Four Rare Panels of Wallpaper

Object nr. 799 China, Qianlong Period (1736-1795), c. 1750 Largest one in height: 225 cm | Width: 84 cm

- William Rutter Bailey (1813-1879) of Cotford House Sidbury Devon  (Edmond Neels father in Law)
- By Descent from Edmund Neel CIE (1841-1933), Secretary Public Works Department, India Office, UK.
- Sotheby’s London, 2007

Price on request

This object can be viewed at our gallery.

Additional Information

Dreaming of Cathay

Four large rare wallpaper panels depicting river scenes with boats and landscapes in the fore and background. The scenes are those of Canton seen from the South West. In the foreground is the large island of Honam (Honan), that formed the south bank of the river. The city is walled, which can be seen in the background in the upper part of the panels. The recognisable landmarks are clearly defined, including the Smooth Pagoda, the Flowery Pagoda and the Dutch Folly fort in the river with its temple. There are junks and sampans sailing on the river, as well as docked. In front of the city walls, are waterfront buildings supported by piles. Amongst these buildings, the Western merchants would have found a Hong to store their goods and receive their senior personnel. In the foreground there are scenes of everyday life, These panels would have been specifically intended for the export market.

These panels appear to be rare early examples of its kind. They are block printed and then hand coloured and embellished. This technique was used in the early stages of Cantonese wallpaper production, when the they were first printed in black outside Canton and then finished off by hand in colour. (later on they were no longer printed and just painted).We can see evidence of the  printing process by the broken black lines at various points on the panels. Comparable wallcovering (but in silk) hangs in the Chinese Bedroom at Saltram, Devon U.K., which has similar agricultural scenes probably derived inspired the book Yuzhi gengzhi tu (Tilling & Weaving). In the Chinese bedroom at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, U.K. as an inset of the wallpaper (hung c.1760) above the fireplace, also with figural landscapes, appears to have been partially printed. The Peabody Essex Museum has a later set of wallpaper (c.1800) in the collection showing scenes of Canton, where the Hongs are clearly visible.

The panorama on this set does not entirely continue from one panel to the next, which could indicate the set was once larger, or that it was never very accurate in the first place. Accuracy was not necessarily a requirement, as the exotic landscape in itself would have been highly appealing and fashionable when it arrived in Europe.

By repute, the previous owners said the panels had belonged to William Rutter Bailey the father in law to the later owner Edmond Neel. Rutter was known to have a substantial collection of Chinese export porcelains inherited from his older cousin Mrs Elizabeth Starkey (d.1839) of Norton, Stockton-on-Tee, Durham. Mrs Starkey was the daughter of a master mariner, likely involved in the China Trade, and these rolls of wall paper may well have come from this source.

Patrick Connor, The Hongs of Canton: Western merchants in South China 1700-1900 as seen on Chinese export painting, London, 2009, p27-29, pl.2.5


Emile de Bruijn, Chinese Wallpaper in Britain & Ireland, London, 2017, p.79-105

Floris van der Ven