This post about toile de Jouy is an offshoot of last Sunday’s post about Chinoiserie.
In fact, I worked on this post extensively last Tuesday, the 16th of March. However, because it’s so detailed and required a lot of research, I decided at 7:00 PM to substitute another post about green paint colors.
However, this post is partially a continuation and discussion of Chinoiserie themes from the 18th and 19th centuries. And, there was some discussion as to the appropriateness of Asians appearing on fabrics and wallpaper. My aim to show the historical significance and appropriateness of these depictions.
I am hoping by the time we come to the end of the post about Toile de Jouy; you will feel enlightened and joyful.
To understand the roots of Toile d Jouy, we need to go back in time to the 18th century.
This is when this fabric became wildly popular in France and quickly traveled to other European countries.
I am going to go over:
- How to pronounce it (always good to know, right?)
- What it is
- Where it originated
- The connection between Toile de Jouy and Chinoiserie
And, some modern-day examples of toile de Jouy (AKA: toile) that I’m pretty sure are going to surprise if not downright shock some of you.
If you are in a hurry, you can hear the entire pronunciation here (one second into the video) with the correct pronunciation of Francais.
However, if you have literally one minute, the rest of the video featuring this creating of a modern-day toile de Jouy is quite beautiful to watch and listen to.
Okay, now that we know how to pronounce Toile de Jouy, we can ascertain from the video that it’s a fabric. But I bet that 95% of you already knew that.
How did Toile de Jouy get started?
Well, I read that it had its origins in Ireland, maybe a couple of hundred years earlier. However, since this is only a blog post, let’s focus on 18th-19th century France. This was definitely the heyday of Toile de Jouy fabrics.
In my opinion (and a lot of other people, too.) From around 1740-1840 was the richest, most beautiful, and abundant period of history in terms of art, architecture, and music.
Sure, there were some not-so-great things, like a lot of fighting and the seemingly capricious act of chopping people’s heads off at whim.
During the 18th century, there was a keen interest in cotton, particularly Indian Cotton. They were washable, and the dyes were color-fast and vibrant. However, the import of these pieces of cotton was wrecking the livelihoods of those selling silk, wool, and other local textiles. Therefore, there was a ban on cotton in France. However, I don’t think anyone lost their head over it.
Eventually, they repealed the law. One exceedingly talented artisan Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf established a factory for printing cotton materials in Jouy-en-Josas, a little village near Paris. There were others, but he was the most famous.
Below are some of Oberkampf’s Designs. However, his factory produced about 30,000 of them! All kinds of themes.
These are all original from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Pierre Frey still makes the pattern above.
Below are some 19th-century Toile de Jouy patterns.
While most of the toiles were two-toned, there were also some multi-colored toiles.
So, how is Chinoiserie connected to Toile de Jouy?
Another incredibly prolific and amazing artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement is credited for creating many Toiles using Asian motifs. If you recall, anything eastern was coveted and inspired many designs in textiles, ceramics, and furniture in Western Europe of the 18th century.
Pillement Toile by Scalamandre
The rest of the images are antique Chinoiserie toiles by Pillement.
Above and below are two gorgeous examples of his work. Pillement also did many two-toned Chinoiserie toiles.
And above is one more gorgeous Chinoiserie designed by Pillement
Remember the Chinese Pavillion at Drottningholm? I love this post!
I don’t know for sure, but this definitely looks like a Pillement Chinoiserie design.
As you can see, these toiles are works of art.
I mean, what is the difference between Europeans lounging in the grass and Asians sitting in a pagoda? In other words, if it’s okay to have Europeans depicted, then why not Asians or any other ethnicity? I mean, the Chinese put people in their works of art, as we will soon see.
Scenic toiles are historical, and many convey what was going on during that period of time.
Now, let’s look at some actual art from China during this same period.
The two beauties above are from here.
But, here we can see in this Chinese export art, the use of people doing everyday activities. That is the very essence of figurative Toile de Jouy and Chinoiserie patterns. I don’t see much of a difference.
Interior scene with the emperor – Chinese export circa 1780
Chinese watercolor and Guache paint 1870
It is also possible that Chinese artists began to create in the European style, knowing that was what was coveted. I’m not sure. But I did read that the lines became blurred.
Most of the Toiles below are recent adaptions.
And below, more toiles and some in clothing, too! (you can click on any of these images for more information)
I don’t see anything wrong with the depictions of Asian themes and people in Chinoiserie fabrics, wallcoverings, and porcelains.
But, what would you say if you saw a modern-day Toile de Jouy with African Americans wearing 18th-century dresses skipping rope in Harlem?
And yet, that is exactly what one of my favorite designers, Sheila Bridges did. Some of you may recall that Sheila is in my top 20 interior designers. But, really, she’s in my top ten. I adore her work!
She created this amazing Toile that she aptly named “Harlem Toile.”
In fact, the pattern sits in the Cooper Hewit Museum in New York City.
This one I swiped off her Instagram. You have to see it. It’s animated on insta!
And, in production!
You can also find Sheila’s fabric on the cool, classic contemporary furniture from The Inside.
Sheila knows that the majority of her customers and designers purchasing this amazing fabric are not African American. However, according to some of you, if I put this in my home, it would be a reprehensible action and racist. That’s patently absurd. Of course, if you feel it’s racist and don’t want to put it in your home, that is fine.
(As a reminder for the righteous AKA: “haters.” I am respectfully asking you to refrain from your shaming notes and comments. For those that persist, you will be banned from the site. Shaming people for not sharing your views is ABUSE and, could be psychologically damaging to your recipient. It is bullying behavior and will not be tolerated.)
Toile de Jouy has always existed as a time machine of sorts into the hearts and souls of artisans of the period.
It is art.
I‘m ending this post with a classic Chinoiserie Toile de Jouy wallpaper by JB Pillement. Custom colors are available.
Well, I hope that you enjoyed this post about Toile de Jouy and Chinoiserie Toiles, as well.
OH! I got my first vax last Thursday. It was pretty much like a flu shot afterward.
PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!
I truly enjoyed this very well researched posting. Thank you Laurel for sharing the exquisite workmanship. Another series of contemporary city-scene-toile patterns are by Timorous Beasties… both as wallpaper and fabric. Glasgow, London, and I just saw NYC on their site. The scenes tend to have a hard edge, albeit with some humor, and the workmanship is stellar.
Thank you, LuAnn. I had one of their images up with NYC, but deleted it, in the end along with a couple of others that had naked people on them. lol
I think we need, as a nation, to frame a sort of rubric, like the kind professors use for grading. Maybe a couple of the questions would go like these:
Will the absence of this make the world less beautiful?
Will getting rid of this restrict choice?
How do we as a people determine what offends people we’ve never met?
Who is the arbiter of good taste, (I’m casting my vote for Laurel)?
There are just way too many questions we haven’t had a conversation about to start willy-nilly getting rid of things. There is also the lack of reason and logic, which I find very worrisome. As an INTJ (personality type, think Dr. House and Spock), I don’t want to live in a world that is tossed around by feelings that I don’t share and, frankly, most of the time don’t understand how in the world people can get so upset by such little things. I have real problems with which a print on fabric just doesn’t compare.
I love Toile de Jouy fabrics! Each design tells such a compelling story and never fails to spark the imagination. Thank you for writing such an insightful article. Thank you even more for introducing me to a fabulous contemporary artist creating new designs in toile. I LOVE THEM!
It’s hard not to weigh in on this one, and I am definitely not a poster. Ever. I think everyone does have a right to their thoughts and, honestly, I am grateful to read the ones I disagree with most so at least I know where people stand and just how much work we all still need to do to create real equality for all women.
Regardless of his motive, or actually especially because of his motive, the reality is that asian women have been margianalized for centuries as a means of sexual pleasure for men. So that he chose to go into these places and kill these women is certainly gender motivated and yes, racist. The two white people that got hit along the way were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Was the guys nuts? Is that even up for debate? Yes, he’s nuts. He drove to 3 separate locations to murder margianolized women for giving happy endings at the end of a massage, purportedly. And he killed them because it sounds like some religious principal behind it caused him so much shame for it that he needed to ‘end the temptation.’
This is so complex we can barely scratch the surface of it. Laurel, I applaud you for acknowledging it in some way. But this whole thing is a hornet’s nest.
Your blog is everything. I hang on your every design word. My PR instincts would have told you to hold off on this blog post. But since it is here, I would ask you to reconsider this one line.
“From what I’ve read about the crime, I believe that it was not in any way racially motivated. It had to do with the kind of work they did.”
Asian women have been the targets of mens sexual perversions for centuries. The end.
That being said, I am painting my recording studio Van Deusen Blue because of you and truly don’t make a design move anywhere in my house without consulting the blog.
In closing, I have read most of the posts here and even the ones I totally disagree with I appreciate seeing. Taking it all in. We are lucky to be able to read each others comments. There are plenty of places, including China, where this conversation could never happen.
WOW Laurel…I am sorry that you had to expose your proverbial underwear and soul to people in order to respond to such a judgemental spirit. Dorie misses what many of your readers have picked up on about you…you are not a one-trick pony but a woman who is doing her best, sharing a plethora of valuable information and opening our eyes to so many different aspects of design and as beautiful as your designs/ideas are, they are never snobby and displayed to evoke envy in the reader. You bring us along on the journey and show us every nook and cranny as well as secret design sauce that you can. And yes you made a business and living for yourself! Congratulations on your success! This has taken a turn from fabrics to fatwas on free-thinkers but perhaps it is necessary. I’m humbled by your strength to have survived, thrived and made the best of your circumstance. I have been reading your blog for many, many years and now I know why or what I liked about you: your humour and humbleness, never bragging about what you know but sharing it instead with utmost honesty and willingness to share your talent with others so we can all learn and borrow a bit of your vast knowledge to beautify our spaces and brighten our lives.
Too bad Dorie is so consumed with being righteous that she doesn’t see the forest from the trees. By assuming Laurel is some frivolous, white, privileged princess, you just exposed who YOU are..a bully that is carrying water for a cause that is made of nothing more than paper. Can you get it through your head that many people (of all stripes) do not want to be victims? They believe in life and its beauty and persevere to change what they can and make the best of their lives DESPITE their circumstances, traumas etc! The addiction to victimhood is the real problem today. It is a life-sucker so perhaps you may want to try “listening” (the current cool word apparently) to those that are not like you…ie Laurel. Is it ok if Laurel is not judged by the colour of her skin, but the content of her character? She did a phenomenal job of bringing up topics that are current and reflected thoughtfully on aspects that felt relevant to consider. She didn’t force any opinion on anyone..it is called “sharing” for a reason. She took a risk and opened up herself to criticism but still took the classy route and encouraged people to speak up, be respectful and open to others. I guess Dorie missed that part. I don’t even use social media, but because of this exchange I will make a point of standing up against the suffocation of free expression and against bullying people into prescribed groupthink (or as Laurel put it, “bitch-slapping” for stepping out of line by thinking for yourself.
