Chinoiserie Fabriques Part 2: William Kent

William Kent, Design for Chinoiserie garden temple, showing plan and detailed elevation with bamboo porch, c. 1730–1735. Pen and brown ink and brown wash on paper. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, E.384-1986. (Fig. 1)

 

English Chinoiserie pavilions explored a repertory of forms that was slightly different to those in Europe, and often had vernacular elements that was a consequence of their being simple and cheaply made. William Kent’s design of 1730–35 has a scale, presumably in feet, which gives dimensions of 15.34 feet wide, 11.30 feet deep, 10.21 feet to the top of the meander frieze, about 15.48 feet to the top of the ridge, about 17.01 feet to the top of the ridge ornaments, and about 2.90 feet from the ground to the bottom of the window openings (Figs 2, 3).

As in many English Chinoiserie designs Kent uses the Chinese fret motif, here on the dado part of the porch, evidently in bamboo. It is not quite clear whether these are on the plane of the porch or the pavilion itself; probably the former. The window openings are tall with pointed tops with slightly concave sides, which is somewhat gothic. Probably the narrow pointed forms within the larger are niches on the plane of the pavilion; the larger ones are openings in the front of the porch. The columns are also essentially gothic, with their tall concave-sided capitals. The band above these are artisanal half-circles. The equivalent frieze on the pavilion proper is a Greek meander. Although this has affinities with the Chinese fret, it is not properly a Chinoiserie motif. Chippendale, for example, in the Chinese designs in the Director has many friezes that function comparably, but none uses a Greek meander. Usually they are more complicated ‘Chinese’ fret designs (Fig. 4). Similarly Chambers used complicated designs that go beyond the meander.

It is the roof that is the most Chinese in style. As with the usual misunderstanding of how Chinese roofs worked, the concavity of the roof proper leads to convex eaves, which would have been hard to build. The roof ribs are round in section, which is quite Chinese, as are the convex ‘terracotta’ tiles. The ridges end in bird-like ‘dragons’ with bells suspended from their mouths, which is almost a requirement in English Chinoiserie pavilions.

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