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The Chinese Export Trade & Lacquer
By the early seventeenth century, the market for exotic objects brought back from China and Japan began to grow rapidly. Both The East India Company, founded in 1599, and the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, were largely responsible for the trade of Chinese and Japanese objects in England. During this period, many shipments laden with oriental wares would have departed from the Far East to satisfy the demands of the English and Continental Europeans.
The principal port for purchasing and loading up these exotic wares was the city of Guangzou, or Canton as it became known in the West. The city’s location on the Pearl River delta near the South China River meant Canton was well-placed as a cultural and economic centre in south China. A number of different types of wares were exported from Canton throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, with a particular emphasis of lacquer-ware, ivory, and silk, all of which were highly prized for their exotic nature and exceptional decorative quality in the West.
The tradition of lacquering is an ancient art from Asia, and it involves applying a series of coats of a native tree sap onto wood, which is then either carved and coloured or decorated with beautiful whimsical, often ‘chinoiserie’ scenes. Due to risk and costs of shipping these pieces from the Far East, they were prohibitively expensive and could only be afforded by the very wealthy – and soon became status symbols.
Because Oriental lacquer was so expensive to import, European craftsmen sought to emulate these foreign wares. Although they were not able to master the techniques exactly, high quality japanning soon became exceedingly popular and in high demand by the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries in Europe. Nevertheless, it was still extremely expensive and japanned products could only be afforded by the very wealthy.
In England, John Stalker and George Parker published in 1688 their seminal work, Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, which provided a huge number of motifs and pattern illustrations for craftsmen to copy. Interestingly, often these motifs were a figment of the European imagination of the East, and in fact seldom appear on Oriental works themselves.
Lacquer cabinets were amongst the most popular items to be imported and because of their treasured status, stands were often made for them once they arrived in England in order not only to elevate the lacquerware so it could be viewed in a more accessible manner but to emphasise their importance and value. As with this pair of bureau, the use of japanning on the base of these cabinets demonstrates the English cabinetmaker’s desire to harmonise the stand’s decoration with the lacquerware of the bureau themselves. This is typical of the taste of the 1750s and 1760s, and the form of the stands very much follows the designs of Thomas Chippendale and his contemporaries.
It is exceedingly rare to find a true pair of Chinese export bureaus and their smaller scale make them an ideal fit for a bedroom or intimate drawing room. The delicate nature of the interior, revealed once opening the fall front, befit the storage of small and precious treasures.
|Height||107.00 cm||(42.13 inches)|
|Width||69.00 cm||(27.17 inches)|
|Depth||47.00 cm||(18.50 inches)|
Mackinnon - Fine Furniture
5 Ryder Street
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