Oriental Styles

IN the present passion of the polite world for the art of the Orient— the revival of an old passion—and in the recognition of certain supernal virtues that this art possesses amidst much that is barbaric and grotesque, it may be interesting to take note of a few of the peculiarities of the furniture of that meridian, no article of which is without marked character of some sort, whether commendable or otherwise, while many articles are unrivalled for value and beauty.

Ever since the reign of Charles II., whose young Southern wife brought into England with her several interesting Indian cabinets, the workmanship of the East has been held in consideration, although there are few who would desire to furnish in either the Chinese or Japanese styles anything more than a smoking-room or a cabinet of curiosities. Furniture in the East Indian style is, however, both beautiful and comfortable enough to be used throughout a house if chosen either in the light bamboos, in the satin-wood inlaid with the Bombay-work in its mosaic of minutest cubes, in the black wood carved in a charming open filigree to the la6t fraction of an inch, the table-tops and flat plain surfaces upheld by storks with their long bent necks, the chair backs and other upright surfaces a mass of indicated floriage, or in the very differently carved teak-wood, with its blackness just tinged by the deepest half-dreamed crimson shadow, and in which the great pedestals have elephantine outlines with vast coils and involutions, half like the monstrous members of huge idols, half like the flowers of a nightmare.

In the Queen Anne and Georgian period, in spite of the acknowledged rights of the heavy Classics, the Chinese style became a fashion. Suites of rooms were furnished in it, plates being published for the instruction of furnishers, and picturesque results were obtained, although we flatter ourselves that we can now obtain finer; and without doubt our better acquaintance with the Eastern countries, the farther depth to which we have penetrated them, and the richer acquisitions that we have amassed from their artistic treasures, enable us to present a completer picture. Yet to eyes accustomed to the Gothic and the Grecian, the Chinese and

Japanese will, it may be, seem always more or less fantastic, in spite of the naturalness and spirit of their design, the richness of their color, and the usual fitness of their articles; and we can hardly imagine a thorough home feeling accompanying the rooms arranged in that style, except for the very young and gay, and for those cosmopolitan people who are able to feel at home anywhere-

One of the chief differences now between Chinese and Japanese articles is that the homogeneity of the Japanese has not yet been injured by European demands; and in buying a Japanese article we are tolerably sure of getting something according to the aboriginal idea, and not according to the idea of what the European taste of the purchaser may require. The Chinese have long since crystallized into deadness of repetition without a new form of fancy, while the Japanese constantly overflow with freshness and redundant life. Part of this is owing to the seclusion in which the Japanese have lived till now, and part to the fact that the Japanese artisan, as well as the artist7 a» a creator, takes a social precedence over the merchant, and possibly still more to the interest taken in it by those of the best culture and opportunities among them. " Not only did the Japanese nobles thus sustain art," as the author of "A Glimpse at the Art of Japan" tells us, "but they further made it fashionable by their personal knowledge and practice. The most exquisite bit of inlaid ivory lacquer-work we have ever seen, a cabinet with lovely compositions of birds and insects and scenery in the panels, is said to be the joint work of several princes, brothers, who lived two centuries ago, and was kept as an heirloom until it fell into profane hands during the recent civil war."

Every article of Chinese and Japanese furniture is ornamented, and a distinctive feature of the ornament is attained in a manner different from any that Western art would use to attain a similar end. To the untrained eye this ornament would seem as utterly without symmetry as the most uncouth contortions of the Rococo; but, to the eye accustomed to it, it will be seen that, however diverse the parts, however irregular the divisions and masses, however varied the outlines and representations, however decidedly avoided all repetitions and duplicates, still the parts are completely balanced as a whole, and one mass constantly offsets and complements another. This is visible in the designs drawn and colored or gilded on any screen, table, casket, or other object. Occasionally, indeed, it uses the sacred fret and the zigzag and the diaper, which both East and West probably derived from the same source, but not with much relish or spontaneity. Those forms represent a symmetry without life, and the Oriental artists prefer their own more vital equipoise. In their ornament they freely use scenes from their national, domestic, and