LAUREL…God bless you and you deserve every thing that is good to come your way!Keep on being YOU!
wow! Thank you so much GV for taking the time to write not one but two insightful comments in praise of free-thinking. I wish more people would focus on the fact that a lunatic got a hold of a gun and murdered 8 HUMAN BEINGS in COLD BLOOD.
By the way, for whatever it’s worth, I do not and never have had any toiles, paintings, wallpaper or anything with a person rendered on it of any race. I do possess, ironically, a painting created by someone from China who copied for me a painting (in acrylic, not oil) by a 17th century Dutch Painter Melchior de Hondecoeter. His thing was birds, not people. I don’t know what race the birds were, however. I’m presuming they were Dutch, but I really don’t know.
Of course, I’ve been chastised for doing that, as well because I’m single-handedly depriving every American artist of their livelihood.
Suggestion to starving artists from a former starving artist.
1. Paint a masterpiece. No, wait. Paint 20 masterpieces. create an art wall.
2. Photograph the art
3. Turn them into high res digital files
4. Sell each piece on Etsy for $5.00/each
Sell 10,0000 of the set of 20 for $100/each – (The customers do their own printing, but you send them instructions)
You just made one million dollars
You’re welcome. 🙂
Laurel, I’m afraid that clear thinking must be dead these days, and you are a victim of that.
It was a strange kind of “white supremacy” that also left two white people dead in the shooting. Their names were practically erased in the media rush to give us a narrative that it was a “hate crime” before the facts were known. They listed all the Asian names and in parenthesis (two more not released). Now we know the “two more” were white victims.
The shooter himself has stated it had noting to do with race, and since he will be in prison for the rest of his life, why lie about it?
It’s mostly an American “woke” thing to declare that Asians would disapprove of the Toile patterns with Asians depicted. In actual Asian countries, they find such things to be a compliment. For instance, In Japan, when they see a white person in a Kimono, they feel honored. American woke culture does not exist everywhere.
The woke would do well to read “Every Culture Appropriates” from The Atlantic because they tend to have a weak grasp of history.
GV…that was such an incredibly well thought out and articulate response! Thank you for your defense of common sense.
Exactly Laurel! Sheila Bridges was inspired by the chinoiserie concept which influenced her artistic interpretation and vision. Imagine if Sheila was now accused of cultural appropriation from Asian culture? Zoe may also benefit from “listening” to some of the Asian people commenting here as well. One woman commented that it was not appropriation but appreciation. Does her Asian voice not count? We are all human beings that are doing are best, learning and far from perfect. Sorry but it is lazy to lump people into groups as monoliths that are not made up of individuals that can think and believe what they want.To suggest that “white” (or any group) people are all complicit for all evils in the world is also dangerous.”White” people (according to the “skin colour only” definition) are not immune to have suffered under oppressive, violent regimes and situations hence their migration to safer places. Where did the term “white trash” come from? Most immigrants share similar experiences of coming with no money, schooling, language barriers, no family and joining a foreign culture as well as facing xenophobic experiences but they didn’t allow that to make them victims, despite racist incidents against them. They persevered and used that to motivate them to do better. Also, where is the outrage for racially-driven atrocities happening in the world right now? What about the Uygers? Violence in Africa with various tribes/groups battling each other? Where are the school girls that Boko Haram kidnapped and enslaved? The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag was just that, virtue signalling by all and then moving to the next shiny cause. Most of the girls are still not back and the ones that are have been brutally traumatized while we are squabaling over fabric and drapery. All of humanity is equally capable of good and evil and equally deserving of dignity and respect. That is what most people want but it is misguided and counterproductive to vilify and shame one group just because of their skin colour (and only that, regardless of their origin or lived experience), whichever colour they are. Instead we could all share our collective learnings, cultural gifts, art, music, inventions, talents. This suffocating bullying of anyone that steps out of line for the smallest perceived infraction is only moving us backwards. Should design items now come with tags identifying the race and privilege status of the maker of said design and then be submitted to a committee for vetting of all possible infractions or cautions to who may purchase said design item?
same! Laurel, you’re amazing!
SM- THANK YOU for such an insightful, wonderful commentary- it was a definite teaching moment!
And here is the response of a Chinese citizen on issues such as these:’: “It is not cultural appropriation, it’s cultural appreciation,” wrote Weibo user Wuyiya.
SM – wrote an amazing and insightful comment:
This is a bit long, coming from an art history perspective, so please skip if you will, and Laurel can delete if too long…Chinoiserie is ever-enduringly beautiful and has enriched and beautified our lives for centuries. My life was enriched by the many artifacts and decorative objects in my home that can be labeled as Chinoiserie, Turquerie, Japanism, Islamic Art, etc.
These are my treasures, pieces collected through travels, including extensive travels in Japan, objects depicting far away places, interiors and people, too, human faces from the past, people who lived before me, people from far away places. I have Chinese ancestral portraits, vases, bowls, furniture, some with figures, some without, all beautifully, gracefully rendered, people from past times looking back at me.
I have friends from different cultures (many Japanese) and I am a regular visitor of museums, exhibitions, antique shops. I think traveling, visiting museums, learning, seeing, being curious and open, helps seeing Chinoiserie, and art in general, in the right context. I am only thankful for other cultures to offering the art and beauty they created throughout centuries so we all can enjoy them.
Chinoiserie, in whatever format, wallpaper, vases, paintings didn’t just appear from nowhere in our modern day, they are based on thousand year old patterns, human imaginations and ingenuity, motives, techniques and colors applied, etc. Even Sheilas’a gorgeous new renderings are anchored in these.
As for negative stereotype in Chinoiserie…in the 1700s when Chinoiserie became so immensely popular, China was actually revered and looked upon as a highly developed civilization and society that could produce many of the items that the west could not, especially porcelain. China was producing immensely beautiful porcelain for about 2,000 years while the west could only make porcelain from the early 1700s (Meissen factory)!! Kings and princes were coveting the many artifacts coming out of China that only a small percentage of the population could afford. European imitations of these highly coveted pieces therefore started to be reproduced in order to make them more affordable to the broader middle class. Given the appreciation and coveting of these Chinese artifacts it is hard to imagine that any negative characterizations would have been the objective.
In the examples provided above by Laurel, to the modern eye, the figures may appear a bit child-like and naive actually in both renderings, both by the Chinese and western artist. You actually can see many excellent examples on Sotheby’s and Christies’ auction houses of fabulous export China with figures painted by Chinese that appear as small, child-like figures, a bit odd, as seen with the modern eye.
But then again, do not people on early Renaissance paintings and murals of Italian churches, look a bit ‘odd’ and child-like, ‘less enlightened’, if you will? Or in many Flemish paintings, like Van Eyck’s famous Arnolfini portrait, does not the couple look childish, ‘simple’? And how about the myriad of children-like, naive figures on Breugel paintings? And early American folk art? People, clothes, didn’t always look like we do today as we see it through the modern eye…If you visit the many historic palaces of Europe, the guide will explain that the beds are smaller because people were smaller than today. A few years ago, there was an exhibition in Paris about Marie Antoinette that showed her gown worn at her execution, it was the size of a small girl’s nightgown.
Actually, I have found more exaggerated, caricature-like renderings of Europeans in the 15-16th century Japanese Nanban art (‘Southern Barbarians’ as the first Europeans who landed in Japan, Portuguese and Dutch, were called) while traveling in Japan, this sometimes shows Europeans in cartoonish, exaggerated, balloon pants and facial expressions, sometimes even scary looking, because foreigners were looked upon with suspicion and contact with them was to be kept at minimum.
I was not offended by it and I was aware that no Japanese person in his right mind thinks westerners look like this! To me it was actually a positive surprise and I was a fascinated to see that so early on Japanese depicted the western man. Even if depicted in an idealized or with a bit of ‘propaganda’, it did reveal an interest and curiosity in the other… It was a start, maybe inaccurate, but a start in exploring the ‘other’, exploring my culture.
Later in the mid-1800 when finally Japan opened up to foreigners the huge curiosity and appetite for all things western by the Japanese can be compared to the 18th century European appetite and curiosity for all things Chinese, and again reappear renderings by Asian artists of westerners, with more or less semblance in traits and clothes, and sometimes you see Japanese people in western garbs! There are thousands such Japanese illustrations and I do hope the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Education (or whatever it’s called) will not purge these treasured pieces of art because they are depicting westerners by Japanese artists. These are an integral part of history, of learning, art and exploration.
Likewise, I don’t think a beautiful Chinoiserie vase with a figure in its landscape copied by a western artist should be thrown out because he wasn’t Chinese. Should Rembrandt be tossed because he depicted many Jewish characters while he himself wasn’t Jewish? Or Gauguin’s Tahitian Women because he wasn’t Tahitian? Or Sargent’s amazingly beautiful watercolors of his Bedouins series painted during a trip to North Africa? Or the thousands of beautiful paintings in the Orientalist departments world-wide painted by western Artists, many of whom travelled to these lands, depicting beautiful interiors, markets, harems and Turkish baths, (Gerome, Gericault, Delacroix, Ingres, etc).
I certainly do not want to imply that offending representations of humans should be ignored, of course it should not! But we have to be careful in determining what is ‘offending’, otherwise we will soon end up in a situation where, as someone here so well put it, only a Spaniard will be able to cook up a Paella…
The good news is that art always survives, it transcends people and times, ideologies, censorships…This actually had been proven many times not too long ago in the past century, when certain art that was deemed not appropriate (‘degenerate’, ‘burgeois’, ‘old world’) was relegated to basements and attics, only to be de-dusted much later when social experiments fell apart (my ancestors were victims of this). Art will always survive, and so will Chinoiserie and all things beautiful. Blessings to everyone!
Here, here, Laurel! People really don’t have any idea what another has gone through and the comments concerning this post have left me dumbstruck! Great post as usual. I rarely comment, but to think someone would think me racist because I love toile is absurd. I’ll be shaking my head for a while…and that does not mean that I don’t find what happened in Atlanta horrifying. This country has run amuck with political correctness…your steroids comment was spot on
Yes, Dorie. I agree, please think about how your words and actions are affecting others.
