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East/West Imperial Visions: Painting China in Colonial New England

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Abstract:

Even before the ink had dried on the treaty papers granting independence from Britain in 1783, American merchants of all sorts were fitting out ships to sail to China. Indeed colonial Americans—fully attune to the lust for Eastern commodities that had long fueled Western commerce—began imagining their relationship to the Celestial Empire decades before. In the first quarter of the 18th century, a Newport sign painter splashed scenes of China in faux-lacquered hues all over his parlor walls. These astounding chinoiserie wall murals survive today, giving us a rare glimpse of both the fascination and discomfort provoked by the idea of China in early New England. While most of the imagery embedded in the thriving japanning arts of Boston and Newport appear to closely imitate chinoiserie styles of late-17th /early 18th-century Europe, with doll-like figures set in sultry tropical landscapes amidst oversized animals, the Newport murals demonstrate a more serious and original narrative content revealing a genuinely local vision of the powerful and exotic East. In one scene, for example, the Newport painter imaginatively depicts a Chinese despot seated on a plush bed of silk cushions ordering an execution by Turkish saber while wearing a British crown.
This talk and PowerPoint slide presentation dissect the imaginative mélange of Orientalist prejudices conveyed on the Newport wall murals, comparing them to transatlantic chinoiserie imagery appearing on japanned furniture and contextualizing the discussion with period accounts of China appearing in New England. Early national Americans did not just get up one day and sail to China. This presentation seeks to recover the metaphorical and ideological climate within North American seaports that conditioned USAmerican commercial responses to China, including their involvement with the opium trade.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186149_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Frank, Caroline. "East/West Imperial Visions: Painting China in Colonial New England" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186149_index.html>

APA Citation:

Frank, C. , 2007-10-11 "East/West Imperial Visions: Painting China in Colonial New England" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186149_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Even before the ink had dried on the treaty papers granting independence from Britain in 1783, American merchants of all sorts were fitting out ships to sail to China. Indeed colonial Americans—fully attune to the lust for Eastern commodities that had long fueled Western commerce—began imagining their relationship to the Celestial Empire decades before. In the first quarter of the 18th century, a Newport sign painter splashed scenes of China in faux-lacquered hues all over his parlor walls. These astounding chinoiserie wall murals survive today, giving us a rare glimpse of both the fascination and discomfort provoked by the idea of China in early New England. While most of the imagery embedded in the thriving japanning arts of Boston and Newport appear to closely imitate chinoiserie styles of late-17th /early 18th-century Europe, with doll-like figures set in sultry tropical landscapes amidst oversized animals, the Newport murals demonstrate a more serious and original narrative content revealing a genuinely local vision of the powerful and exotic East. In one scene, for example, the Newport painter imaginatively depicts a Chinese despot seated on a plush bed of silk cushions ordering an execution by Turkish saber while wearing a British crown.
This talk and PowerPoint slide presentation dissect the imaginative mélange of Orientalist prejudices conveyed on the Newport wall murals, comparing them to transatlantic chinoiserie imagery appearing on japanned furniture and contextualizing the discussion with period accounts of China appearing in New England. Early national Americans did not just get up one day and sail to China. This presentation seeks to recover the metaphorical and ideological climate within North American seaports that conditioned USAmerican commercial responses to China, including their involvement with the opium trade.

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