The Auspicious Nature of Red and Gold

With Chinese New Year fast approaching (February the 12th), it seems appropriate to study pieces in our collection with links to the Far East through their use of the auspicious colours red and gold/yellow. These colours are particularly linked to the New Year celebrations – and we are used to seeing lanterns decorated in these colours: the red symbolising good luck and the yellow or gold wealth and prosperity.

The Western fascination with all things Oriental has been explored in this blog before and as we have seen, it was inevitable that during the 18th century wealthy British families would seek to draw inspiration from the Oriental colour palette and apply them to their own schemes of decoration. Red and gold japanned furniture (japanning being a type of varnished and painted decoration built up in many layers to imitate Oriental lacquer work) was extremely popular amongst the wealthiest members of society during this Golden Age of furniture production. We are lucky enough to have superb examples in our collection.

What could be more appropriate for New Year than a clock – an object symbolising the passing of time which is celebrated on that day. This particular clock has been exquisitely decorated both by the japanners who worked on the case and by the engraver who has created a wonderful chinoiserie feel on the backplate of the movement.

Probably the most famous suite of japanned furniture in existence is a large ensemble of pieces made by the cabinet maker Giles Grendey for the Dukes of Lazcano in Spain. The suite has been published many times in articles and books, and pieces from the suite are in most of the major institutional collections of English furniture worldwide including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. We are fortunate enough to have both a pair of armchairs and a pair of side chairs from the suite available in our collection. The japanning is of the highest quality – and their next owners will get the satisfaction of knowing they own pieces with such an impeccable provenance – something that is normally so often very difficult to establish with pieces of English furniture.

We also have two very different chests with red japanned decoration in our collection. The first is only one of a tiny number of recorded japanned examples – in the form of a bachelor’s chest – one of the most celebrated models of early 18th century furniture. This piece, dating to circa 1710, has a real delicacy to the decoration and has retained a vivid red colour – even more so on the drawer fronts inside the doors where the light of day has not ventured much.

The other is in the form of a blanket or mule chest, made a decade or so after the bachelor’s chest. In addition to having beautiful japanned decoration organised into a series of cartouches on the drawer fronts and side panels, the metalwork is also of Oriental inspiration and exquisite quality. As an aside, the piece is also reputed to have belonged to Admiral Nelson.

Winter is perhaps the perfect time to consider adding a splash of colour to your home – brightening a room whilst all around is dark and gloomy. In addition to pieces of furniture, one can capture decorative effects with examples from our collection of lamps. Vases of Japanese Imari combine red and gold with a dash of blue and are easy to integrate into both traditional and contemporary interior schemes, particularly when paired with beautiful silk shades. Alternatively, single colour sang de boeuf lamps with their gilded bases also provide striking focal points.

We also have some fine quality Japanese Imari porcelain chargers, in similar colour palettes, that add a little charm and whimsy to any interior – be it mounted on a wall, on plates stands or simply sitting flat.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if we can help bring a little warmth to your home in the coming days. Here is to a better 2021.

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