At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries two fashion events occured together–importation of fine lacquer panels from the “Orient” and the imitation of this incredible lacquer work by English, European and American craftsmen. This group of Western made items is known as Chinoiserie–it tries to create the look but is most often recognizable by a western sensibility of order, perspective, etc imposed with charming “Chinese” figures and landscapes.
The cabinet is an example of borrowed panels inserted into a piece–the panels 17th century or earlier Chinese and the cabinet (actually a secretaire a abatant) late 18th century Dutch.
At the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century this style of decoration once again swept up the Western imagination, or at least the English imagination where it flourished for 20 odd years. The pair of chairs and the floor lamp behind them represent this revival. Sold by us some twenty years ago, they have returned to us for a reprise, as their owner has passed away. They are perfect examples of the highly stylized version of this decoration. (Check them out on our Online Catalogue of New Arrivals.)
Notice how the landscapes are constricted into the back panels of these Queen Anne style chairs made about 1910. The legs are simply painted, as are the stiles, to reflect color and design but they have no raised work. Careful viewing of both the Secretaire and these chair backs reveal a three dimensional aspect to the design–the true HALLMARK of chinoiserie decoration. In the original Asian work layers of lacquer were built painstakingly upon each other to achieve these delicatly three dimensional effects. In the West this was achieved by building up a gessoed design which was then lacquered (there were also complicated differences between Eastern and Western lacquer).
Of course these chairs would never be mistaken for Asian work–far trickier at times are distinguishing genuine borrowed parts from new (new that is when
made in the 18th century!). One will frequently encounter pieces in which the front panels are borrowed and the side panels are Western creations–so perfectly done and so perfectly capturing the Eastern aesthetic that much debate among experts ensues–solved only by chemical analysis of the lacquer.