By LEWIS EINSTEIN
CONNOISSEURS of Chinese art look down with scorn from the solemn heights of sacrificial bronzes and archaic jades to despise the finicky and comic little 'figures of chinoiserie, whose light graces and whimsical caprice endeared them to the eighteenth century. These lovers of the venerable East arc unwilling to understand that the relation of chinoiserie to its, putative parent is One not unlike that of Europeans, represented in certain Dien Lung porcelain, to Western art, or of Venetian eighteenth-century negroes to the savage sculpture of Africa.
A subject and material originally Eastern created a fashion which, imitative in its origin by the very imper- fection of its imitation, shot °kit fresh roots of its own. After lacquer and porcelain were introduced from the Orient the West tried to copy its Chinese models. Apart from the use of these novel substances, this imitation was nothing new, for Eastern wares and styles had been known and copied in Mediaeval Europe and since had been completely forgotten. There exist, for instance, the twelfth-century-bronze gates in the Narthex of St, Mark's ia Venice, which have on their mouldings certain charac- teristic Chinese scrolls engraved in silver niello inter- spersed with bats and ducks. And at Lucca, in the fourteenth century, textiles were woven which reproduced phoenixes, winged dragons, and lotus flowers copied from Far .Eastern silks. Such Oriental influences had as little to do with real chinoiserie as had the later Delft imitations of Eastern porcelain. It needed far more sophistication 'dam the Mediaeval mind possessed to appreciate, the whimsical simplicity of the Chinese and take pleasure in the exotic for its own sake.
The new taste for the Oriental had been introduced into France by Mazarin, and chinoiserie as a humorous :fashion came soon after as a revolt from the stately and an escape from the heavy formalism of the pseudo- classical style. St. Simon described the original Trianon at Versailles as a " house of porcelain," and around its drawing-room was a cornice of azure and white made of earthenware and stucco painted to imitate porcelain. The'pavilion, however, was not to the sumptuous taste of Louis the Fourteenth, who pulled it down to build instead a palace of onyx and porphyry. The Sim King could destroy his Huguenots, but not the new fashion, and the • ball which he gave at Marly opened, with spectacle called " The King of China." .
The vogue for fat goddesses seated on a ceiling Olympus was over. More than the fashion for frail shepherdesses chinoiserie spread rapidly over a continent. Venetians mastered the use of lacquer and found in it another means for expressing an exuberant interest in the East, which caused Gozzi to write Turandot and Tiepolo to paint airy Chinese scenes fOr the Palazzo Camaro near Treviso, later destroyed by a vandal owner. Art-loving German princelings who imitated a French King hired Italian sculptors to model Chinamen in porcelain statuettes. Europe, after having been flooded by Dutch and Portuguese traders with Eastern wares responded by creating an art of its own, at first timidly and then with fresh assurance and humour. Instead of marble and ormulu in the luxurious pattern of Versailles, poree- lain and lacquer gratified less costly tastes which novelty rendered fashionable. Bigwigged rotundities in bronze gave way to comic figures of grinning mandarins with twinkling eyes. Chinoiserie which had been a refuge from formalism and an amusement suggested laughingly an adventure in a distant worhi. The new fashion was an eighteenth-century substitute for travel which went further than the rumbling coach-wheels that conveyed young noblemen on the Grand Tour.
Chinoiserie could also adjust its expression to any purse. Craftsmen in Lyons cut wood blocks to print wall-paper in the new taste, and potters at Rouen and Sinceny painted comic Chinamen on their wares. When the great Paris cabinet-makers found it difficult to fit flat Oriental lacquer into swelling shapes they discovered that they could replace this with an excellent French substitute. Artists like Huet, and Peyrotte, Pillement and Berain used chinoiserie as a medium for their talent. Beauvais and Aubusson wove Chinese subjects, some designed by Boucher, into sumptuous tapestries, and Madame Dubarry ordered at Sevres a wonderful black service with Chinese figures in platinum and gold. Watteau, who sketched a Celestial from life, which is now at the Albertina in 'Vienna, painted at La Muettc a house entirely in the. Oriental taste, a series of panels representing Chinese subjects which we know only from Boucher's' engravings, for the originals perished by fire. When a Spanish fleet visited Leghorn it was remarked that the Admiral's cabin was decorated in blue lacquer. At Coimbra in' Portugal, the University Library is a masterpiece in that medium and at WUrzburg the art- loving Archbishop who had been TiepolO's patron; employed lacquer to embellish his great palace. In England this was used to cover the woodwork of furniture , rather than the panels of rooms. As an:art it was left largely for amateurs who produced a spate of dressers and hangers which afterwards went to encumber servants' halls and garrets until in our generation a turn of the , wheel brought , their banishment to an end. , . . For a century and. a half chinoiserie was an intermittent fashion in England. Its use had . begun . opulently with bright eoromandel imitations under the dismal-faced Merry Monarch, Recoming more sober with the black . lacquer of Queen Anne, it was driven opt by a combination . of Kent and Walnut. -Chippendale revived it.with latticed mahogany and carved pagodas, and Lendon ,silversmiths chased absurd Chinamen on :their plate. The purer classicism brought. by the discovery. of Hereulaneum ended ,a fashion, that enjoyed a last, and final revival with the Regency. The Swan Song of chinoiserie yias,Warbled amid • the florid extravagances of the Brighton PaVilkin, though a few humble survivals mainly of lacquered tin lingered on late into the Victorian age.
Chinese taste left its most enduring impress in England in the least suspected way. Fashion had compelled EngliSh 'gardeners to follow the direction at first of Holland and afterwards of Italy and Versailles. Gardens became galleries of sculpture, with water spouting from marble basins and trees made to stand like grenadiers on parade. . When there Reim an incipient revolt against; this formalising of the nut-of-door which went against the native grain, it discovered an unexpected , ally in the Far. East, where the Chinese planted trees without symmetry to reproduce the picturesqueness, of aji unshorn • nature. Oriental principles of gardening helped to confirin'native British taste and the parks which in the eighteenth century sprouted over England, and Which the Continent soon copied, were known in France as' Anglo-Chinese. In many Georgian libraries can be found a publication known as the Jardins Anglo-Chinoig with copious engraved' illUstrations of gardens in that style. The remembranee of this:early origin is now almost forgotten, though Sir William Chambers' pagoda still dominates-. Kew, and ai .Dropmore, near Slough, created by the first Lord Grenville is a splendid aviary,built with Eastern tiles near which are the remains of a Chinese garden where artificial rocks have been piled in irregular ,shapes to simulate diminutive crags.