Originally written for class at American Military University.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Oriental Interiors and the British Elite
March 24, 2012
and the British Elite
As Britain forged into the new lands that would become colonies, those that entered there found interest in the culture. This had not so much been interest in becoming like those foreign peoples, but interest in their wealth in art. Some Brits did “go native” but most had still felt a superiority of breed that would hinder this type of integration. They instead showed their superiority to other worldly cultures by procuring pieces specifically for the display within their elite mansions back home. Other Englishmen that did not travel found that they had to have some sort of orientalism displayed to be considered a member of the beau monde.
Oriental pieces were a necessity for anyone of the British elite, but they were also a form of personal pleasure. Exotic romance with the noble savage found itself equal to the Romantic movement. Picturesque details combined superbly with the less formal style of orientalism. These pieces had been of the highest quality and reflected that by their price. Only the very best of society could have the oriental objects to reside their stately halls.
English society had conflicting opinions on colonization. The idea of having children colonies was very appealing. Men of means held the idea that the mother country parented those of the juvenile colonies. As a parental figure, those men of England believed that they would raise their offspring in their image to be slightly less great then they. Some even argued that the colonies could be as great as England, but this was not generally acknowledged. 
Other reasons for the procreation of colonies had been purely selfish on the part of the English. These children were to supply their mother country with food. They were not to take part of their abundance completely, but to make sure that their parent land received the best of the produce. Raw materials, for British manufacture, were just another part of the duties of the colonials. Not only were these to be handed over, they were to be given in gladness for the good of the Empire. So it followed, that the arts produced in the colonies would also be handed to the source from which they were to have sprung.
Springing forth British idealism into other countries had been the reason behind expansionism. Liberal imperialism created the greatest Empire in the world at the time. England wanted to spread their ideas to make others happy in their endeavors to create that Empire. British men also felt their nationalism in expansion. Glory and national pride had certainly been a huge reason in taking over control of foreign lands. Along with those lands, came control of the peoples that lived there.
Controlling peoples may not necessarily have been a reason for expansion. While it did create a sense of power for those in charge, there is no evidence that this had been a specific goal. This did, however, become part of the process. Making sure that the colonists had been doing what they were supposed to seems more likely. This, of course, meant making profits for England, as well as those Englishmen that just happened to be the middlemen. Profits had not only been in the form of currency. Acquisitioned wealth had also been in items that were meant to visually impress others.
Acquisitioned Oriental items impressed those that did not leave their homeland. It also affected those persons that did visit other locations. Elite homeowners placed items in conspicuous locations so that the host would appear worldly. While some pieces were definitely placed in personal areas, these pieces were very expensive. So, the idea had been to elevate the owner of the home to an ever more prestigious place in their society by making sure that all visitors would see their prosperity.
Only the wealthiest could afford the best pieces of the Orient. The British elite used their Oriental art pieces to separate themselves from those that could not afford to have any. Elitism had certainly been part of the British culture for generations, as well as finding visual ways to differentiate the swells from the lower classes. Adding obvious pieces from a foreign land was an easy maneuver for the elite. Not only would they have something to show status, they would also have an acquired article of fashion.
Fashion trends for the homes of the rich meant that certain items were expected. Having an Oriental object was expected for any proper member of the beau monde. Up to date fashion was certainly a requirement for any sensitive individual. They were very concerned with the impression that they would make on others. Keeping up with fashion trends was not necessarily just an individual trying to keep up with their neighbors. This was also important for social interaction. Therefore, an individual who wanted to stay within their social sphere would have had to mimic others from within their own sphere, or those a higher status level.
One fashion trend that fit in well with Orientalism was that of the Romantics. The Romantics wanted to get back to nature, and to a simpler way of life. However, the idea had been more romanticized than what reality actually was. In fact many of the Romantic poets and painters did not actually visit the Orient. Lord Byron did, and had been much praised for it. Byron made the most boring topics beautiful. In “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto 3”, Byron wraps the reader into his poetry with “The loftiest peaks most wrapped in clouds and snow; … Must look down on the hate of those below.” This piece is thought to be autobiographical, and about his personal trip to the Orient. In any case, this line does make the reader very much in love with exotic lands and to distance themselves from those that do not.
Soirees where Byron attended had been considered a smash, and every lady there fell in love him and the romance associated with him. Romance of the Orient had not been created by Byron, but he certainly enhanced it. Romantic feelings were also shown in paintings that included Oriental themes. Romance novels that included Arabian sheikhs falling in love with a white British woman have been popular for generations. These novels generally encouraged the stereotype of Eastern brutality, and exotic manhood. They also showed the white female heroine from a much more civilized culture.
Oriental romance novels were just the female form of eroticism that the foreign lands ignited. Men also believed that the oriental person was more erotic than that of their English counterparts. The idea that the Oriental women only belonged in the harem was another point of the Eastern allure. Men wanted their English women to be respectable, but they still had fantasies about foreign, sexual women. These fantasies not only encouraged the Western ideal of nationality, they also encouraged the Western ideal of masculinity. Sexuality had been criticized in the West, yet was open in the East. This fact alone made Oriental fantasies abundant.
