One of two dolphins which are replica parts of the building made in 1997-8 of mahogany, gilded. Sits on the East side of the Chinese House.
The Chinese House at Stowe is the oldest surviving pseudo-Chinese (or chinoiserie) garden pavilion in Britain. It was originally situated on poles in the middle of a pond built into a pseudo-military 'bastion' east of the Elysian Fields at Stowe, where it is first mentioned as being in 1738. It may have been designed by William Kent, who was working at Stowe at that time. The pavilion was provided with painted chinoiserie decoration by Francesco Sleter (1685-1775), traces of which seem to survive underneath subsequent repaintings. Contemporary descriptions suggest that the interior may have been decorated with East Asian lacquer panels. Additional pseudo-Chinese touches included vases filled with flowers mounted on the balustrade of the bridge linking the pavilion to the bank, models of Chinese ducks floating in the pond, and a statue or mannequin of a sleeping Chinese woman inside (none of which survive). The Chinese House was moved to nearby Wotton House, another Temple-Grenville seat, by Richard, 2nd Earl Temple (1711-1779) in about 1751, where it was initially sited on an island and subsequently on a spot closer to the house. The painted decoration of the Chinese House was refreshed at least twice during the eighteenth century. At some point in the 1820s it received its current decorative scheme, by an as yet unknown artist or artists, consisting of cartouches with Chinese characters, vases, planters and bowls with flowers, dragons, Budai figures and ladies in landscapes on the exterior, and cartouches with pseudo-lacquer decoration and depictions of Chinese deities on the interior. In 1929 the Wotton estate was sold by the Temple-Grenville family to Major Michael Beaumont, MP for Aylesbury (and grandson the the international business tycoon Michael Grace). The painted decoration on the exterior was refreshed and slightly modified by Percy Willats of the decorating firm Lenygon and Morant in about 1937. In 1957 Major Beaumont shipped the Chinese House to his new residence, Harristown House in Brannockstown, Co. Kildare, Ireland. Following the purchase of the Stowe landscape gardens by the National Trust a campaign for the repatriation of the Chinese House was initiated by the National Trust's then architectural adviser, the late Gervase Jackson-Stops, which resulted in its purchase and return in 1993. A campaign in memory of Gervase Jackson-Stops raised the funds required to conserve and restore the Chinese House. Its wooden structure was repaired by Tankerdale Ltd, Catherine Hassall carried out analysis on the historic paint, Bush and Berry Conservation Studio conserved and recreated the painted decoration and Ben Bacon recarved the finials. Following this work the Chinese House was unveiled to the public at Stowe in 1998. As the original location of the Chinese House had been extensively modified, it was resituated in a nearby location south-east of the Palladian Bridge. The 1820s painted decoration of the Chinese House, as restored in the 1990s, is related in style to the chinoiserie decoration of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, by Frederick Crace and Robert Jones. The cartouches with ladies in landscapes are inspired by Chinese paintings on glass (one scene, with a lady sitting beside a stream dipping a stick into the water, is very similar in composition to a Chinese mirror painting at Saltram, inv. no. 872228.5). The Chinese characters and the planters with flowers are derived directly from plates in William Chamber's 1757 book 'Designs of Chinese Buildings' (plates XVIII and X respectively). The corpulent Budai figures are based on the Chinese ceramic statuettes depicting the semi-mythical Buddhist saint Budai Hoshang, which were popular import products in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Europe. The dragons are similarly popular chinoiserie motifs, but they are stylistically particularly close to the painted and carved dragons incorporated into the Royal pavilion by Crace and Jones. The 'lacquer' panels on the interior depict Rococo-style chinoiserie landscape vignettes in the manner of Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728-1808). The panels with Chinese deities are inspired by or copied from the decorated glass panels used in Chinese lanters, which were popular import products in the Regency period and of which similar examples survive in the collection of the Royal Pavilion. Contemporary sources: First mentioned by anonymous visitor in 1738 (see Clarke 1990, p. 74). Mentioned by Defoe and Richardson, 1742: '...the Out-side of it painted very ingeniously, in the Chinese taste, by the celebrated Mr. Sleats. The inside of it is India Japan.' (see Clarke 1990, p. 88) Marked on an anonymous plan of 1742, as 'An India House' (Clarke 1990, p. 112). Mentioned in Benton Seeley's guidebook to Stowe of 1744: 'The Chinese House is situated in a Pond, and you enter it by a Bridge adorn'd with Chinese Vases, with Flowers in them. It is a square Building with four Lattices, and cover'd with Sail-cloth to preserve the Lustre of the Paintings; in it is a Chinese Lady as if asleep, her Hands covered by her Gown. In the Pond are the Figures of two Chinese Birds about the Size of a Duck, which move with the Wind as if alive. The Outside of the House is painted in the Taste of that Nation, by Mr. Slater; the Inside is India japann'd Work.' (Clarke 1990, p. 130) Illustrated in Benton Seeley's Views of Temples, and other Ornamental Buildings in The Gardens at Stow, 1750 (see Clarke 1990, p. 153). Sketch apparently of the Chinese House by Sir Roger Newdigate, 1748 (Clarke 1990, p. 179). Mentioned by Jemima, Marchioness Grey, in her Letterbook, 1748: 'There is also a Chinese Room, the prettiest I have seen, and the Only One like the Drawings and Prints of their Houses. It stands in a little dirty Piece of Water with Steps Like a Bridge to the Shore, and a Gallery and Rail round the room which you may suppose is very small. It has four Latticed Windows, the Wall quite wainscotted with Japan: a great many Old Screens have been cut to pieces (I fancy) to make it, but it is Fine and Pretty.' (Clarke 1990, pp. 183-184)
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