Thank you for thinking of me as a privileged white woman. However, the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, my life has taken a huge turn for the better. But, it is only in the last 6 years and because I met the right people and then worked my ass off.
I have overcome a tremendous number of obstacles. Strictly speaking, I should’ve died 61 years ago and nearly did and at the hands of the one person who was supposed to be protecting me with his life. You have no idea. And that is just for starters.
I am not saying this as a poor me in any way. And, I’m mostly okay now, although still prone to bouts of profound depression. Years of therapy. Reading. A strong belief in God. Faith. But, it is not the faith I was born into.
Yes, I was born Jewish. And yes, I’ve been the victim of prejudice and hatred. And, no, I do not practice Judaism. I tried and tried but it never rang true for me. I respect others who do, however.
I just wish people would calm the fuck down and stop it with the erroneous assumptions. It is not our right to CHASTISE others for their thoughts and beliefs, no matter what you think or believe! It is actually none of your business. And, your bitch-slapping (shaming me) is offensive to ME! Why is that okay?
IT’S NOT OKAY.
And, please remember this wise statement not made by me:
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about; be kind. Always.”
Precisely my point. There is no difference.
Well said, Pam! My hope is that people WILL think for themselves and allow other people to think for themselves too.
Many commenters here are making gross assumptions based on a narrow view, not based in reality. I say, instead, be curious. The answers might be surprising.
Thank you, Carrie.
If I did not mention it, I would’ve been skewered for having my head in the sand. I could’ve avoided the topic, but I had already spent a lot of time on the post.
I’m sorry my words troubled you.
Oh my! This is my point, precisely. The feelings of people are far more important than fabric or any tangible thing.
However, it is impossible to please everyone. So, when it comes to decorating one’s home, ultimately, I feel that people need to do whatever they enjoy and feel is appropriate for them. That is all.
Jayne, I did not say it wasn’t a hate crime. It is definitely a hate crime. However, if all of the sex workers in Atlanta were Swedish would the outcome be any different?
Yes, if most of the salons in Atlanta were staffed with Caucasians, but this young man only targeted the ones staffed with Asians, then yes, one could say that the crime was racially motivated. However, this isn’t the case.
I am outraged by this crime as a HUMAN, and especially as a WOMAN.
The same way the Oregon wildfires were reportedly NOT arson. (Don’t look at the various video evidence and police reports.) Never let a crisis go to waste.
America is the great melting pot. And it’s perfectly neighborly to lend an ingredient when the recipe calls for it. Can we please be excused from overthinking this one?
Thank you for a fabulous post!!!!!!!
Wow. Why so virulent? Another angry white girl who would do well to simply check out the DAR website. This blog is about design and art, which are totally subjective. I’m sure everyone who has posted here could find a piece of art that they would find incredibly offensive. “Piss Christ” anyone? Serrano said he did not intend…to offend.
Laurel – you had me at “this post”. I adore your enthusiasm, honesty and intelligence. Wish there were more like you. Take care and keep posting.
Hi Laurel: I’m a first generation Chinese American. I’m a fan of you. I like many things of you as a writer. One of the most attractive part of your content is that you talk what you have passion to and you insist on it. I love Chinoiserie wall paper and toile de jouy print. I don’t understand why they feel it offensive. Why imagination figures are so wrong? Let time gradually connect people all together. Don’t need much force. Enjoy the beauty. Let’s art be art.
My apologies, meant LAUREL, not Lauren.
Oh my, Lauren! Independent thinking rather than gulping down media narratives without tasting. You go, girl! Good for you!
FYI, I am a long time fan of toile, and have it in several places and forms in my house.
Thank you for sharing the history and significance of Toile de Juoy. Some people find problems everywhere they look, probably because we’ve eliminated so many other problems that people suffered with for hundreds of thousands of years. I appreciate your rationality and refusal to let the woke mob destroy this art.
Amy, you have great sensitivity and also what’s rarer, a sense of discretion. A better reason not to serve Aunt Jemima syrup is that you should be serving real maple syrup–especially appropriate as the maple season is beginning for this year. Although perhaps that stereotypes New Englanders….
Confession: I LOOOOVE Toile and Chinoiserie. My personal measuring stick for whether something crosses the line into disrespectful or hurtful is whether I’d say something/do something/depict something in front of someone in that particular group of people. For instance, I would not put Toile de Jouy wallpaper in my house because I imagine (not sure it this is fact) it might be offensive to someone Asian who comes to my home. I WOULD feel okay about having a Chinoiserie desk in my home. It doesn’t depict Asian people, it’s just, you know, fake bamboo. Would I serve African Americans pancakes with Aunt Jemima syrup? No. There’s a picture of a stylized African American woman on the bottle (not anymore, thankfully.) Would I display a piece of African American art? Yes (and I do). I realize that this particular stance only addresses a tiny fraction of what racism is but, if we’re sticking to the topic of interior design, I think it’s a good start.
Well, Laurel you tried. It was a worthy effort too. Everybody should hang on to all their Asian textiles and decorative pieces and keep them hidden to be brought out only when no one is around. After reading a lot of the comments, it’s obvious that owning Chinoiserie objects and many toile patterns soon will be forbidden.
Laurel, I applaud you for this post! I wanted to share jubilantly how I loved learning the history of chinoiserie as both a casual student of art history and as an ASIAN PERSON. A bonafide Chinese woman at that!
Also, I appreciate you standing up for your perspective about what happened in Georgia. I don’t know if you felt brave doing it, but I think it takes courage to tell the truth as you see it in this political climate. It would have been a bit odd/ robotic if you didn’t address and just published it without the context. Thank you for that.
We live in a crazy time where 8 innocent people can lose their lives and ALL people want to talk about is white supremacy. Like, really?! That is nuts. Forget gun control, gendered violence, sex work, or immigration. Like you, I do not believe what happened was a hate crime. (Though it might be! We’ll know only after a full investigation.)
Also, if I have one more person ask ME how I am doing because of Georgia, I will scream. (Do they realize how racist that is???)
Thanks again for being you. I feel slightly less crazy now and a bit more cultured from this post 😉
This is a blog about interior design. Why make it so political? I don’t see anything noble about all these bleeding heart comments. Who wants to read all this drivel?! Toile and Chinoiserie are magical. Enough said!
This is actually from Kate in Colorado who wrote an incredible comment:
Dear Laurel and friends –
Thank you all so much for this enlightening discussion. This has been a painful day, seeing our favorite blog addressing the intersection of art and life, but I think it is fruitful for us all, as we each endeavor to better our world.
My immediate family includes Black, Caucasian, East Asian, Hispanic, Native American and South Asian people. These are my children, children-in-law, and grandchildren.
Discrimination, prejudice and racism is a very real part of our lives, here in America and abroad. Sometimes, it is Hispanic against Black. Sometimes, it is Asian against Asian. Sometimes, it is Caucasian against Black, Hispanic and Asian. It is always hurtful, often terrifying, never surprising.
My beloved family members have been attacked, beaten, cheated, demeaned, insulted and imprisoned because of their race and/or gender. So I am very sensitive on this subject.
But on this blog, today, I hear the heart cries of caring people who are sincerely on the right side of making our world a better place. We are just approaching the task from different places and in different ways.
Some of us commenters are extremely sensitive to the work of artists in a place (Europe) and time (centuries ago) that are completely removed from where we are, today. These artists lived in a day & age without electricity, flush toilets, clean water, safe food and medical attention. It is no wonder that these artists highly idealized people they’d never met in a world far away. Their Toile de Jouy depicts bucolic scenes free of the excrement, disease and death that was the constant reality both on the streets and in the palaces of 18th century Europe. I think if we travelled back in time & joined them for a day, we’d not judge those artists so harshly.
And today? Is it an offense to employ this art in our homes today? That is for each of us to consider individually.
Is it okay for us to frame Dutch Baroque, French Impressionist and Italian Renaissance art prints, or would those of us who are not Dutch, French and Italian find ourselves guilty of appropriating those cultures?
I’m not making light of the subject. It’s something we must each grapple with.
In my family, it’s okay that I make Paella, though I’m not Spanish. And it’s okay that I make Rouladen, though I’m not German. We choose to be at ease about these things. But that’s my family; perhaps yours is different.
What’s important is what’s in your heart. Do you desire to see people grow in their understanding & respect & honor for each other? Do you strive to do so, yourself?
We do, yes, we do. And we are so blessed to have our fearless Laurel to instruct us in Art History and Interior Design while we work to make both our private homes and our society a more beautiful place.
Thank you, Laurel. And peace to each dear reader with whom I share this space.
Thank you too, Kate!
Guys, Thank you for your comments. However, I I’m going to turn them off as soon as I’ve finished this.
I’m very tired.
Love to all!
I would like to echo Zoe’s mention of Edward Said’s book “Orientalism” which is a good introduction to this topic. I mentioned it in a comment last week. For context, I am a Latina of mixed heritage who has been studying ‘race and racism’ for half a century. I am also a retired professor who was the first in my nuclear family to go to college, nevermind earn a PhD and tenure at a major university. My mother, the daughter of an Eastern European coal-miner, had to pick coal from the train tracks because my coal miner grandfather could not afford to buy the very coal he mined for his family. This was 1920s-30s Pennsylvania. The mention of professors as if we are a category one should be taught to denigrate prompted the long personal history. After a lifetime of college teaching and multiple national awards, I am not secure in retirement. The idea of bootstrapping is ANATHEMA to me. Most Americans die in the socio-economic background they are born into. Use ‘teh google’ as we say.
Now, about race: after 50 years of study, I can most confidently say that there is always more to learn about race. There are a multitude of comments here which depict enormous MISeducation about racism.
I adore and respect this blog and understand why you, Laurel, try to keep the topics and comments to the decorative arts, but this topic and the reference to the Atlanta murders (which you, Laurel, brought up yourself) are troubling to me and force me to write this long post.
I also mentioned last week that my home is filled with Asian art as I have a lifetime interest in the art and philosophy of Asia and had an Asian mentor in college.
The fact that some Asian artists or businessmen helped produce some of these toile images is not ameliorative. The pressure to survive caused many people of color to sell themselves and their culture.
