Belton House is an outstanding 300 year-old mansion located in Lincolnshire, England Photo by Paul Harris
It is not known as being one of the foremost English country houses, but, in fact, Belton House, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, has been described as ‘the perfect country house estate’ and also harbours a very fine collection of Chinese treasures, some of them put together by the 1st Earl Brownlow during the early part of the 19th century.
He created a Chinese bedroom with 18th century Chinese wallpaper specially imported for the purpose. Brownlow’s passion for things Chinese was inherited from his 17th and 18th century ancestors, all of whom made significant acquisitions. The bedroom was designed by Jeffry Wyatt (also known as Wyattville). The wallpaper is important in historical terms and has been well catalogued by The National Trust who own and operate the property.
‘Combined figural/floral wallpaper with small human figures and birds on an undulating foreground and much larger bamboo and flowering plants towering above against an originally pink background and with birds and butterflies among the branches. National Trust Inventory No. 433859
The birds include ducks, magpies, parrots and pheasants. The mannerist juxtapositioning of small-scale figures with large-scale flora was a relatively late development, seen in Chinese wallpapers dating from the 1790s until about 1840.4 A further note of fancy is evident in the climbing plant growing through the bamboo sprouting a variety of different flowers, a motif that may have been influenced by Indian chintz designs.5 A floral wallpaper with bamboo and climbers on a white ground, with a similar visual rhythm and some almost identical details, but without the human figures, is in the Ballroom at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. Another very similar wallpaper, but with peonies along the bottom, is at Penrhyn Castle (cat. 34). In addition, a wallpaper fragment painted in a different style, but with a similar disposition of bamboo culms, is in a private collection in Bangkok.
‘The design is painted on paper, with Chinese numerals visible along the bottom of the individual sheets, presumably as an aid to the production process.6 Similar numerals occur on wallpapers at Belton (cat. 4), at Ickworth (cat. 19), at Nostell Priory (cat. 27), in the Ballroom at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. In certain places butterflies cut out from other sections of wallpaper have been pasted on, especially along the joins between sheets. The wallpaper was pasted onto decorator’s lining paper, which in turn was pasted directly onto the plaster. The pink background of the wallpaper has largely faded to white due to light damage. Some areas have been affected by detachment from the wall, water staining and retouching. Conservation treatment by Catherine Rickman (1988) and by Sandiford and Mapes Ltd. (2002) has been limited to in situ surface cleaning, re-attachment of small lifting areas, reinforcement of tears and consolidation of some dark-green pigments in the bamboo leaves.
The wallpaper hangs in the Chinese Bedroom. It appears to have been installed in about 1840 for John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (1779–1853) and his third wife, Emma Sophia, née Edgcumbe (1792–1872). It is framed by a European paper border in two separate parts, comprising a latticework pattern printed in silver, now tarnished to black, on green machine-made paper, which is banded by strips of possibly machine-made paper block-printed with a representation of bamboo. The use of machine-made paper dates the production of the border to 1830 at the earliest, and it appears to have been hung at the same time as the wallpaper. The wooden cornice, dado and door surrounds are painted in imitation of bamboo, a Regency-period decorative conceit also seen at, for instance, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. The curtains, bed hangings and seat covers are made of a European chintz with an orientalist design of vases filled with flowers which is probably contemporary with the wallpaper.’
A special display area was constructed for the Brownlows’ Chinese porcelain collection Photo by Paul Harris
Wrongly described in the National Trust literature as a lion dog, this is, in fact a luduan (Chinese unicorn) censer on display at Belton House. The horn of the luduan projects from the back of the head in Chinese lore. Photo Paul Harris
17th century Chinese dehua porcelain collected by Sir john Brownlow (1659-97) on display at Belton House Photo Paul Harris