See study by H. Honour (1961).
Fanciful European interpretations of Chinese styles in the design of interiors, furniture, pottery, textiles, and gardens. The expansion of trade with East Asia produced a lively vogue for Chinese fashions in the 17th–18th centuries. The most outstanding chinoiserie interior was the Trianon de Porcelaine (1670–71), built for Louis XIV at Versailles. The style featured lavish gilding and lacquering, the use of blue and white (as in delftware), asymmetrical forms, unorthodox perspective, and Asian motifs. In the 19th century, the fashion gave way to Turkish and other styles considered exotic.
Learn more about chinoiserie with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Chinoiserie, a French term, signifying "Chinese-esque", refers to a recurring theme in European artistic styles since the seventeenth century, which reflecting Chinese artistic influences. It is characterized by the use of fanciful imagery of an imaginary China, by asymmetry in format and whimsical contrasts of scale, and by the attempts to imitate Chinese porcelain and the use of lacquerlike materials and decoration.
Chinoiserie entered the European repertory in the mid-to-late seventeenth century; the work of Athanasius Kircher had a lot of influence on the study of orientalism. The popularity of chinoiserie peaked around the middle of the eighteenth century, when it was easily assimilated into rococo by the works of François Boucher. It declined when it seemed to European eyes the very antithesis of neoclassicism.
Chinoiserie is expressed entirely in the decorative arts of Europe, and its expression in architecture was entirely in the field of whimsical follies. By contrast, the serious transformations that Chinese models effected in the eighteenth century, on the plain style of Early Georgian English furniture, notable in the cabriole leg, or on the "naturalistic" style of English landscape gardening, to take two clear examples, are not considered instances of "Chinoiserie".
From the Renaissance to the 18th century Western designers attempted to imitate the technical sophistication of Chinese ceramics with only partial success. Direct imitation of Chinese designs in faience began in the late 17th century, was carried into European porcelain production, most naturally in tea wares, and peaked in the wave of rococo Chinoiserie (ca. 1740-1770).
Earliest hints of Chinoiserie appear in the early 17th century, in the arts of the nations with active East India Companies, Holland and England, then by mid-17th century, in Portugal as well. Tin-glazed pottery made at Delft and other Dutch towns adopted genuine blue-and-white Ming decoration from the early 17th century. After a book by Johan Nieuhof was published the 150 pictures encouraged chinoiserie, and became especially popular in the 18th century. Early ceramic wares at Meissen and other centers of true porcelain naturally imitated Chinese shapes for dishes, vases and tea wares. But in the true Chinoiserie décor fairyland, mandarins lived in fanciful mountainous landscapes with cobweb bridges, carried flower parasols, lolled in flimsy bamboo pavilions haunted by dragons and phoenixes, while monkeys swung from scrolling borders.
Various European monarchs, such as Louis XV of France, gave special favor to Chinoiserie, as it blended well with the rococo style. Entire rooms, such as those at Château de Chantilly, were painted with Chinoiserie compositions, and artists such as Antoine Watteau and others brought expert craftsmanship to the style. Pleasure pavilions in "Chinese taste" appeared in the formal parterres of late Baroque and Rococo German and Russian palaces, and in tile panels at Aranjuez near Madrid. The whole Chinese Villages were built in Drottningholm, Sweden and Tsarskoe Selo, Russia. Thomas Chippendale's mahogany tea tables and china cabinets, especially, were embellished with fretwork glazing and railings, ca 1753 - 70, but sober homages to early Qing scholars' furnishings were also naturalized, as the tang evolved into a mid-Georgian side table and squared slat-back armchairs suited English gentlemen as well as Chinese scholars. Not every adaptation of Chinese design principles falls within mainstream "chinoiserie." Chinoiserie media included "japanned" ware imitations of lacquer and painted tin (tôle) ware that imitated japanning, early painted wallpapers in sheets, after engravings by Jean-Baptiste Pillement, and ceramic figurines and table ornaments.
Small pagodas appeared on chimneypieces and full-sized ones in gardens. Kew has a magnificent garden pagoda designed by Sir William Chambers, a replica of which was built in Munich's Englischer Garten. Though the rise of a more serious approach in Neoclassicism from the 1770s onward tended to squelch such Oriental folly, at the height of Regency "Grecian" furnishings, the Prince Regent came down with a case of Brighton Pavilion, and Chamberlain's Worcester china manufactory imitated gaudy "Imari" wares. While classical styles reigned in the parade rooms, upscale houses, from Badminton House (where the "Chinese Bedroom" was furnished by William and John Linnell, ca 1754) and Nostell Priory to Casa Loma in Toronto, sometimes feature an entire guest room decorated in the chinoiserie style, complete with Chinese-styled bed, phoenix-themed wallpaper, and china. Later exoticisms added imaginary Turkish themes, where a "diwan" became a sofa.
From the archives: Chinoiserie, so beloved of the French in the 18th century, was a mere fad for the exotic, wrote Anita Brookner in November 1957. As the Chinese economy booms, will its 21st-century cultural exports enjoy any more longevity in the West?(ARCHIVE: CHINOISERIE)(Column)
Nov 01, 2011; The French fondness for chinoiserie, that charmingly inconsequential fad of the 18th century, was investigated by Anita...