One of my national awards involved studying head hunting (a very dark subject I have not been able to bring to completion). It began with me teaching “Moby-Dick.” I explained to my students that the book begins with Queequeg’s introduction as a fearsome fellow by the innkeeper who informs Ishmael that his bunkmate was out “selling his heads.” Both Ishmael and reader are terrified as we wait for Queequeg to return. Eventually, it becomes clear that QQ is the strongest of Christians and as gentle a fellow as could be found anywhere. QQ helps Ishmael and others over and over throughout the novel. Melville is making a profound point. My students found this insight solid and asked me why would QQ be selling heads? There is no indication in the novel that QQ himself ever “took” any heads. Thus, my project ignited. Eventually, I sought to prove that Melville knew that the traffic in heads was stimulated by colonialists and merchants in Europe and North America and that QQ was responding to the economic imperative of trading in goods valued on the market. I found a wealth of evidence to support my thesis but have not had the opportunity to examine the manifests of the ships Melville sailed on to demonstrate that Melville witnessed this commerce directly. Of course, the whole of the novel is profoundly anti-racist.
As some commenters have already pointed out: the connection between Asian women and hypersexuality is rampant in the USA and in Europe. One of my Asian American classmates told me that white male students would walk up to her on UCBerkeley’s campus and blatantly invite her to f**k as if she were placed there for their sexual fulfillment. This fantasy is so entrenched that it has fed commerce all over the world. One can see it all over the world should one remove the scales from one’s eyes. Simultaneously, the male Asian body has been feminised as if it were completely passive. This, too, has been represented in literature.
So, I repeat, after 50 years of studying race and racism, it is obvious that there is always another turn and twist in this subject. People of color around the world cannot afford not to understand how this works because their survival depends upon it.
I do not even accept the term “cancel culture.” For me it is just one of a long string of linguistic tricks meant to automatically dismiss serious discussion of an even longer string of serious problems we face.
All of us, but especially European Americans, need to education ourselves about these complex subjects. Unfortunately, the education will need to span one’s lifetime as it has for me. We will all arrive at different levels of understanding, but without serious study of these subjects, our culture will not change. I can’t imagine a world in which this goes on forever because we are in for more than a world of hurt — all of us, all the time.
I understand Laurel that you adore Choisserie as a style. A deep dive into it may be necessary before we are truly to understand its roots and its meaning in this era.
Sheila Bridges is quoted thus: “She was inspired to design a wallpaper and fabric that, prior to her creation, simply did not exist anywhere in the market. “When I was looking for a toile originally for my own house, I couldn’t find one that spoke to me, that I could really, truly relate to,” says Bridges. “And so, this one I designed to talk about stereotypes of African Americans and also cultural appropriation but, ultimately, to celebrate our culture, which is again often appropriated.” A deep dive into that wallpaper is necessary.
PAMELA – Regardless of anyone’s actual views on the subject, the topic of the post is literally the question “Toile de Jouy – IS IT OFFENSIVE OR IS IT SOMETHING ELSE?”
How is it “pathetic” that people have views on the question asked in the title of the post? How is it even possible to consider whether it’s offensive or not [to whom?] without race entering into it?
Now, how we go about expressing those views is another thing.
PAMELA BOZANICH – OMGG – What a breath of FRESH AIR you ARE ! Geez, – thank U, THANK you – THANK YOU !.
I love toile and chinoiserie! I don’t care if it depicts something someone might not like. It doesn’t matter. Don’t buy it. Don’t look at it. It really is that simple.
Isn’t it pathetic that in this day and age, you cannot post a DECORATING column about Asian art and it’s contribution to western decor without addressing the issue of RACE! Not everyone sees the world through the lens of RACE – some things happen for other reasons.
As a lifetime Los Angeles Country Prosecutor, I can say that A) lots of massage parlors are inhabited by poor Asian women who see no other way to earn a living than to give “happy ending” massages and B) sometimes, Race has nothing whatsoever to do with a crime.
I am disappointed that this far into the 21st century, you even had to worry about publishing this column. Everyone, look at the pretty pictures, take Laurel’s generously given information and forget about Race for just as long as it takes to read this column.
I’m not ashamed that I “flat out asked” my dear friends in a very candid and from the heart discussion to help me understand their feelings regarding the Chinoiserie art in my home. And that’s the real topic of this blog – appreciating Euro rifts on Asian subjects. The blog unites us by our sharing our love for interior design. The heavy duty topic of hate crimes against disenfranchised others can’t possibly be addressed appropriately here. Everyone is upset about that killing of those Asian women. It will take a lot of time to address this evil.
My friends appreciate honesty and the chance to teach their culture. They never hesitate to be frank with me. That’s why I like them. We’ve had many real talks about our world over the years where I have been enlightened. I’ve inadvertently stepped on toes many times. My Japanese daughter-in-law never holds back in letting me know if I inadvertently make cultural slips. I do them a lot. As has been noted, people of white privilege can’t know what it’s really like to be an “other” in today’s American society. Yet they can try to learn. It doesn’t help to silence any conversation and debate by attempting to shame those that are curious about what is dividing us.
WOW – my dearest JANE – who just responded to this very informative (6:48pm) and historical post – may GOD BLESS YOU ! Seriously – this was/is about TOILE & Chinoiserie – but these very detrimental comments are totally absurd. Please people – take a deep breath and honor our Laurel who gives us “her” time and expertise .
So well said, Jane.
We are not a perfect nation, but we are a blessed one. I hate the division–a lot of which is encouraged by the media, partisan politics, etc. IMO.
I never respond to or comment on blogs or FB post or anything like that but today I think I will. Fools name and monkeys faces always appear in public places, that is what my father use to always tell us. We were not suppose to seek fame and glory for ourselves. Laura I too am one who always enjoys your post and learn so much from you. Thank you for writing it each week. I know it can be a lot of work to come up with new and creative post each time.
I got a little angry when I first read the post more because of the scolding than what has been said. We all can be offended by something anytime and anywhere. It is whether we choose to be offended or not. There are many ills, sins, evil or whatever the word you want to use to describe it, in our world. We are a depraved people and so in need of forgiveness. We think so highly of our own opinions and beliefs that we can only focus on how someone has wronged us or offended us. I am so tired of this whole subject. Racism has been around since the beginning of time and will be here until the end. We are all humans made in the image of God and are called to love each other. That being said, all this talk about hate, division, racism, white privilege and the like is hurting our country and tearing us all apart. Can we just see each other for who we are? By our character, our stories, our lives and quit looking at skin color and ethnicity. We are not African Americans, or Asian American, Hispanic Americans, Scotch, Irish, English Americans if we are citizens of this country, then we are all “Americans”? Those terms in and of themselves are divisive. Many of you were born right here in the USA and have had the “privilege” of growing up here. Have you ever seen people lining up to get into Mexico or China, or Russia, or Germany or any other country on the globe. Everyone wants to come here because we are the greatest nation on the planet. I have lived and worked in third world nations and I can tell you that most of you who live here and hate America have no idea how the rest of the world truly lives and how blessed you are to be here. Even the worst situations in America don’t compare to how awful the rest of the world lives. It seems everyone is so angry and so easily offended these days. Take a look at your own heart and your own sin and your own need to change. The work begins in our hearts. If you are offended by what I have said, I apologize.
I thought this blog post was well-done. I cannot see how the chinoiserie toile would be hurtful or even how it is anything other but showing Chinese figures in a lanscape. Showing the art coming out of China was especially helpful to show the figures were not doing much that was different from how Chinese artists depicted their pastoral scenes.
One comment here mentioning an ugly and stereotyped figurine depicting an Asian was also useful; it is so similar to the situation with the little black boys some people used to have at the end of the driveways when I was growing up. Even then, and this was a long long time ago, my family and I knew this was wrong and not something nice people did. Those figures were, in fact, a celebration of servility. I did not see a celebration of anythign ugly in that in the Chinese art.
As for French toile showing white figures in an idealized landsape, I suppose that if some folks wanted to take this sensitivity to its furthest ends, they would also suggest that no Black or Asian person could have toile in their homes showing white people for fear of offending their white friends? Is that where we’re going?
How we got from the murders to Chinoiserie is a little mind-boggling. It was definitely a crime against women, but there was one man. It was definitely a crime against Asians; but two people were not. Can’t we say it was a crime against all of us?
I love the work of Richard Saja who adds embroidery to toile.
Hi Laurel, I hope you will consider the comments of your readers as carefully as we read your posts. I really hope you will also consider the sources of the statement that the perpetrator committed these crimes solely because of the women’s professions. The sources are a sheriff who was since removed from the case for past anti-Asian political activity, and (supposedly) the alleged murderer who may be facing hate crime charges. It was ludicrous for the sheriff to make that comment in public. All it did was muddle the case for any jury. We all can see that he went out of his way to target Asian women; the other victims are also victims of his hatred.
As for the decor, people can decorate their homes how they like. But aesthetic exchanges between cultures almost always carry some political or social weight. Just because one person is oblivious doesn’t mean everyone is.
This week has been an opportunity to listen to others and learn. When a large group of people said they felt this crime personally and are hurting, it is not normal to react to those people with anger. For those of you whose knee-jerk reaction is to feel angry at the people speaking out, please consider that your reaction is not normal for someone who is secure in their own culture and decency. For those of us who have loved ones who are members of the ethnicities targeted by hateful rhetoric the past 5+ years, we have been living with a sense of dread that the rhetoric will manifest into something horrific. This is not an ideological debate. It is about something real and practical for many of us. It is terrible to worry that some nut will hurt your family. It is bad enough having to worry about gun violence when we send our kids to school.
Laurel I appreciate your knowledge but by tying this post in particular to the events of last week you chose to take a stand on a really sensitive social issue and did so rather clumsily. We have to be willing to look inward and ask if we are being good people and good citizens. There is a good chance our children will not marry someone who looks exactly like their parents. Do you want the world to be this ugly for our grandchildren? We have to be more thoughtful and considerate.
Thank you, Heidi and Faith below. Your thoughtful comments have saved this blog for me today. I was very unsettled after reading this post and wondered why it wasn’t possible to discuss toile without opining on the motivation of the shooter and a making a declaration about political correctness. You can see how certain posters see this as a green light to go in all kinds of negative directions to grind the axes they might normally be grinding on Facebook or the Fox comments section.
Lotsa folks in the comments seem to be getting pretty darn defensive about their (hypothetical) upholstery choices ever, possibly, conceivably being considered offensive by anyone. And wanting to shout down anyone who has a different view.
Sheesh. Talk about snowflakes. And cancel culture. Ironic much?
