Box House Antiques

English Chinoiserie, japanning & lacquering.

The lacquered objects and screens brought back to Europe by the East India Company in the late 17th century created a demand for larger, more practical objects which shared the same colourful and highly decorative surfaces of their Eastern counterparts. In order to try to recreate the rich and highly finished effect of oriental lacquer work, European cabinet-makers turned to John Stalker and George Parker’s 1688 ‘Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing’ (see below). This treatise soon became a key reference work since it contained not only formulae for producing the various different colours, but also showed patterns of Chinese figures, plants, pavilions and gardens which could be adapted as necessary. European ‘Japanning’ was popular in the late seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth centuries, and into the Regency period. Many attempts at japanning were made later, but almost all were of very inferior quality. 

Edwards and Macquoid, The Dictionary of English Furniture, rev. ed., Woodbridge, 1983, vol. I, colour plate III, Adam Bowett.English Furniture, 1660-1714: From Charles II to Queen Anne, Woodbridge, 2002, p. 164, plate 5:33. Vis cabinets japanned with Chinese scenes with gilt-brass mounts and hinges. Each piece opens to an arrangement of smaller drawers. One of the domestic pieces was a two-door cabinet which encloses small drawers, which would normally sit on the floor in a Chinese household, but in England was placed on an elaborately carved stand to be the centre-piece of a room. To keep up with the demand for lacquered pieces, English craftsmen and artists imitated the lacquer by painting their own pieces in a process known as japanning.  This cabinet shown above with its finely japanned surfaces is of high quality, and imitates Chinese lacquer with exotic romantic scenes as imagined by craftsmen working in England ca 1700.

For a full discussion on japanning in the late 17th/ early 18th century England see Bowett, op. cit. pp. 152-169.Japanning – Wikipedia of Japanning and Varnishing | work by Stalker and … Stalker and George Parker’s Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing (London, 1688) was the first text with pattern illustrations. The English term japanning was inspired by the superiority of Japanese lacquer, which Stalker found “…in fineness of Black, and neatness of draught…more beautiful, more rich, or Majestick” than the lacquer…

A closely related small ‘Queen Anne Scarlet Japan’ cabinet on carved silvered stand from the collection of J. S. Sykes Esq., is illustrated in R.W. Symonds ‘Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks’, 1940, p. 92, col. pl. VII. A further comparable black Japanned cabinet on a similar carved stand, which also appears to be of rare small proportions, is recorded in the National Trust’s collection at Chastleton House (see Adam Bowett ‘English Furniture 1660-1714 From Charles II to Queen Anne’, 2002, p.156, pls. 5:16 and 5:17.)