A rare and fine scale late 18th century Chinese export reverse painted pier mirror in a carved, parcel gilt frame, the Vauxhall bevelled mirror plates painted with a tranquil scene of a vignette of finely attired figures in a parkland setting, framed by upright stems of bamboo and oak, entwined by convolvulus and climbing roses, the top plate similarly decorated with a festoon of flowers supporting a central bouquet of fruits and flowers.
The mirror epitomises the luxurious taste promoted in the 1770s by architects and Parisian ‘marchand merciers’ for furnishing reception bedroom- apartments in the French/antique or Grecian fashion. Intended to accompany a table or commode-table, the principal glass has been aggrandised with a head-plate to enliven a window-pier and suitably ornamented to harmonise with a scene galante set in a garden view as well as with a fashionable room’s festoon curtain-drapery.
The vignette depicts a youth in Spanish dress reading the novel Zayde (1671) to two girls, who listen with rapt attention like their governess; while their younger sister plays with a ribbon-tied bird. This subject is popularly known as ‘La lecture espagnole’ and derives from an engraving executed in 1771 after an oil painting commissioned in 1754 by the noted leader of Parisian literary society Madame Geoffrin (Marie Thérèse Rodet) (d. 1777) from the Rome-trained artist Carle Vanloo (d.1765), ‘Premier Painter’ to Louis XV. The painting, with its theme of galanterie, was commissioned together with its pair, ‘La Conversation espagnole for Madame Geoffrin’s Apartment. These oil paintings, exhibited at the 1755 salon, were further popularised by engravings executed by Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet, shortly before their celebrated sale to Empress Catherine II of Russia. They are now displayed at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
The introduction of the technique of painting on glass in China is most often accredited to the Jesuit missionary Father Castiglione (1688-1766) who arrived in Peking in 1715, although the technique of 'back-painting' was already established in Europe. The mirror or glass plates were most often imported from the West where the artist would exactingly remove the mercury backing in the areas to be decorated and then paint his design in reverse. Once completed and having already survived a perilous journey, the mirrors, now even more highly prized, were returned to Europe.
Following the stark classicism of the early 18th century, there was a desire in Europe for the whimsy and fantasy of the Orient. This taste propagated in part by architects such as Sir William Chambers, and fuelled by the East India Company's imports of porcelain, silks, wall papers, lacquer and other exotic items, created a sensation across Europe for such wares. Interiors that still demonstrate this desire for 'Chinoiserie' include Saltram in Devon, Clifton Hall in Northamptonshire, Claydon in Buckinghamshire and the Pavilion in Drottningholm, Sweden.
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