Help! Help! The cancel culture Marxists are after my Toile de Jouy! First they came for Mr. Potatohead, and now for the soft furnishings! Our country and curtains will be destroyed by “vacuous automaton virtue signaling” space lasers …
Meanwhile… back on this planet… some Asian folks are actually worried about real stuff. Like getting beaten up on the street. Or having their views shouted down in a conversation about whether they should be offended. Irony again.
So that original commenter who inspired this post is still here and still reading. And WOW. Probably unsubscribing after this though. Can you leave this comment up? I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings this time am I?
I especially loved the green post! They’re all so informative. This isn’t a place for political comments, but China isn’t out friend. Wake up wokesters!
LINDA LEYBLE – I am aggrieved to inform you that you have been misinformed about the Dr. Seuss situation. Nothing was ever banned- a single school district decided not to emphasize Dr. Seuss’ specifically racist works, but they were still available to anyone who wanted to access them.
If you are perhaps referring to the discontinuance of those 6 racist books, they were discontinued by Seuss’ estate. Those you refer to as “they” had nothing to do with it.
I have never looked at a toile, of any flavor, and thought anything other than “Isn’t that lovely and reposeful?” I find that toiles are, for the most part, designed to evoke the rare sense of serenity -and yes, joy- via nature, etc. They belong to the various documented stories of historical sensibilities, much like paintings and other depictions of time/place/people/culture; some pleasant…others not so much. I do not want to move through a world made artificially devoid of those things! Shame on those who would wantonly destroy them via vacuous, automaton-like virtue signaling.
Thank you for continually expanding horizons, and much love to you, dear Laurel.
“Things Could Be Worst” toile by Calamity
whoa…self absorbed and Teflon coated, not a good look for ya!
I enjoyed your post and love chinoiserie. The cancel culture is absurd in so many ways. I had a career in the Fashion industry and lived 20 years in Manhattan and another 15 in Westchester. Have friends of all races and cultures and my daughter is mixed race. I was trained as an artist and have a special love of decorative arts. The Asian influence on European fine and decorative arts have given us so much beauty. James McNeill Whistler was highly influenced by the Japanese in the simplicity of his compositions as well as the decorative magnificence of the Peacock Room. Britain in the late 1800s was obsessed with the Asian influence. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado was not to make fun of the Japanese but as a satire on the British obsession with Asian style. Asians have also taken on many western influences.
I am Chinese and while the motifs are not offensive, the depictions of people are.
And, it was a hate crime. He could have gone to any women within the 30 minutes he drove from one place to another but he chose Asian women. Are you at all aware of how much Asian women are objectified and eroticised, especially by priveleged white males?
And why does the murderer get to control the narrative about his own crimes? He had anti-Asian posts in his own social media!
I’m in the process of redoing my dining room and am obsessed with the nature motifs in chinoiserie designs, but am extremely bothered by the depictions of stereotypical Asian architecture and people. It has its place in an art museum, but as a white person I am horrified at the thought of recovering my dining room chairs with it. It’s a hard no. But I absolutely freaking love the plants, trees, flowers, birds etc..in that style and can’t wait to cover my dining room in it.
Thank you Laurel for your thoughtful take.
Beauty, art and expression are under attack. The self-flagellation for any slight that falls under a never-ending list of deemed offensive topics is staggering. Our self-aggrandizement of our moral superiority in judging everything according to a very narrow lens is not healthy. Ironically none of the same standards apply to any other non-Western countries and their many flawed policies/positions/laws/standards with respect to race, religion, gender, etc. It doesn’t bother us to continue to buy products from China that does not give their citizens freedoms that we all enjoy (including disagreeing), has concentration camps, jails people arbitrarily for any reason, etc.
Why would an artist deliberately set out to make wall coverings or fabrics to denigrate people? It is not a judgement call to depict typical scenes of the time ranging from field work to royalty. The suggestion of potential offense to a Chinese visitor suggests that the owner of the same wallpaper or fabric chose it to somehow express mocking or shaming of other cultures. This is ridiculous! Normal people can see beauty in different ways , be it through the colour choices, style of drawing, scenes in distant lands. This is respect and awe for other cultures. To see it otherwise suggests projection of the personal bias of the offended person.
We all eat foods of so many different cultures and do not too mid-fork and ponder if we are appropriating other’s ideas or if we are eating with an Italian would they feel slighted for us cooking “their” food.
Toile is beautiful. Chinoiserie isn’t an exact copy of Asian art, but it is beautiful depiction. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I’m sure the European artists who introduced it did not intend for it to be disparaging in any way. Thanks Laurel.
Congratulations on getting your vaccine.
I’ve read your blog for years and purchased a few of your guides. I admire your style greatly but I’m sad that this post fell flat for me.
One of the things I associate with your designs is a sense of graciousness. Besides aesthetics, a large part of graciousness is consideration for people and guests. We are fortunately free to make our own choices but once those choices are made we are not free to control their impact.
Why is the opportunity to have decor in your home that depicts Asian people in fantastical pastoral scenes more important than the feelings of a human being who is of Asian descent?
For all those people who posted about how they asked an Asian person in their life if their decor was inappropriate and got a green light from them–what if they were fibbing to not hurt your feelings? What if they shrugged it off but in the back of your mind put you down in the “racist” category? What if they don’t mind but the next Asian person who comes into your home sees it and feels unwelcome? How is that gracious?
I get that the world is changing and many white people are upset about “wokeness.” Something I’ve found helpful is substituting the phrase “considering the feelings of other humans” for “political correctness” or “wokeness.” When it boils down to it, that’s what it is. A large part of the world was not concerned with the feelings of people of color for a long time and now that things are changing it can seem like extra work but I for one would rather do some extra work and live in a place where people of all color have voices.
I still admire your design but this post disappointed me. I wish you and your readers had expressed half the outrage about the dramatic increase in violence and harassment Asian Americans have faced in the last year. Elderly people have been attacked on the street and murdered. To me that is more important than fabric.
I have felt very unsettled for the last few hours since reading this post. As an Asian woman, I am very disappointed with the language used to dismiss this obviously racially motivated hate crime. It is not being overly sensitive or PC when you have 6 Asian women murdered. If it had been 6 black men in barber shops (typically barber shops are run by black males where I’m from) would anyone hesitate to call it a hate crime?
Regardless whether or not he did this because of a “sex addiction”, he chose these spas that had Asian women working there. One of the spas was called Young’s Asian Spa. Their race was a factor.
I do hope Laurel, that you can open up your perspective to see that everyone, especially POC, have a right have their voices heard without being dismissed as being too PC
Thank you so much for the introduction to Sheila Bridges and, in the comments section, to Timorous Beasties!
I am so disappointed in your comment that this is not a hate crime or racially based. Technically in Georgia a hate crime is based on race, sex, gender, etc. The murderer only targeted Asian businesses and all but one man (who was getting a massage at the same time his wife did and was murdered) were women. This was definitely by law a hate crime. This man traveled many miles to murder at the last two sites — he could have stopped anywhere, but he specifically chose Asian businesses and women. I would also like to point out all the Trump supporters who claim they don’t want to be woke or complain about “cancel culture” and higher education have no desire or ability to try to put themselves in others shoes. How would they like it if their family members were targeted because of their gender or ethnicity? I’m not sure I can continue to follow you because there are so many people posting that have absolutely no desire to educate themselves and have no empathy for anyone else but their own selfish lives.
When a sex addict specifically targets and kills Asian women, it is most definitely a hate crime. My daughter is a student at a university in Atlanta and participated in a march of solidarity there yesterday. We are horrified and deeply disturbed by the Atlanta shootings. Your post gives me a lot to think about. I have had a lifelong fascination with Asian history and Asian culture. Twenty years ago, I put pagoda toile drapes in my daughter’s nursery. My children grew up attending Asian festivals. They each own their own set of chop sticks. For my birthday, my daughter learned the tea ceremony to surprise me. Every birthday card my children ever made me was decorated with cherry blossoms, a dragon, or a pagoda. My daughter spent a summer living in Japan and regularly corresponds with her Japanese”brother”. Last summer, we planned to visit Taiwan. Next summer, she planned to study in China, all cancelled because of Covid. Asian culture is rich and beautiful and fascinating. It troubles me that my decor might be offensive to an Asian. I would never want to offend my friends. I don’t want to be anything like some of the people commenting here.
I think there has been a bit of miscommunication here on this lovely blog.
This blog is about interior decorating, and this post about chinoiserie, and whether or not it can/cannot be deemed offensive.
Some people might find it offensive, some may not. Either way, any of us are free to use it and others are free to be offended. It isn’t a bad thing that some people are concerned about being offensive, that’s a good thing in society. But not everyone needs to feel that way, or any one way.
Unfortunately, current events bumped into this topic. Tensions are high.
I understand why some white people may be feeling “blamed” for everything in sight these days.But I really do SO appreciate the many supportive comments made here, there aren’t that many and they are appreciated.
A beautiful, detailed post about a subject I knew little of. I am learning. The thoughtful, caring comments of some readers who have shared their own experiences without labelling or attributing motives helps to open my mind and heart, too. I thank them especially.
Lovely post, Laurel! Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Toile with us today. It’s always fun to learn about the history and origins of art and design.
Beauty and knowledge are always in vogue.
Laurel, I love your blog! I have never found anything you have said offensive in any way:) BTW, I lived in China and have a great affinity for the country & people.
I started reading this post in the wee hours of the morning and it did emit a reaction, so I decided to sit with it and reflect. And this morning I revisited, very curious about the evolving comments. I feel the need to respond, but with much hesitancy. Here’s where I am coming from: I am a “What would Laurel do?” ride or die fan of your work and blog. But I am also an Asian American, whose experience is my personal own, but also part of a shared collective. Even the word Asian can carry significance as it generalizes so many differing cultures, countries and experiences.
Where am I going with this? I feel you missed the mark in your opening comments about addressing an incredibly hurtful and sad time. This is not just related to this week or even this year, with subtle and overt acts of racism against Asians. Growing up in a time where Asian parents wanted nothing more than to assimilate and never stand out, it has been harder for white people to understand our hurt and lived experiences and subtle acts which made us feel “other”.
