain and interior design…appearing as subject matter in fine art. While motifs were based on reality, much of it is an unwitting fantastical blend of 16th century Indian, Japanese and Chinese life – in other words, chinoiserie is an interpretation of the “exotic orient” through a 17th century European lens. Artist Francois Boucher produced one of the most famous examples of chinoiserie in his 1741 masterpiece, Le Jardin Chinois pictured below.
And it is still loved today – why? Because chinoiserie design is very beautiful, detailed and as timeless as it is interesting, with little scenes that tell a story. It has movement and depth, it can be colourful and engaging to the eye and can it can be adapted to both formal and informal interiors. From a design perspective, it brings colour and interest in to a more modern interior and while maximalist in nature, it can be paired back to give it a modern twist. Chinoiserie is surprisingly versatile and can integrate with traditional or modern styles, all that is required is a keen eye to achieve the right balance and scale. Some examples below:
One of our favourite chinoiserie wallpaper suppliers and producers, and surely one of the finest in the world, has to be the beautiful DeGournay.
We were fortunate to find this lovely six piece bedroom suite when on our last shopping trip, it is a fine example of 19th century French chinoiserie featuring well carved simulated bamboo across the entire suite, seen in this “in situ” sketch. Have a browse through each piece below or come by the showroom for a visit in person!