Royal Pavilion & Museums’ Dr Alexandra Loske was a partner in a London conference on the subject of Chinese wallpaper in the west, 7 to 9 April 2016.
This was the first conference looking at Chinese wallpapers in the round, presenting some of the groundbreaking work and research now being carried out in this area. It is increasing being acknowledged that Chinese wallpaper wasn’t just a form of Chinese export art or European chinoiserie, but a global product rooted in both east and west.
Coutts & Co hosted day one of the conference at their premises at 440 Strand, where delegates were given guided tours of the Chinese wallpaper originally acquired by banker Thomas Coutts around 1800. The focus of this day was on the taste for and trade in Chinese wallpapers, with speakers from Europe, America and China and subjects ranging from the earliest uses of Chinese pictures as wall decoration in the west to the continuing popularity of Chinese wallpaper today.
The second day of the conference was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Asian Department. During the morning there were talks on the technical side of Chinese wallpapers, with insights into how they were made and examples of how they have been conserved, provided by some of the foremost conservation practitioners in the field. In the afternoon the V&A made a number of Chinese wallpapers from their extensive collection available to view, and attendees witnessed one section of wallpaper being worked on in the paper conservation studio.
On the third day the Royal Pavilion hosted an optional excursion, to see an actual example of the use of Chinese decoration in a British historic interior.
Paper conservator Amy Junker Heslip and Alexandra Loske showed conference delegates the only Chinese wallpaper still in its original place in the palace, followed by a viewing of rare and fragile fragments of wallpaper and related objects from the archives.
Although the Pavilion is unique in its exuberance and opulence, the creative use of Chinese objects and materials was seen to be a thread running through the history of western design and decoration from the sixteenth century to the present.