Monday, 22 June 2009

French-Chinese fusion

Porcelain plate detail, "Trio musical européen", cobalt blue, Kangxi kingdom, circa 1700.

Listen to Jean-Philippe Rameau's "Indes galantes", and Jean-Baptiste Lully's "Triomphe de Bacchus dans les Indes".

As I visited the Musée de la Compagnie des Indes in Lorient in Brittany, named so because it was France's first harbour to the Orient in the XVIIth century, under Louis XIV's super finance minister Colbert.
Among the many artifacts brought back from the East India Company's trade, are some interesting and fun examples of French-Chinese fusion. With booming trade, and increasing demand, Chinese manufacturers adapted their techniques to European style. For example, porcelain China depicting French bourgeois scenes:

Porcelain plate, "Famille européenne sur une terrasse", cobalt blue, Kangxi kingdom, circa 1700.

Furthermore, because of political turmoil and war in the XVIIth century, between the Ming and Qing dynasties, Europeans turned to Japan for supplies. The Dutch, who had the monopole on trade with Japan, started importing their Imari porcelain, from the harbour of Imari on Kyûshû. Once things cooled down, the Chinese picked up again and produced their own Chinese Imari style, at a fraction of the cost and faster.
Sounds familiar? With the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French East India Companies, came globalization.

"Le gouverneur Duff et sa femme", Yongzheng kingdom, circa 1720-1730.

In the XVIIIth century under Louis XV, when the Compagnie des Indes et de l'Orient was at its peak, the large and powerful French bourgeoisie went head over heels over things oriental, inspiring their top craftsmen to produce their own Chinoiseries. Many merchant families from the Atlantic coast from La Rochelle to Bordeaux, or Lyons because of the silk trade, still have many such articles in their living rooms.
In the XIXth century, from Napoleon's Empire to the Colonies, that led to Orientalism, spilling out of homeware and decorative craftsmanship, into literature and fine arts.

An allegorical picture by XVIIth century baroque artist Nicolas Bonnart, “L’Asie”, read:

“Mortels dont la nature est triste et saine
Du froid qui rend nos corps pâles et languissants
Quittez vos froids climats et venez en Asie
Recevoir les odeurs du baume et de l’encens.”

Unfortunately I can't find the picture.
But I found this dude in Lorient, outside a restaurant:

This giggly cross-pollination reminds me of the 2002 "After masters" series by Yin Xin from Kashgar, whom I met a few years ago in Paris thanks to Jennifer "General" Lee.

"After Watteau: Pierrot, dit autrefois Gilles"

"After Manet: Le Fifre"

"After Rubens: Les Trois Graces"

"After De Vinci: Mona Lisa "

"After Botticelli: Naissance de Vénus"

"After Manet: Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe"

"After Titien: Vénus se Divertissant avec l'Amour"

"Ecole de Fontainebleau: Gabrielle d'Estrées et Une de ses Soeurs"

"After David: Le Serment des Horaces"

I just find them hilarious. And a bit sad.

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