Sunday, July 7, 2013
I might have given the impression in my recent post about the 18th-century garden buildings at Shugborough that the dominant style of these structures was the Greek revival idiom developed by James 'Athenian' Stuart. While it's true that there are memorable Greek revival buildings at Shugborough – a Doric temple and a building based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates as well as the Tower of the Winds that I posted – this is not the whole story. Just when you think you have the place worked out, you come across this: the Chinese House.
This small pavilion of c. 1747, carefully set on a low mound near water, has the concave curving roof, pagoda-like finial, and patterned glazing bars that mark it out straight away as a building in the Chinese taste. It was originally painted blue and set on an island flanked by two bridges, but the layout of the terrain was altered after flooding in 1795. When first built it was not the only Chinese building in the garden: there was also a pagoda, which is long gone – it was apparently destroyed in the 1795 floods.
1747 is quite early for a Chinese-style building in England – the famous pagoda in Kew Gardens, designed by Sir William Chambers, was completed in 1762. Shugborough owes this early Chinese structure in part to Commodore (later Admiral) George Anson, the younger brother of Thomas Anson, the owner of the house. George Anson made a fortune by capturing a Spanish galleon loaded with gold and silver; he had also visited China.
There is a lot more about the Chinese buildings at Shugborough on the East India Company at Home website and the National Trust Treasure Hunt blog. Both of these point out the paradox that the Admiral who provided much of the money to create Shugborough and its gardens didn't much like the Chinese or their taste. They suggest the possibility that George's wife, Elizabeth, was the family member most closely involved with the Chinese House. Chinoiserie, apparently, was an area of decorative design that found many female enthusiasts in the 18th century: perhaps Shugborough's Chinese House is an example of this feminine influence.
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I include links to posts from the National Trust Treasure Hunt blog in Historic Buildings Round-up, my daily digest of news from the around the web.