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A unique Dutch lacquered Chinoiserie cabinet on stand

Holland or West-Friesland, late 17th century

 

H. 202 x W. 155.5 x D. 55.5 cm

 

The pinewood carcass Japanned in gold, green, red, blue and white on a black ground, with two doors identically decorated with chinoiserie figures engaged in various pastimes in landscapes with pagoda’s under curtains raised by two angels, inside arched frames of intricately intertwined tendrils. Under the doors, a long drawer, decorated with flowers and birds. The cupboard resting on baluster shaped legs connected by stretchers. The sides decorated with flowers, birds and butterflies. Doors opening to reveal two cupboard shelves with two hanging drawers likewise decorated with intertwined tendrils. 

 

At the end of the 17th-century European lacquer art, as an attempt to imitate imported Japanese and Chinese lacquer art, started in Holland and England but rapidly spread to other European countries. If European lacquer art sought to imitate East Asian lacquer art, this was not very successful. First of all, the essential raw material for East-Asian lacquer work, the resin of the Rhus verniciflua tree, did not exist in Europe and raw lacquer could not be exported to Europe because it did not survive the long sea journey. Once dried it is impossible to dissolve.

This meant that initially, European lacquer workers had to work with inadequate materials. However, they quickly learned to develop suitable substitutes; spirit-lacquer/varnish and even better, linseed oil-lacquer. Secondly the Chinese and particularly the Japanese decorations were not well understood, so European lacquer workers developed their own style of decoration, combining elements of eastern and western decorative styles, which also had to be adapted to the form of European furniture, such the present Dutch shaped cabinet. The decoration of intertwined tendrils can be found in a number of Dutch 17th century lacquered cabinets. In the collection of the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum Rotterdam (inv. B 394) there is a veneered and lacquered cabinet (c.1660-1670) with the same decoration of intricately intertwined tendrils. However on a veneered cabinet (c. 1690-1700) with inlaid panels of Japanese lacquer in the Rijksmuseum (inv. BK-1979-21), and similarly on black lacquered cabinet-on-stand (c. 1700) with gold and mother of pearl decoration previously sold by us after prints by Joan Nieuhof published in 1665 (see, Uit Verre Streken, June 2005, no. 2) one can find this motif. 

The present cabinet is an excellent example of high-quality lacquer work in the Netherlands in the late 17th century. In the 18th-century lacquer work would become very successful in several workshops all over Europe.

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