We are continuing the discussion of the history of japanning in England today after beginning with an exploration of the lacquer trade last week.
The novelty and rarity of the lacquer pieces from China and Japan sparked a desire to recreate these works in Europe. The English referred to their imitations of Asian lacquer as Japan work. John Stalker and George Parker’s 1688 publication, A Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing, was by far one of the most influential treatises on japanned furniture and decoration in England. The publication featured both recipes for creating a japanned surface as well as over a hundred decorative patterns in the Asian style for copying.
Early examples of japanned work can be seen at Ham House, with a 1683 inventory recording a pair of ‘black stoles.’ Some of the greatest cabinetmakers of their time were known to deal in japanned furniture. James Moore, royal cabinetmaker to George I, is recorded in 1700-01 as supplying furniture to Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch ‘a Buro made of Japan & Locks… 2 flowerd Japan Cabinetts & frames with Locks & Hinges.’
The most well-known cabinetmaker associated with japanned furniture is Giles Grendey. Working in St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell, Grendey developed a thriving export trade with a particular focus on japanned pieces. His most ambitious and impressive suite of japanned furniture included at least seventy-seven pieces including tables, chairs, daybed, looking glasses, tripod stands, and several desks and bookcases.
This suite, all decorated with the most exquisite red japanning, was made for the Dukes of Infantado at Lazcano Palace in Spain. Historian R.W Symonds described pieces from the suite as ‘the best English cabinet-work’ in 1935 and Christopher Gilbert further emphasized the suite’s ‘outstanding importance’ in 1971.
Today, many items from the suite are now represented in major museums around the globe, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (a card table from the suite shown above); Temple Newsam House, Leeds; and the Museo de las Artes Decorativas, Madrid. We are delighted to have a pair of side chairs from this suite in the exhibition.
Next time, we will look more closely at the technique 18th century craftsmen used to create the japanned surface as well as their decorative sources.