Sunday, June 04, 2006

Chinese Chambers

[click images to enlarge - I've touched up some background artifact]

Swedish born Scotsman Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) began his working career with the Swedish East-India Company. This gave him the opportunity to visit Canton on a number of occasions where he sketched Chinese ornaments and buildings. He went on to study architecture in France and Italy for a few years and on returning to Britain, he was appointed architect to the Prince of Wales.

In this position Chambers designed more than 20 buildings for Kew Gardens in London (some are still there) and in 1757 he published 'Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses..'. This book influenced design style both in Britain and in Europe.

In the second half of the 18th century, the traditional garden layout was giving way to a more 'naturalistic' approach championed by an untrained gardener, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. He somehow won landscaping contracts despite his hacking up the pristine formal gardens and returning them to 'the wild'. Chambers was a critic of both the traditional and new methodology in garden design and promoted the ideas behind Chinese gardens. He advocated the introduction of 3 elements into gardens - 'the horrid', 'the pleasing' and 'the enchanted' - in a longer dissertation on Chinese garden design published in 1772.

His exaggerated work argued for inclusion of such things as ruined buildings with bats and dragons, water mills and cockfighting cages, as well as damsels ('the pleasing') to achieve the aim of developing a space that would change as one walked through; or at different times of the day. This may have little directly to do with the above images but it is definitely an interesting sideline plot to Chambers' attraction to Chinese design.

The French version of 'Designs of Chinese Buildings' - 'Desseins des edifices, meubles, habits, machines, et ustenciles des Chinois' - is online at the University of Wisconsin's Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture (click 'Display Gallery View' in the sidebar for thumbnails). They have 4 different sized images available. It's a short book.

1 comment :

Future Trash said...

Cool site. BTW - my brother make artists books/illo's that you might like:

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