· BY ·

East Meets West: The Charms of Chinoiserie

Alongside the stunning couture garments on display in The Costume Institute exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass are intriguing decorative objects known as chinoiserie.

From the French for “Chinese” (chinois), the term is used to describe foreign themes—mainly Chinese, Japanese, and Indian—blended into a distinctively European, hybrid style.

Flower vase, Dutch, Delft, ca. 1695–1705

Flower vase, Dutch, Delft, ca. 1695–1705

For example, a typically Dutch flower vase in the exhibition (above) features blue-and-white ornament adapted from Chinese porcelain.

The East Meets West Bowl has an amusing hybrid design

The East Meets West Bowl has an amusing hybrid design

To demonstrate the style and its continued popularity, contemporary imaginative pieces have been selected by our buyers. Among them is the clever East Meets West Bowl, handmade in Tangshan, China, which adds a lighthearted touch to any decorative scheme.

A 17th-century Chinese coverlet made for sale in the West features dragons and huntsmen in typical European dress

A 17th-century Chinese coverlet made for sale in the West shows dragons and huntsmen in typical European dress

Chinoiserie has a long and complex history. European interest in non-Western art was first stimulated by trade with the East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Large seafaring firms such as England’s East India Company brought ships laden with spices, teas, textiles, porcelain, and other goods to European shores, inciting a taste for exotic items from faraway realms.

This earthenware dish from Shelton, England, bears a transferware pattern with a Chinese scene

This earthenware dish from Shelton, England, bears a transferware pattern with a Chinese scene

Chinese porcelain was being produced expressly for export to the West as early as the sixteenth century, with concessions in shapes and decorations made for European tastes. Chinoiserie emerged as a result of these commercial and artistic exchanges between Chinese producers hoping to cater to the West, and Westerners trying to replicate (or reimagine) the coveted Asian imports.

The Lacquer Box with Chinoiserie Napkins features playful monkeys

Whimsical monkeys adorn our Lacquer Box with Chinoiserie Napkins

Neither truly Eastern nor Western, objects in this fanciful style employ common forms and motifs, such as pagodas, tea drinking, parasols, Chinese figures in conical hats, bamboo, fantastic animals and birds, and otherworldly flowers. The Lacquer Box with Chinoiserie Napkins (above) is decorated with playful monkeys, while The Tea House Table Lantern (below) includes a glowing tea light inside the windows.

The Tea House Table Lantern includes a glowing tea light inside the windows

The Tea House Table Lantern includes a glowing tea light inside the windows

Whether it is expressed in a porcelain vase or a decorative object, the infinite appeal of chinoiserie retains its currency today; see our special selections here.

 

Copyright © 2016 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved. 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028.
Terms & Conditions · Privacy