spiritual life, together with vivid likenesses of natural objects, never stopping to be faithful in detail, but never failing to give the absolute intention and signification, half a dozen free strokes doing the work of half a hundred, using the richest colors boldly and marvellously, and always harmoniously, and never sparing gold, from the dullest flatness to the most burnished brilliancy, in lines and dots and smooth surfaces, in clouds, in blossoms, and in backgrounds, on their thick leathery wall-pa-pers or on their wonderful lacquers. The old lacquers, we will say in passing, it is impossible to rival now; and it is an odd coincidence that • the most thriving period of both Japanese and Chinese art was one exactly corresponding to the best of the European Renaissance — from the latter portion of the fourteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century —as if the whole human race at that time felt one universal throb and impulse forward.

A superiority to be found in the furniture designed and ornamented by these Oriental artists is its mechanical perfection. Every part fits, and fits exactly, and every detail of it shows the power of the living thought animating the workman's sensitive fingers, rather than the dead indifference and stolidity of the steam-driven machine. Yet convenience is not the designer's first aim in any article of the sort. He first endeavors to please the eye, to surround the owner with what he considers beauty; afterward to adapt the beauty to U6e. Nevertheless, the adaptation may 4 be called perfect, for all mechanicians acknowledge the completeness of the objects he manufactures, whether bronze, leather, lacquer, paper, or porcelain, just as every artist acknowledges the harmonies of their color and the vivid action of their ideas. The Japanese designer, indeed, cannot touch the commonest object without leaving there some trace of beauty, as witness this description of an iron tea-kettle: " Compact, strong, handy for daily use, rough' of general aspect and texture of metal, but bearing aloft a silver and gold inlaid handle, with dainty sprigs of early vegetation, while the solid sides show in lowest relief, as fine in outline and cutting as Greek gems, water plants and birds, with every minute organic detail exquisitely finished, the latter looking quite alive, and ready to step out of their atmosphere of metal into our breathable ether. The sense of animated life is, indeed, so strong in the birds and the plants that one banishes forever any idea of a base use of the tea-kettle, and consigns it to the companionship of the finest art, royally knighted at the sovereign hands of beauty."

The objects of this class of furniture are not many, for a great deal of furniture is not demanded by the habits of simple and natural peoples. " Clean mats for beds and seats," as Mr. Jarves tells us of the Japanese,

"a few wooden pillows prodigiously uncomfortable, à poftablè stove, a score or more of lacquer and porcelain dishes, perhaps a pretty cabinet to hold writing and drawing materials and their few small objects of art, a musical instrument or two, and as many screen paintings ; these quite suffice a young couple's wants, and, as for this matter, an old one's too. Instead of costly framed landscapes hung on their walls, the nobles make their rooms—scrupulously clean, airy, and spacious, with movable divisions or screens, which can be so arranged as to leave open, as if enclosed in frames—attractive vistas of out-door scenery. Often the screens themselves are made of the finest material, and either elaborately worked in gold and silk, or richly painted with landscapes and scenes from national myths and history, or curious and capricious devices so aesthetically ingenious as to afford an endless entertainment to the eye, and which are as ¡readily shifted as the scenes of a theatre."

It is hardly possible in this climate to furnish any apartments warmed by stove or furnace after either the Chinese or Japanese method. The original articles of cost and beauty are made in and for a soft and equable temperature, without violent extremes either of frost or heat. Our furnace-heated houses are deadly to them ; and many a beautiful cabinet with its imperishably lacquered panels, many a most curiously carved piece of work, has fallen irretrievably apart over here, warped and dried and shrunken by the alien air. The intricate carving of the work, by-the-way, is almost as much a marvel as if it were an illusion of legerdemain, scenes in perspective being cut there such as those where we have seen the blades of the rank jungle grass, and their very awns, minutely finished as the plunging horses and their riders and the leaping tigers were freely fashioned, with the runners and the dogs, the infuriated elephant, and the dense thickness of reeds und palms and trembling flowers.

