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