I feel it was dismissed as “not racism” (which I disagree wholeheartedly) instead of introspection that your perspective is limited. And using your platform to gloss over an important topic. To be fair, my response is also in connection to posts this summer regarding BLM as well. I appreciate some of the respectful comments from readers (Caroline, Parnassus, Tess, Dorie), some names of which I recognize over the years, which acknowledge they are open to listen instead of making conclusions. However, I was dismayed that others cling to using language and terms negatively in order to wave away any real insight to a deeply hurtful topic (I.e. “Woke”, PC, cancel culture, I’m so tired of…, I have an Asian in my family, I flat out asked”).
I’m happy to read my favorite blog on Sunday mornings as an escape, but opening with statements that reference what is happening today will elicit responses, independent of interior design. Personally, I love the Chinoiserie style, but do feel that some depictions are a little caricature-like and lean toward more of the designs depicting nature. I primarily purchase Asian art and objects in my collection, however I appreciate many iconic chinoiserie designs in the likes of Schumacher and Brunshwig and Fils fabrics.
Every single Asian person I know FEELS this crime on a visceral level as part of an ongoing attack on Asian Americans – that exemplifies how their experience with racism is often minimized and dismissed by many in the majority.
Ignoring their pain at this moment – telling them racism has nothing to do with it – only adds insult to injury. And worse – proves their point.
(There are articles written by Asian Americans about this literally everywhere – this is a turning point for them).
Misogyny, normalizing violence against women, racism about which types of women are valuable and which women are not – these things are often part of the same toxic soup.
Please listen to the voices of our fellow Asian Americans. Especially the women. Because they are talking and have A LOT to say/ teach us right now…
Laurel, I’m a licensed architect and interior designer with nearly 25 years of experience. While my own work has been focused on the commercial sector I’m passionate about design and take joy in reading about residential design. I’ve frequently read your blogs and, finally, within the last 6 months have subscribed. Your skilled space planning, eye for detail and sensitivity to finishes have always impressed me. I’m half Asian and I appreciate the sensitive and professional manner in which you’ve addressed the ongoing (and, in my opinion, valid) cultural debate. Reasoned and thoughtful commentary such as yours will help us all better understand the world, our global family, and our place within it. Brava and keep up the great work!
Thank you, Rebecca. Your comment puts into words exactly what I was feeling.
I’m a 50ish white woman and this whole post troubles me. I’m not sure how anyone looks at that hate crime and determines it wasn’t racially motivated. He didn’t target strip clubs, topless coffee stands or other businesses profiting off women’s sexuality that tend to employ women of other races. He deliberately targeted Asian massage parlors and killed SIX Asian women.
Then you tie that horrific crime and your opinions on it to a post on chinoiserie and the lack of ethnic offensiveness of historical art featuring bucolic Asian scenes created to decorate colonial homes?? I think you nicely demonstrated how deeply Asian racism is embedded in our (white) culture. Eye opener for me as I’ve seen a lot more open racism against indigenous and blacks than Asians. So thank you.
Holy smokes! Thank you for a fascinating post. I have always loved Toile, even as a child, and considered it an art form.
As for the inevitable feelings and comments… I can only say that I believe human beings need to do more listening, seek more knowledge (not academics), do more reflection and analysis – and less knee-jerk reactions to everything.
My thoughts/reply on D-O-R-I-E :
E verything !
Laurel, thank you for a very informative and enlightening post. I am learning so much from your blog and not only about interior design. Your handling of posts which are ignorant and judgmental is admirable. Thank you again.
Very well said….thank you. I love my black and cream toile guest bedroom….and so do my guests when I give them a choice of which guest bedroom to sleep in.
Thank you for this wonderful post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history of the fabrics. And I so appreciated your comments on PC on steroids.
I fully agree with you!
Tess, your comments are deeply offensive. You’ve made sweeping generalizations about attitudes and appropriateness of comments while turning a blind eye to your own cynical perspective. Well I don’t subscribe to your theories and they should not go unremarked. I believe that most people are inherently good and try hard to treat everyone equally and with the respect they deserve. We need to continue learning, yes, but stop trying to indict an entire group for the sins of a few. It’s tiresome, lazy and factually inaccurate.
Carolyn – I wasn’t intending to “scold” anyone (least of all Laurel).
I personally would use the Asian-inspired toile de Jouy as I don’t think it is offensive, for the reasons Laurel stated.
All I was trying to say is that for me the assessment is less about whether ALL chinoiserie as a style is/isn’t “racist”/”offensive”, but that it comes down to the particular application/context. It is more about considering whether particular items/style of chinoiserie might offend Asian visitors to your home (because they are less celebratory of Asian culture and more mocking) when deciding to use in one’s own home. I don’t think that not wanting to offend my Asian friends is controversial.
I also don’t want to “cancel” all chinoiserie, the vast majority of which is lovely.
Please continue to brighten and beautify our lives Laurel, as those that choose to be miserable will always continue to attempt to make us feel as poorly as they do about themselves.
To Pam Ricks: Please, there are other outlets where you can express your feelings about “woke culture, professors and CNN.” Your comments are inappropriate here.
The murders in Georgia were, by definition a hate crime.
Per Georgia law; …target victims based on perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.
You and I are privileged white women. We are not the ones who get to decide if it was a hate crime. In this particular case, you can’t separate their race from their occupation. White men have fetishized Asian women for eons. They have become victims of a particularly imbalanced stereotype.
We owe it to our Asian American friends, neighbors and community members to hear them when they tell us this was a hate crime, and that they have been subject to increased violence and discrimination.
Possibly my favorite post ever. Thank you. Your examples are beautiful. My guest bedroom features toile.
My adorable, brilliant, sweet grandchildren are half Chinese. I worry they will be barred from some opportunities because of their heritage and quotas.
I am enlightened but some comments have not left me joyful.
Love your blog, Laurel, and I appreciate the social courage and good sense you used to address this topic. I for one have had enough of comments such as Dorie and Caroline’s. It is a thin, thin line between be sensitive to others feelings, and simply enjoying being a scold.
I am of Scottish decent. Tartans were once banned by Great Britain for political reasons. The thought of now complaining about cultural appropriation of tartans by non Scots is beyond silly.
I love toile. It’ is art. It depicts a slice of life as it was – whether Asian, French, bucolic etc. I really despise all this cancel culture. “They” can cancel Dr Seuss but Mein Kampf can be sold.
I’m sure you’ve seen London and Edinburgh Toile from Timorous Beasties…featuring homelessness, violence and contemporary buildings etc. It’s art that depicts our current situation.
Loved your post…as always!
Thank you Laurel for this wonderful and beautiful post and also for your comments, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Furthermore, since it’s your blog you can say whatever you want. We do live in America, the land of the free and home of the brave at least for now.
Hi Laurel! What a beautifully written post. Thank you for your sensitive and sensible approach to a topic I have personally thought about for years. I have a passion for Chinoiserie and you can tell this is true when you’re in my home. I may not have any toiles of the kind you’ve highlighted, but I do have incredible silk curtains depicting Chinese fishermen that – pinch me – came with the house. And I have numerous porcelain figurines of Asian people. Some are peasant fishermen and some are emperors and empresses. I have a stone Buddha I found in a shop in Taichung and I have Euro- Asian pieces. I love sculptural porcelains. Maybe my fascination started with my childhood delight with the little Hummel figurines of German children and the hoop skirted English Victorian ladies my mother collected? Or maybe my tastes were honed in the classes I took towards my art history degree?
In my career as a designer I used to spend a lot of time in China and Taiwan and I became very close to the people I worked with and could openly and frankly discuss any cultural topic you can imagine. And I mean frank with a capital F! Nothing helps barriers come down better than to have honest discussions about life where we see what commonalities we share.
I have another unique perspective on this topic of cultural appropriation and “wokeness”. My son married a Japanese girl in Japan ( the wedding in Okinawa was glorious – half Western and half traditional style where the bride and groom wore a special robes) and they now live in Redondo Beach with their little girl who is the light of our lives.
So. I DID ask if my Chinoiserie was offensive. Years ago I flat out asked my visitors who were Chinese immigrants if they took any offense to the things they saw in my home. I approached the topic as graciously as I could and they laughed and scoffed at any concerns. They loved it all and especially appreciated the zen water garden I have as the perfect place to do Tai Chi.
I asked my daughter-in-law if she was bothered by any of the art in my home because there had been instances of cultural clashing between us and I am always eager to make her as comfortable as possible. She never pulls any punches- which is fine with me! And she, too, seemed baffled that I would even ask.
I think the things we need to take offense at are the things that are ugly, tacky and meant to be hurtful in any culture. We need to appreciate all art and our distinct histories and share in the joy that beauty inspires and connects us as humans together.
Your post this morning was particularly interesting and informative, and shocking re the ridiculous accusations of racism. I love toile de Jouy and you gave many beautiful examples of it. I wonder if you have come across a Glasgow firm called Timorous Beasties? They make hand blocked fabric and wallpaper – gorgeous stuff! They have two versions of toile de Jouy, one based on Glasgow and the other on – New York!
I recently stayed in a wonderful 18th century country house. There was toile de Jouy wallpaper in a small toilet (restroom?). It looked lovely but on closer inspection it was seen to be entirely pornographic. Quite amusing but not to everyone’s taste!
Thank so very much for your blogs. I always look forward to reading them with my breakfast on Sunday mornings.
Good morning Laurel, and thank you for sharing your sincere thoughts and wonderful taste (as always).
I’m Asian American. I have a lot of antique Asian cermanics that depict chinoiserie scenes – wallpaper, fabric, ceramics, decor. It’s not offensive to me. There is no intent to demean a culture when using chinoiserie.
However, Asian pornography is offensive to me because it fetisizes Asian women. Asian women are objectified by many western cultures. I’m almost 60 and dress modestly and you would be shocked at how much male attention is directed at my “asian-ness” when I’m out. There are a lot of lonely middle aged men out there who are watching too much porn.
I agree with you the Atlanta shootings were a result of the occupation of victims. However, I also believe the race of the women was a factor as well. I believe the crime was BOTH race and occupation related. The fetishizing of Asian women is racist and leaves us as perpetual stereotypes.
I know this is a lovely blog that focuses on beautiful interiors. There is too much anger out in the world, let’s all agree that there are a lot of different perspectives and try to understand one another. Much love to you.
Lovely response. Unfortunately there is a shortage of reasonable, well-meaning people these days.