But for light balconied summer rooms and well-built dry garden pavilions the Chinese and Japanese forms are quite suitable, the styles of either nation being sufficiently similar to mingle wherever one may help out the other. There, then, mats will partly cover the porcelain tiles of the floor; numerous tables hardly larger than would answer the purposes of a cup and saucer of the delicate egg-shell ware, or, at most, a tiny tea-service, that would hold a pair of pipes, or a fantastic flower-pot with its dwarfed tree, or a lute or its substitute, will 6tand about the place ; there will be a moderate-sized cabinet, carved and lacquered, and perhaps lifted on long slender legs borrowed from some piece 6ent out to China for decoration in the days of Louis Quinze, and on the cabinet will be bits of rare ware, or their imitations, the old sea-green céladon, the imperial ruby, and the turquoise, a green dragon cup, a blue-and-wliite Nankin dish, and can delabra, possibly, chiselled from the pellucid jade, with the tints running through it from deep translucent olivine to palest cream; there will be hanging cabinets upon the walls, besides, of the sort from which Chippendale appears to have adapted many, with porcelains or with little polished steel mirrors ornamenting them; and there will be long and narrow silken scrolls stretched on rollers and hanging here and there between, painted or embroidered with their brilliant pictures, perhaps the battle of the storks in all the gray and black swirl of their feathers and fury, or else just a mere handful of blazing birds and boughs and blossoms all tossing in the wind together; or if the silken scroll is not to be had, then those of the paper, which is as stout as leather, will replace it—paper which the makers of many fine pieces of English furniture use to line and display the curved recesses of their cabinets and sideboards, although not ornamented then with the pictorial scene, but simply diapered with gold and flowrers. Chairs, too, of many sorts are to be had for this room, the most of them bamboo and rattan—the long low extension-chair with its square outlines, the deep Sleepy Hollow wicker, and the arm-chair all of whose frame is composed of slanting groups of short rattans upheld by longer single ones of an opposing slant, black-lacquered and gilt in odd minglings of alphabetical characters and traceries; and chairs also of a heavier character, surmounted by the dragon's crest, that seem like demoniac old gods opening their arms to receive you. Sandal-wood desks will enrich the room; trinkets of cunningly carved ivory; half-open fans giving dashes of deep color; albums of paintings that open and stretch out their contents, not page by page, but in one long unfolding extension of gay tints and lively scenes; odd little bronzes, where every wrinkle of the creature's skin, every plumule of the bird's feathers, is imitated, or huge ones in vases that are idols, and in great storks overtopping your head; and everywhere that space offers specimens of porcelain and pottery, the little teapots of the Satsuma crackle,light as if made of paper; the platters of Kiyoto ware hanging from hooks on the wall, with their coral and creamy tints; the immense high-shouldered Jeddo jars carrying their relief of blooming branches and cloudy gold. Screens, too, can add their charm to such a room: one, a single sheet set in the black frame carved serpent-wise from teak, and on the crape enclosed, " like wrinkled skins of scalded milk," the peacock will be wrought in all his matchless colors, the scarlet flamingo, the pheasant, or the golden-crested cockatoo; or else a loftier one without frame or setting, opening in valves, leaf after leaf covered with lavish pictorial work, recessing the room, and making something like a new wall surface for the display of further beauty and lustre. And if, finally, there are to be had the light-textured silken and satin draperies of the Flowery

Kingdom, or chintzes resembling them, covered with quaint impossible blossoms and birds floating in their glowing dyes upon a soft background, it will be confessed that as bright and gay a surrounding as youth and happiness can desire on summer days will be found in these light and open rooms furnished in the Chinese of the Japanese style, all of whose glittering tints can be arranged so harmoniously as to blend into a charming whole.

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