All Oriental features appeared foreign and exotic to most English. During the late 18th Century, and early 19th century, Britain found itself creating the idea that the people outside their geographical location where considered to be the “others”. This differentiation could certainly have included physical characteristics, as well as cultural. It could also include characteristics of the items that the British imported into their homes. While the “other” aspects of the Oriental pieces were considered exotic, they were also sought after for their aesthetics.
Aesthetic, as well as tactile qualities of the articles from the exotic Orient were very much in demand. Some items had pictures that told stories to the daydreamer. Other pieces had been chosen because of the charm that the article possessed. Pieces were also chosen to represent a time in someone’s life. Some articles were sent home to remind the owner about their visit to a specific location, or because of a military battle, etc. Other items were chosen because the way they felt against the skin. Silk and wool items could certainly have been chosen because of their tactile qualities.
Not all qualities of the foreign artwork would seem apparent today. Oriental pieces, during the greatest days of the British Empire had been considered less formal. Rigidity in the English homes had been extreme. Foreign households had been believed to be less formal. So, many Oriental pieces were incorporated into the new, less confined, domestic atmosphere. Older generations were believed to hold their households, in fact their lives, very orderly. Every item had its own place, and belonged in its own room. Items were not transported throughout the house.  However, younger generations wanted to show that they were different, less stiff then their parents. So, they believed in a less formal way of living. This was true during the times of George III and the Regency, as well as Victoria and Edward. Having Oriental pieces throughout the house indicated a more liberal environment.
Owners of Oriental pieces would show them off. This was done by placing them in areas such as the front parlor, formal dining room, etc. to make sure that they had the highest possible visitor exposure. Discussions about these works were encouraged because this would highlight the sophistication of the owner. Any size piece from any land would have been found located next to something from any other area of the world. It did not matter that they were not of the same culture. What mattered was that they were exotic. The British did not differentiate locals for their orientalism. The point was that they were just different.
The difference between Chinese and Japanese had been completely irrelevant. These two cultures were too similar to command much notice. Pictures of ladies in kimonos abounded on many pieces of artwork. The Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e, appeared in porcelain dishes that had been extremely popular in British households. Japanese screens were also popular (this author has one from 1920). However, these items were found in the same households, and were proudly displayed simultaneously.
Paintings of Chinese ladies had been popular on walls of the mansions as well. Romantic scenes of love, including Chinese weddings were popular. Cherry blossoms painted on walls in rooms and halls were not only beautiful, but they welcomed the visitor into a relaxed home. Whicker furniture could be found in living rooms, as well as outdoor rooms. Saltram House not only had portraits of beautiful Chinese ladies in Moroccan frames, it also has Chinese wallpaper, Chinese Chippendale furniture. Saltram’s rooms were called “darkly Oriental”.
Oriental paintings were not always painted directly on the walls of the British Aristocratic homes. Many paintings of British men in Oriental clothing abounded during the height of the British Empire. Lord Byron was in fact painted in Eastern clothing. Delacroix visited Spain and morocco and delivered many Oriental pieces with Islamic and Jewish overtones. Massacre at Chios, painted in 1824 holds Eastern brutality within its beauty. Death of Sardanapalus in 1827 is this author’s favorite because of the color, feeling and passion that were displayed within his Oriental scene. Paintings eight feet tall of Eastern Jewish men were hung proudly in the hall at Auckland Castle in 1756, and remain there to this day.
Eastern ornamental carpets were the most sought after item. Carpets from Turkey were the most prized, but these rugs were from other lands as well. Oriental carpets had not just been used on the floor. People would have walked on them! They had also been used on tables, across chairs and used as bed spreads. The Persian carpet was so romantic, that many girls must surely have dreamt of Aladdin and his lamp, or boys fighting a really bad, evil Sheikh.
The bad Napoleon tried, but failed, to invade Egypt. What he did accomplish, however, was to bring Egypt into the consciousness of the Western world. Egyptian pieces became all the rage. Chaise lounges, carved in the Egyptian style, recommended themselves as having belonged to Cleopatra. Western ladies would certainly have had daydreams that they were Cleopatra, and that their lover, Mark Antony, was expected to sweep in at any moment. Egyptian style would later come to be specific to the fields of medicine and death. This was because the modern medical field was considered to have originated in the Nile Valley and of the great monuments to the elite Pharaohs and their afterlife.
Homes of the British elite had people, as well as Oriental animals living within. Exotic birds, such as parrots, snakes and apes had been brought in as pets for the British elite. These animals had been considered beautiful and superior. The organ grinder and dancing monkey who wore the same fez, vest and pantaloons was an easily recognizable scene. Monkeys as pets were less common, yet this did occur in Britain. Imported from China, India and Africa, these primates were housed as substitutes for children as well as status symbols.
