A SUITE OF TWENTY-FOUR CHINESE-EXPORT WALLPAPER PANELS, CIRCA 1790-1810
watercolour on paper, forming an aviary of exotic and wild birds amongst a forest of flowers, shrubs and trees, each numbered in manuscript to the reverse, several with Chinese characters
Photographed here before conservation by Allyson McDermott.
each approximately: 361cm. by 94cm., 11ft. 10in. by 3ft. 1in.
This exceptional suite of wallpaper is one of the best groups to come to auction market in some time. The colours are much better in the flesh than on Sothebys.com or in the printed catalogue, and quite extraordinary. The paper of each would benefit from a clean by an expert as there is some ingrained dirt and because of being stored for 200 years.
There are images available on request which show condition and any conservation.
There are throughout historic marks, smudges and stains, generally these do not detract unless specified. There are small occasional tears to the sides. Some sheets with horizontal creasing. Each sheet has undergone initial conservation prior to the sale, this is in the form of stabilising conservation tape to tears and white conservation paper to support losses. This conservation is not reflected in the catalogue photography. Each sheet is numbered in ink (this appears contemporary with the age of the panels) to the top left corner of the reverse except sheet 11 where there is a loss at this site. There are Chinese characters to the top left reverse of several panels (apparently translating in part as Feng?). There are various modern pencil numbers to the reverse. One sheet is missing (possibly that between sheets 17 and 18) however this does not detract from the overall effect. It is curious too as the inked numbers appear contemporary and these sets are often in runs of 24.
Slight crease left to right. Minor tears to edges. Small stains. Ink blot to top. Sensitive repairs to tears.
Some minor pin-prick holes to the top area. Faint vertical lines through paint of grass.
Repaired tears. Conservation tape to these sites. Vertical marks to painted grass area. Crease right to left through lower purple bird.
Generally good condition. Creasing to the sides at water. Losses of paint to pink breast of bird. Faint vertical marks through bottom. Tiny pin-prink to top left of paper.
Typical creases. Some vertical marks through grass. Smudging through one flower and duck head. Duck is beautifully painted.
Large Crease above peacock’s tail. Vertical marks to green paint of grass. Repaired tears.
Some patching. Crease from left to right. Wear to green paint.
Large crease across panel. There are some vertical marks to the bottom. Some consolidating conservation tape to historic tears.
Some discolouration although generally in good order though. Fold to right side. Some smudges.
Repaired tears to top left.
No.11 (this lacks an inked number but fits in this order)
Some typical small tears to sides and old creases. With some patches.
Repaired tears. Some spotting and ingrained dirt to upper section of the panel.
Creases top right of panel and some repairs. Some staining and spotting.
Very narrow vertical strip of discolouration to right edge. Notable creases. Some tears unrepaired.
Losses to some blue paint. Marks to top right. Chinese characters to the reverse of the top.
Creased left to right. Repaired at edges. Typical losses to paint. Historic watermark to the top.
Two creases from left to right. Patched to the top.
Corner section lacking to top (see catalogue illustration) however this area lacking was not decorated with paint. Tiny crushed bug attached!
Crease above bird of paradise. Typical repairs. Losses to paint of cockatoo and bird wings. Pencil mark above bird on top left.
Some restored patches. Creases across middle left to right and losses to paint at these sites. Repaired tears. Sides with typical creases.
Losses to paint. Vertical marks to green paint. Some black marks.
Crease to bottom left to right. Old marks and some minor paint smudges. Some staining.
Some losses to green paint. Losses to paint of the bird top middle. Four small marks.
Patches to top. Water stain (very old) to top. Cockerel is nicely drawn.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Probably Robert Berkeley (1764-1845)
Bird-and-flower motifs have a very long history in Chinese art and were already well established by the 10th century. In the 17th century, Chinese porcelain, silk and lacquer decorated with this kind of scenery began to make its way to north-western Europe, imported by the European ‘East India’ trading companies. Strong European demand then led to the production of Chinese luxury goods specifically for the western market. One of these hybrid products was pictorial Chinese wallpaper, which began to be imported into Europe in about 1750 and was often decorated with birds and flowers. The first examples were woodblock-printed, but from the 1760s onwards they were fully hand-painted.
Chinese bird-and-flower wallpapers can be difficult to date, as the Guangzhou painting workshops which produced them continued to deploy the same traditional auspicious motifs. In a few cases we do know when certain wallpapers were hung in specific European houses, which can give us an indication as to the dating of other comparable examples. And one can discern a gradual stylistic development in these wallpapers, from a rather painterly style in the 18th century to a more stylised appearance in the 19th century.
In the case of these Chinese wallpaper sheets from Spetchley Park, it is thought that they were acquired for the house in or before 1811, but were never used, which explains the undimmed freshness of the colours. The scenery displays some apparently 18th-century and some apparently 19th-century characteristics. The ground and the vegetation at the lower edge have been depicted in a naturalistic, softly undulating manner, the rugged silhouettes and textures of the tree trunks and branches has been subtly rendered and the leaves, flowers, birds and butterflies have been painted with great delicacy. All of this is reminiscent of the bird-and-flower wallpapers dated to the 1770s, such as those at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire (hung 1771), Cobham Hall, Kent (supplied 1773) and Erddig, Wrexham (probably hung 1770s). But interestingly the details and specific compositions that those wallpapers share are not seen in the Spetchley Park sheets, which, moreover, include more prominent decorative rocks and have a more open composition, stylistic trends that would continue in Chinese wallpapers dated to the 19th century.
In the 1790s the Guangzhou painting workshops began to introduce additional garden-related motifs to the bird-and-flower wallpapers, such as jardinières on stands and bird perches hung from the trees. Two related wallpapers with these new motifs, coloured partly en grisaille, survive at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, and at Temple Newsam, Leeds, where they appear to have been introduced in about 1797 and 1806, respectively. Four sheets of the same pattern, but in full colour, are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Stylistically these appear quite close to the Spetchley sheets, which are therefore likely to have been produced at about the same time.
Emile de Bruijn
 Emile de Bruijn, Chinese Wallpaper in Britain and Ireland, London, Philip Wilson, 2017, pp. 109–19.
 Id., pp. 140–4 and pp. 152–5.
 Victoria and Albert Museum inv. nos. E.2851-1913 – E.2854-1913.