“Chinoiserie” is a French term that is said to signify “Chinese-esque”. An Asian influence that impacted interior design, for certain. “Chinoiserie “ was expressed in architecture and the decorative arts of Europe since the mid to late 17th century. The term “Chinoiserie” has referred to the “recurring theme in European artistic styles which reflect Chinese artistic influences”. The peak of its popularity is said to have occurred around the middle of the 18th century. Considered a “mixture of Eastern and Western stylistic elements for both the decoration and shape”, it is no wonder that its classic design has remained an interior design standard. Of note, not every adaption of Chinese design falls within “Chinoiserie”. “Chinoiserie” is characterized by the use of fanciful and whimsical Chinese imagery by “asymmetry in format and whimsical contrasts of scale”. Not to be confused with deliberate or naturalistic depictions of Chinese designs, the world of Chinoiserie was more of imaginative imagery and whimsy. Featuring pagoda shapes, birds, fish, chrysanthemums and even dragons, bells and latticework, the incorporation of Chinoiserie was certainly varied. Bamboo detailing and fretwork further embellished the world of Chinoiserie. Chinoiserie was produced in fabrics and elegant hand-painted sheets of wallpaper, and an array of furnishings, textiles and decoration which brought with it an appearance of fanciful representations of Asian inspired interior decoration. The elements of Chinese porcelain vases, ceramic figurines and details of tabletop ornamentation provided a myriad of incorporations of Asian style within the interior. Beyond the fabrics and stylized furniture and decoration, the imitation of Chinese porcelain was a large part of Chinoiserie. The imitation technique known as “Japanned” involved the heavy use of black “lacquer” with a smooth, glossy finish. Thus, the world of Chinoiserie covered a multitude of decoration that went beyond the interior to include architecture and influences within the garden. That said, it is the interior influence that my attention falls. The designs of Asian influence that fill interior spaces.
The influence of the study of Orientalism brought Chinoiserie to the European sphere and was embraced into the various designs of the artisans of the time. Perhaps inspired by the mystique of the Orient, admiration of Chinoiserie grew in popularity. In fact, European monarchs, such as Louis XV of France, favored Chinoiserie blended among the designs of the 18th century Rococo style of painting and decoration characterized by lightness, delicacy, and elaborate ornamentation. Certainly a perfect blend for the whimsical form of Chinoiserie elegance. Of interest, it is believed that the decline of Chinoiserie occured when Europeans began to view it as the very “antithesis of Neo-Classicism”. Who knew? Certainly, in time, the Chinoiserie style had secured itself as a timeless design style of its own…
Of course, one cannot touch on the subject of Chinoiserie without referencing the chairs influenced by the style of Chinoiserie. A century after the introduction of the Chinoiserie style, English cabinetmaker, Thomas Chippendale, interpreted the Chinese motifs and applied the designs which included the embellishment with fretwork elements to furniture and chairs. The chair itself is referred today as “Chinese Chippendale” and remains a design icon. The provisions by an array of artisans over time have further embellished the Chinoiserie style chairs. Timeless, indeed. Whether carved embellishments or the addition of faux bamboo elements, heavy lacquer and Asian influences created an appeal to tastemakers from the past up until the present. An enduring design classic..
And of the modern influences of the Chinoiserie style? Like fashion, the reinterpretation of a classic in a myriad of colors add a modern element to these legends of Asian influence.
For certain, various styles of interior decor blend with the stunning elegance and whimsy of the far Eastern designs. A harmonization of 18th century style with modern day style. The whimsical delight of Asian influence provides a timeless allure of classic appeal. Elegance and whimsy, indeed.