I love the art depicted in this post. However, most of the comments are very inappropriate – and off the topic of interior design. “Racial division agendas only create more hate,” for example, is 100% written by a white person who has no idea the hate Asians are dealing with on a daily basis in our country. Trying to draw attention to the hatred and violence that already exists is just not a racial division agenda, it’s a racial equality agenda. Sadly, these comments show how how many Americans in a bubble of white privilege refuse to understand this reality. They would rather blame a phantom cancel culture “agenda” than simply recognize the playing field is horribly unlevel. Please, please stand next to the Asian Americans you see and resist Asian hatred when you see it. It’s everywhere.
@PAM RICKS – This discussion is not “silly” – it’s one worth having nowadays, and it’s good that Laurel (bravely) went there.
And while it’s a good discussion to have, no one is saying that appreciating Asian-motif toile de jouy is equivalent to supporting anti-Asian violence/racism. So there’s no need for everyone to freak out.
What is silly is adopting extremist positions: either dismissing anyone who points out that something may be offensive as “woke” or “brainwashed” without even considering the counter argument/how it affects others, or else saying that if white people interpret another culture it’s inherently racist cultural appropriation regardless of context/history/intent.
Reasonable, well-meaning people can come to different conclusions, and that’s ok. Reasonable, well-meaning people can discuss how to appreciate the beauty of chinoiserie while also expressing concern for anti-Asian stereotypes. We can have a respectful and productive discussion where – ideally – everyone leaves having considered a point of view that is different from their own – even if they don’t change their mind.
I think that’s the kind of discussion that Laurel has created. Let’s try to avoid knee-jerk reactions and consider whether there may be some merit in what others are saying.
Thanks Laurel, for the thousands of hours you put into your self made success. As a long time reader and one who was at your segment during the LA design influencer event years back, I cringe for the commenters who assume you are a woman of privilege with your head in the sand . HA! You are anything but. You’ve been working hard at something (in fishnets.. on cruise ships.. in design class.. as a technophobe with a new blog..) for decades. You’ve earned your voice in the world and I’m glad you choose to use it.
I’m personally not a people person when it comes to chinoiserie. My all time panorama is Zuber Eldorado . I pulled it up – no people – but Hindustan has many and it’s gorgeous. Without the figures, it wouldn’t be the same at all.
Hello Laurel, This post really opens up a can of worms. I don’t want people to dictate to me what I can use as decoration, but on the other hand I don’t want visitors to be offended.
One problem with Chinoiserie is that although much of it is derived from authentic and ancient Chinese sources, it does tend to depict the Chinese as an innocent and toy-like people. It gained popularity when Europeans were getting into entanglements and clashes in the East, and so Chinoiserie assured Europeans that the Asians were nothing to worry about. In a similar way, the minstrel shows in America (and related paraphernalia) showed “happy life on the plantation” and at the very least let viewers believe that Black people were child-like and no threat in any way.
Perhaps the solution is to switch to Singerie, but then PETA will probably invade our homes with cans of red paint.
Thank you for this piece, Laurel. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m sure it took some courage to post, and I truly admire you for that. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of courage. I work in a profession and live in a state that is completely intolerant to my way of thinking. Thus, I exist in a world in which I am always afraid that people around me can ‘see my thoughts’. It’s sad. We all need to be more tolerant. And allow people to have their own opinions and be who they are. As for me, I am second generation Italian. My father spoke nothing but Italian when he started school. He was dirt poor (dirt floors throughout his house). In the end, he owned four car dealerships through his own hard work and determination. The American Dream. Given the climate of our nation, how long will a story like this be possible? Finally, if I were to come across a Toile fabric depicting an overweight Italian grandma at the stove cooking Sunday gravy (tomato sauce) in a kitchen with the family seated around a big rectangular dining table (either singing or arguing), I wouldn’t be offended. I would buy it in a second. BTW, my grandma was neither overweight nor frumpy. She was a gorgeous bottle-blond. But, my great-grandma on the other hand…Love you, Laurel
Great informative post. I think you’re very brave to put your opinion out there. I am on the fence if I think this is a hate crime. In 2016 a black man killed several Asians, was that a hate crime? I’ve had to eat crow over the past few years and I used to get exasperated with my son’s father who was hispanic tell me he was slighted or felt uncomfortable at times. We don’t know what anyone else feels but I am sick of being told I am “privileged” because I am white. No one knows my experiences or how they made me feel or shaped me. The only thing we can do is try to be our best and open minded and not be afraid to have frank open dialogues. Have a wonderful Sunday.
My previous comment was for Dorie. Sorry, I tried to edit, but it’s not possible.
Please take your virtue signaling elsewhere. We are not interested, and this is not the forum for it.
Enough with cancel culture and racial division agendas. We’re all tired of it, only creates more hate. I love Toile. Thank you for speaking truth, Laurel.
Excellent comment Susan…I have never been much of a fan of Chinoiseri (until I started reading Laurel’s Blog!) And you can count me in the category of not enjoy people depicted in Art inside my home (including portraits which also says more about me than the Artwork)
That said, Homer Winslow’s “The Cotton Pickers” is one of most stunning pieces of art depicting humans I have ever seen…online depictions do NOT do it justice..you must see the original…I have to wonder, is it still at the NY Metropolitan Museum? Or has cancel culture prevailed?
Blessings to YOU and KUDOS for your 1st Vaccine injection ! I pray your 2nd goes smoothly – but be prepared, ’cause I felt like I’d been hit by 2 Semi’s – one going North – and the other heading South :). Anyway – love this Post – as I’ve loved TOILE before I even knew how to pronounce it ‘correctly’ LOL.
Dorie, please save your scolding. All who are actually involved with the Atlanta shootings–i.e., the police, etc. there–have said there is no indication of this being racially motivated. But of course that doesn’t play as well in the 24/7 media where outrage drives clicks.
Good morning Laurel,
Thanks for the informative post. I’ve always loved toile.
It would be interesting to see someone make a modern version of it. Scenes from the suburbs, current scenes from different big cities, scenes from the inside of different homes & families. Well, you get the idea.
Enjoy your Sunday.
Thanks for deleting off the subject comments. I do require a rest from the world and your blog is usually a lovely place to rest.
Last year we toured several plantations in the Baton Rouge area, Louisiana Black women were the tour guide for two of the homes. One guide said “we all know the history of these homes, but just look at them. Aren’t they pretty!?”
Toile discussion interesting. its always good to think how are my choices and actions affecting others. But you should have stopped there. Do you really think a privileged white woman should decide if the Atlanta murders were racially motivated? Listen to what your Asian sisters are saying. Lots of thoughtful discussions exploring the history of sexualizing Asian women and the harassment many face on a regular basis.
grrrr… I have a date. Just stop it!!!
I love to learn. Thanks for this post.
Cultural appropriation ideas, woke culture, rewriting history have all come from Professors who have never contributed to society, but fed off it. They are making our beautiful Country a hollow brain washed shell. This discussion is silly. The fabric is not racist or evil. Stop watching CNN for your ideas on life and think for yourself people.
Thank you for your thoughtful post and everyone’s comments. Have a great weekend everyone.
Thank you for this great post. I loved it.I loved the pictures also.You work hard to make a great post and I appreciate this. I have wallpaper on my livingroom wall for 20 yrs now like this and I still love it. I know my furniture needs the update to make it come alive again but the wallpaper is one I just can not part with ….it is timeless.
“Political correctness on steroids” might be the line of the year. Lovely post and beautifully written.
Elizabeth K. and Caroline – absolutely spot-on. I would illustrate the difference this way. I was in an antiques/consignment shop yesterday looking for a lamp, and found a glorious Chinoiserie piece – pagoda-style metal feet and cherry blossoms depicted on the ceramic base. Sitting beside the lamp were two “jadeware” candleholders shaped like people. They were grotesque characatures, with exaggerated facial features, long pigtails, etc. The lamp reflected and honored Chinese art. The candleholders reduced a whole group of people to a cartoon for other people’s amusement. There is a world of difference between the two.
Wonderful post, Laurel; I enjoyed the Chinoiserie one last weekend, as well. I grew up in a home beautifully decorated in 18th century style furniture and decor, including many Chinoiserie elements, and it has definitely influenced my personal taste and style.
As I was reading I anticipated you’d receive comments like what you did—it seems it’s a race to be ‘woke’. As a 36 y.o. I regretfully am part of the ‘cancellation generation’ I suppose. it seems to me people are looking for things to be offended by these days. What an exhausting and sad way to live.
Thanks for an interesting and educational post. Personally, I think people are too easily offended now a days. I consider all of the images above to be forms of art. That being said, I have never been a fan of Toile in my own home…it’s simply too busy for my aesthetic. That’s about as deep as I get. Perhaps I’m just not “woke” enough.
Delightful to read.
Hi Laurel, very thoughtful post. I’d keep two things in mind –
(1) We are not museum curators “censoring” what art to keep for posterity – we are people choosing what art/decor to put in our homes (to create both an environment we want to live in and one that is gracious and welcoming to visitors).
(2) As with everything there is a spectrum. So, I think we can appreciate Harlem toile as it is an homage to and celebration of the cultural roots of a neighborhood. On the other end of the spectrum, I think many White people would cringe at ever using the black-a-moor statues (e.g. black turbaned servant figures holding platters or lamps) in our homes. Why? Because even though they are a European “historical” style they present Black people in an offensive, servile position. Many White people would not be comfortable with the message using these would send to their Black friends/neighbors. Chinoiserie seems to fall in between. It is celebratory of elements of Asian culture (or at least of European interpretations of it) but it can also exoticize and fetishize Asians depicted (a problem that Asian Americans – particularly women – will tell you is still very much ingrained in how White people interact with them as a minority group).
So, perhaps we should focus less on whether Chinoiserie as a category should be put into a “bad” or “good” box. Context for home decor choices is everything. Does it show a celebration of an idealized 17th or 18th century fantasy Asian landscape? Or does it show Asian people looking ridiculous? More importantly – I think non-Asian readers should ask their Asian friends what they think. Then you have some context to consider your particular use of Chinoiserie. No – you do not have to please everyone on earth (it’s your home after all and there are some people who are offended by everything) but you should at least be aware of what your decor choices communicate to those around you. Fundamentally, does this particular piece of art send a message I am comfortable with and does it make my home gracious and welcoming?
Beautiful post. Chinoiserie…toile…art depicting everyday life. I’d say it does more to help us appreciate each other rather than reflect prejudices. I wish more people had the guts to speak the voice of reason and truth.
Thank you for such an interesting, educational and thoughtful post. I think people often don’t think logically these days, or bother to learn the history of things, but just react. Not to mention worry too much about whether others have the exact same opinions. The way we actually behave and treat people matters far more than the fabric pattern of our pillows. Peace and blessings to all!
