History of Chinoiserie

January 2, 2022

History of Chinoiserie

Timeless and elegant, Chinoiserie has influenced art, design, architecture, and fashion since the 17th century. The history behind the iconic style is quite symbolic. Stemming from ancient Chinese culture and design, chinoiserie adds a traditional element to the decor we still see today.

Read on to discover the rich history of the Asian-influenced style that's spread across the world.

The term chinoiserie comes from the French word chinois, meaning “Chinese”, or “after the Chinese taste.”

Contrary to what many may think, chinoiserie did not originate in Asia but in Europe. The style of chinoiserie originated in the 17th century when Europeans became fascinated with Asian cultures and traditions. They began to imitate art, architecture, furniture, fashion, and more. As trade with Asia grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, the chinoiserie style gained popularity and became a source of inspiration for artists, designers, and architects.

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, traveling the world was practically unheard of for the general population.

Before traversing the world became an everyday occurrence, traveling to Asia and other exotic destinations was an adventure. For most, the only opportunity to gain a sense of culture from other countries came from imported goods, stories, and experiences of others. People relied on decor, artwork, and fashion to connect with and experience other cultures. Blue and white porcelain was a popular export to European markets from China. Though porcelain created for export was generally of somewhat lesser quality, it truly paved the way and inspired the first chinoiserie patterns. European ceramicists had to figure out how to replicate porcelain themselves and create similar design aesthetics.

There are many fine examples of Chinoiserie across Europe, I was particularly taken in by a very fine and tastefully done interior of an early 20th century restaurant in Rouen, a city also famous for where Joan of Arc met with her tryst with destiny. The restaurant décor had retained its exquisite charm and in fact looked as fashionable today as it did a 100 years ago! Well preserved for the ages!

Handcrafted with Love

Traditionally, blue and white chinoiserie is handcrafted by artisans who have been doing this for generations. White porcelain clay is hand-shaped on a pottery wheel, detailed with delicate brush strokes, thinly glazed prior to firing in a high-temperature kiln.

Elevate Any Room or Corner

Adding such decor to your living room, entryway, or dining room can bring in a timeless and elegant aesthetic. Additionally, bringing unique pieces of porcelain chinoiserie into your home helps to bring this traditional art to life, and the artisans around the world who create beautiful pieces keep practicing and refining the art.

Chinoiserie has key motifs that encompass the style.

Animals: Foo Dogs are Chinese guardian lions made to stand guard. They typically come in pairs, one male and one female, used to represent the balance of yin and yang. Birds and birdcages are often seen and have symbolic meanings.

Pagodas: A pagoda is an Asian tiered tower and is an integral part of East Asian architecture. Buildings, bridges, and pavilions are often showcased as well.

Dragons: Symbolizing strength and good luck, dragons are represented in ceramics, decor, and art.

Nature landscapes: Lighthearted nature scenes and Chinese-style gardens became widely used in chinoiserie-inspired wallpaper and decor.

Decor has certainly come a long way since the 17th century. The stories and symbolism are a significant reason why chinoiserie continues to resonate with people today.

Decor has certainly come a long way since the 17th century. The stories and symbolism are a significant reason why chinoiserie continues to resonate with people today.