The art of japanning in England in imitation of oriental lacquer was encouraged in the late 17th century by the high cost of original pieces emanating from the East and by the publication by Stalker and Parker, A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, published in 1688. The art of lacquering was also never mastered in the west due to the complexity of the process and the absence of the principal raw material - the gum of the lac tree (rhus vernicifera). English japanning of the late 17th century and early 18th centuries is normally strongly conceived with raised figures and other decoration in tones of gold leaf with some polychrome on a solid coloured ground, the most common of these being black, red, blue, green and white, the rarest of all. White japanning which is the ground of the present mirror was especially rare because it demanded a great deal of skill on the part of the craftsmen; the zinc oxides where were used to obtain the white effect were much harder to apply than the gesso which was normally used as a base. In addition there was less margin for error when working on such a light background.
The present mirror with its pagodas, exotic foliage and chinoiserie figures strongly shows the influence of Stalker and Parker, op.cit. as the form of these features as depicted is all typical of the style promoted by this work.
For comparison, other examples of white japanning can be seen in a pair of cabinets at Boughton House, referred to in a 1707 inventory as `two little white Indian cabinets’, and two formerly in the collection of Geoffrey Hart, illustrated in R.W Symonds, Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks, 1940, pp.74-79, plates V and VI.
Paper-curl decoration was a technique developed as early as 15th and 16th centuries in England but was only rarely used as in the present context. Early forms were done with precious metals, usually silver and gold but when this became too expensive papyrus and tree bark were used and later, parchment and paper coloured with gilt edges and decorated with coloured metal threads and beads. The technique was used in 15th and 16th centuries for decorating the figures of saints and relics but its use diminished after the Reformation. During the second half of the 17th century it was revived as a recreation for ladies to embellish mirror-frames, as in the present example, or travelling boxes and in the late 18th century, more extensively tea caddies. Other examples of the technique used to decorate the frames of wall mirrors are recorded in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, illustrated in Percy Macquoid, A History of English Furniture: The Age of Walnut, 1919, p.94, fig.88; the Shelburne Museum Vermont ( cat. no. 8.3-21) and an example sold Sotheby`s London, Important English Furniture 10th July 1995, lot 7. A further example is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in Geoffrey Wills, English Looking Glasses, A study of the glass, frames and makers, (1670-1820) 1965, p. 65.
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