The Woke generation has obviously never learned the saying ” You can please some of the people all the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” I think that is the issue with their blanket cancelation of what they disagree with. I LOVE my chinoiserie and no woke joke is going to change that. Here’s another they never learned…”Live and let live!”
Fabulous post! I am always drawn to any toile and wish I had more in my life. Thank you for another informative post. ❤️❤️❤️
“Brilliant move” referred to Elizabeth K and her idea for old toile chairs. These comments aren’t linking to their targets, but good blog today.
It takes intelligence to entertain thoughts without accepting it.
I think this is a brilliant move, too! I’ve had to do several “makeover” changes that reverse bad things into good.
Thank you for this fascinating, informative and thought-provoking post. Some really stunning and surprising works of art.
Exactly! Spot on, Susan.
What a wonderfully refreshing post. Laurel, first I want to tell you that your posts are always interesting and educational, secondly let me say that your common sense in this particular post is outstanding. Voices of REASON are sadly absent these days and with everything colored by race, cancellation, and a disdain for history we are dumbing down and becoming empty of heart and soul. The people that criticize and remove the beauty of the past don’t replace it or create anything of beauty. I’m glad I’m old because these younger people are not making this world a better place for all their effort and it’s not one I want to live in if they succeed.
PS. Also agree with GL that just about all representations of the cultural Other carry pre-existing expectations/assumptions/fantasies, or eagerness to please those of the powerful customers. Much interesting economic history is embedded in these export consumer goods. But when there’s so much gorgeous chinoiserie without people, the personal cost of choosing it is low, and the benefit of not making guests feel alienated is high. (My children went to schools that were about 20% Asian-American so all of this may seem less far-fetched and hyper-theoretical to me then to some readers elsewhere.)
As per usual your post is beautiful. Chinoiserie is beautiful, the Toile de Jouy is beautiful. I know I’m prehistoricically old at this point but I honestly don’t get why people get their knickers in such a twist about these things.
If every single body on the planet had the power to eliminate every single thing they were offended by I fear there would be nothing left of the planet. I was raised that if you don’t like it you don’t have to look at it or buy it or participate. One persons trash is another persons treasure. In the 15th century there was the bonfire of the vanities where books and paintings and mirrors were burned. Masterpieces were burned because of those who could not be tolerant. Is that where we want to go, backwards? I thought variety was the spice of life and that only made everything more interesting.
Is that where we’re headed again? Because it looks very much like that to me…remove these books, pull out those videos, make it androgynous, don’t print that it’s offensive. Personally I am offended by other people’s inability to be tolerant. I say grow up, pull up your big girl panties and deal with it the same as we all have done our entire lives.
Interesting you bring up Sheila Bridges’ Harlem Toile, Laurel! I would feel very uncomfortable using it in my decor because an African American friend of mine said they looked like slaves. I’m sure Sheila had some ironic intent when representing 17th century black figures in toile, but I’m a bit shocked to see people saying they’re offended by chinoiserie but would happily use this fabric. What’s the difference? I love chinoiserie and I still don’t understand the cause for offense. I have yet to read a legitimate reason for it being offensive.
Sorry, meant “I love that” as a reply to Elizabeth K’s post
I love that!
Hi Laurel, I love your blog; I think you are so talented. I am going to respectfully disagree with a couple of things in this post. For context, I am a 50-year-old white woman. Sometimes I think people in my age range and above expect racism to manifest itself in the form of KKK cross-burnings and swastikas painted on gravestones. (And appallingly, these things continue to happen in America.) But in listening to Black people, Asian people, Muslim people and others, I hear from them that subtler, insidious forms of racial “othering” are really, really hurtful. I can’t imagine having a cliched depiction of someone from another race or ethnicity in my house for that reason. I think that is the difference between some of the European examples of Chinoiserie toile de Jouy and what the (agreed — brilliant!) Sheila Bridges is doing. Her depictions are not cliched, and it does also matter that a Black woman is creating and controlling these images of Black people. Maybe at some time we’ll be living in a world where everyone is equal and it won’t feel so dicey for white people to include images of people of other races in decorative products but we are a long way off from that. I do love that Pierre Frey toile but I think it would be much better with just the camels and the antiquities and not the stereotyped depictions of Egyptian people, and only then would I have it in my house. P.s. Edward Said’s book Orientalism formed my thinking about some of this when I was in art history school.
And, what if I use some of Sheila Bridges fabric on some furniture in my home? Is it only for black people?
NOT putting it in my home because it has black people on it, is racist. you can’t have it both ways. It is not racist unless
one WANTS it to be. Then it doesn’t matter.
I agree with your take wholeheartedly, Laurel. Everything is made to be about race today whether it is or not – and it’s so reckless and damaging to those who are true victims of racism. And those who are perennial virtue signalers are always in pursuit of something to offend. As I sit here looking at my gorgeous chinoiserie pillows I can assure you they will remain firmly in pride of place, my small tribute to beauty and art.
Good Morning Laurel,
I have always thought of imitation in anything as a testament to the creator’s admiration of the medium, whether it be food, art, or music. We take an idea, and we build on it and adapt it to create something new. Think Asian Fusion cuisine. I appreciate your research on this, and I agree with you 100%–there is nothing wrong with depicting people in scenes from everyday life, no matter the culture, as long as it is not a grotesque caricature. Thank you for your even-handed treatment of this subject–I think it’s vital for people to find out the details of any story before jumping to conclusions.
I second Danni: it’s mostly a matter of manners. Why put something as unchangeable as wallpaper or upholstery in your house that risks hurting your guests (or maybe your future in-laws), when there’s so much fabulous chinoiserie without people in it? To my eyes that style is more timeless anyway.
Having said that … when I inherit a couple of beautiful antique dining room chairs that belonged to my charming segregationist great-grandparents, I’m going to recover the seats in Harlem Toile. My 90 year old mother, who adored her grandparents and winces over their politics, thinks this is a brilliant move.
I’m not going to get into questions of cultural appropriation — it would take too long — there are so many considerations that come in. But the toiles you show offer some interesting (and fun) points.
The Boucher painting (a preparatory study for a tapestry) is highly fanciful, and the costumes seem to owe as much to “turqueries” as to “chinoiseries”. Boucher was an avid collector of authentic Chinese goods, a taste he kept all his life, although the period of chinoiserie style in his own works didn’t last very long.
The second Oberkampf design interestingly parodies (or is it just innocent copying?) Fragonard’s 1767 rococo fantasy, The Swing. And the first antique Pillement image really confirms the idea that chinoiserie was a province of the rococo, with the curly gold frame around the central image.
Of course all this was pure fantasy, whether in imagined Chinese scenes, or bucolic scenes with the elite playing at being rustics. These fantasies aren’t limited to just art at a particular time: what about Elizabethan pastoral poetry? what about “Saracen” dishes in medieval cuisine?
Oops! I’m heading where I said I wouldn’t go. Just a word for Oona and then Janet: just how easy is it? ALL our representations of Other, no matter the medium, depend on our own culture, and are we really unaware of this?; anachronism alert — Chinese porcelain workshops, for instance, had a longstanding repertoire of decorative designs, and adapted these to the European market once the export trade got going, so there is no question of any individual getting paid for his original design — and even today, there is no copyright in ideas! Did Boucher “steal” his designs? No: by his collecting he was familiar with authentic objects, but his designs were his own creation, and in the European tradition.
The Marxists are taking over our country and cancelling our culture.
Hi Laurel, I loved your post and your blog and I adore Chinoiserie. I understand that some younger readers might feel that cultural appropriation is wrong but all cultures appropriate things from each other and that is part of the rich tapestry of life. I understand some things (without going into details) could be offensive but surely not Chinoiserie! Don’t forget that a lot of the historic chinoiserie items were produced in China (thinking wallpaper and porcelain) and exported to the West so if they didn’t have a problem with it why should we? In the 18th and 19th century hardly anyone was able to travel to China so they were intrigued by the culture so this was their way of honouring the culture. Same goes for Turquerie.
Please see:CNN “How are the Atlanta spa shootings NOT a hate crime?”
Opinion by Euny Hong
I read and reread this post several times and will keep it on my email page for a while. I have a red toile in my dining room and I must confess I never thought of toile as anything but a part of design history. I have to take some time to process the part about cultural appropriation or something offensive to people of Asian heritage. Fortunately the toile I have is not a rare historical reproduction but a French country scene. in my opinion, a little toile goes a long way, but in my dining room the red pattern works well. loved the links to the Gustavian post which did remind me of the less formal Swedish country design that was made famous by Karl Larson and his wife at the turn of the 20th century. I also think those beautiful Swedish stoves deserve their own story!
I live in Atlanta. When I saw this story reported locally it was said the shooter confessed he did it because he felt they were enabling his addiction. National news reported it as Asian hate crimes in Atlanta. So irresponsible; just fanning the flames of social unrest.
I have a gorgeous black and white figural tablecloth in a toile and I never use it. Why? Bc anymore, I only use tablecloths if I’m having a party (pre-Covid, of course) and I have lots of Asian friends and it’s like “nope” if it might be offensive (how could I know?) so why use it? I’ve got other table clothes. It’s just not worth the risk of hurting, or appalling, people I care deeply about. But it’s too awkward to ask. The fact that I’ve thought this hard about it, to me, gives me the answer… still nope. And there are lots of toiles with animals and birds and countrysides etc etc. The tablecloth is lovely. I’m not getting rid of it. But I pass it by over and over again for this reason.
Hi Laurel~ I appreciate your commitment to sharing beauty and always look forward to your posts. Here in Canada we have a term “cultural appropriation”. The concept is that when we represent other cultural and racial groups in art, it is easy for the imagery we create to be taken as a true representation of that race or culture, when it is likely infused with our perceptions of something we are not. Complicated, I know. We are all human. There are also questions of privilege – in the past many minorities did not have equal access to the platforms that would permit them to share their art, and thus their experience and perception of the world was unseen. I am not presuming that the great dynasties of China were underprivileged : ) I appreciate these treasures you are sharing and also your policy of kindness!
I think cultural appropriation all boils down to intent. Did the European artists simply steal designs from Asian artists? (And, having lived in Asia as a military brat in my early teens, I love all things Asian. The flowers and nature scenes are unique, even dramatic, but also serene.) Were Asian artists able to sell their own original designs for a profit? We are all familiar with the fuzzy idea of copyright–it’s hard to know what crosses the line and what doesn’t.