Chinoiserie: Revisiting England’s Eighteenth-Century Fantasy of the East

Chinoiserie: Revisiting England’s Eighteenth-Century Fantasy of the East

Zuo, Julie Qun

MS ARCH, University of Cincinnati, Design, Architecture, Art and Planning : Architecture, (2004)


The social and political implication of Chinoiserie, and its potential relationship with Colonialism, have not been thoroughly studied by historians in recent decades, as it has generally been dismissed as merely a stylistic novelty. In contrast, the Gothic Revival has been proven to be a contributor to Modernism and scholarly exploration of it has continued. Recent research has shown that patrons employed Gothic Revival in art and architecture for political and social reasons in eighteenth-century England. The aims of this thesis are to examine Chinoiserie beyond the stylistic meaning through a comparison with the contemporary Gothic style, and to discover a new interpretation of eighteenth-century British Chinoiserie phenomenon in relationship to nineteenth-century European Colonialism. Literary works on Chinoiserie, Gothic Revival, Picturesque and Orientalism indicate that it is an extraordinary phenomenon that in the eighteenth-century England, Chinoiserie, Gothic Revival and many other historical revival styles existed simultaneously. However, Chinoiserie never gained entire public acceptance, while the Gothic style developed into the major English domestic style of the nineteenth-century. Two case studies are examined: “Chinese Chippendale” furniture of the 1750’s and 1760’s, and the Chinese Room at Claydon House (1757-1771), in Buckinghamshire, England. In the first case study, “Chinese Chippendale” furniture is considered. This includes an exploration of Thomas Chippendale’s inspiration, the changes of the Chinese style in the three editions of Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director (1754, 1755, and 1762), an investigation of his commissions, and an inquiry into its stylistic and cultural meanings. In the second case study, the history of the Verney family and Claydon House in England is explored. The 2nd Earl Verney (1712-1791)’s intentions of rebuilding Claydon House are also investigated, revealing definite social and political implications, which are similar to those of the contemporary Gothic Revival. Thus, Claydon served as a cipher for the larger cultural failure of the Chinoiserie movement. Chinoiserie, as well as Gothic Revival, was employed by the Whigs for political reasons. The Chinoiserie phenomenon was explored as an alternative “other” for political ends in later European Colonialism.


Click here to read this thesis from the University of Cincinnati

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