Oriental status symbols did play a part in the lives and households of the British Elite. Colonization created new sources of artwork. Imperialism made the British believe that they had the more civilized nation, and used Oriental pieces to indicate power and elitism. Oriental artworks were not only the height of fashion, but they initiated romantic dreams. These foreign pieces fell in with Romantic ideals and indicated exotic, erotic locals. They were beautiful. And, they represented what was, and what might have been. Oriental pieces were never shunned. They were conspicuously visible to indicate wealth and position of the owner. The truth was not always pretty, but the Oriental pieces always were. After all, only the best of beaux monde could afford these pieces. So, of course the owner was obviously the best of British society.
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http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/9781904303909-sample.pdf. (accessed March 24, 2012).
Gordon, George, Lord Byron. ““Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto 3” .” The Norton
Anthology: English Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W.
Norton & Comapany, 2006.
Hartmann, Bjoern. “Delacroix at Home and Abroad: A Comparative Analysis of Early
French Orientalism.” Self published, April 18, 2002. http://bjoern.org/
papers/hartmann_arth284_delacroix.pdf. (accessed March 24, 2012).
Hilgers, Lauren. “Pirates of the Marine Silk Road.” Archaeology Magazine.
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Concise History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003.
Lawson, Bart, Sir Wilfrid. “Expansion” January 1899. in. Mira Matikkala. Empire and
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September 16, 2003. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/
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Robson, Tr. E. Iliff. “Arrian: Anabasis Alexandri: Book VIII (Indica)” 1933. Quoted in
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Speer-Sims, Taylor. “An Italianate Called Longwood”, Research Paper, APUS, 2011.
---- “Love was in the Heir”, Research paper for class. APUS, 2011.
Vivanco, Laura . “The Politics of the Desert Romance” Teach Me Tonight: Musings on
Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective Blog. August 23, 2010. http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/08/politics-of-desert-romance.html. (accessed March 24, 2012).
Wakefield, Edward Gibbon, ed. A View of the Art of Colonization: With Present Reference
to the British Empire; In Letters Between a Statesman and a Colonist. (Ontario,
Canada: Batoche Books Limited, 1849.), 9. http://apus.aquabrowser.com//?
itemid=%7clibrary%2fm%2fapus%7cebr2001958. (accessed March 20, 2012).
Originally written for class at American Military University.
 Edward Gibbon, Wakefield, ed. A View of the Art of Colonization: With Present Reference to the British Empire; In Letters Between a Statesman and a Colonist. (Ontario, Canada: Batoche Books Limited, 1849.), 9. http://apus.aquabrowser.com//?itemid=%7clibrary%2fm%2fapus%7cebr2001958. (accessed March 20, 2012).
 Bart Lawson, Sir Wilfrid. “Expansion” January 1899. in. Mira Matikkala. Empire and Imperial Ambition. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.), http://apus.aquabrowser.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu//?itemid=%7clibrary%2fm%2
fapus%7cocn716018984. (accessed March 22, 2012).
 Wakefield, 9.
 Ibid; Lawson.
 Taylor Speer-Sims. “Love was in the Heir”, Research paper for class. American Military University, 2011.
 Harriet McJimsey. Art and Fashion in Clothing Selection. 2nd. Ed. (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1973.), 69.
 Michael Soloman. “Modernism in Fashion”, They Psychology of Fashion. (New York: D. C. Heath and Co., 1985.) 3-4.
 Peter Cochran, ed. Byron and Orientalism. (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006.), 3. http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/9781904303909-sample.pdf. (accessed March 24, 2012).
 George Gordon, Lord Byron. ““Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto 3” .” The Norton Anthology: English Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. (New York: W.W. Norton & Comapany, 2006.), 627.
 Laura Vivanco. “The Politics of the Desert Romance” Teach Me Tonight: Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective Blog. August 23, 2010. http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/08/politics-of-desert-romance.html. (accessed March 24, 2012).
 Lynn Hunt et all. The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures Volume I: To 1740 A
Concise History. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003), 587.
 Bjoern Hartmann. “Delacroix at Home and Abroad: A Comparative Analysis of Early French Orientalism.” Self published, April 18, 2002. http://bjoern.org/papers/hartmann_arth284_delacroix.pdf. (accessed March 24, 2012).
 Andrea Kleppe. Personal communication with author. March 22, 2012.
 Speer-Sims “Tanner House: Domestic Help Included.” Research paper for class. American Military University, 2011.
 Speer-Sims. “Love was in the Heir”.
 Speer-Sims. “Love was in the Heir”.
 Hunt, 257.
 Lauren Hilgers. “Pirates of the Marine Silk Road.” Archaeology Magazine. September/October 2011, 20-25.
 Jenkins, Simon. England’s Thousand Best Houses. (New York: Penguin Group, 2004), 188-190.
 Tom Prideaus. The World of Delacroix: 1798-1863. (New York: Time Life, 1966.), 54-55.
 Ibid, 76-77.
 Jenkins, 224-225.
 “The Rug-Waving People.” Oriental Rugs History. N.d. http://www.oriental-rugs-history.com/rug-weaving-peoples.html. (accessed March 24, 2012).
 Marian, Moffett, Michael Fazio and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings Across Time: An
Introduction to World Architecture. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education,
 Tr. E. Iliff Robson. “Arrian: Anabasis Alexandri: Book VIII (Indica)” 1933. Quoted in “Modern History Sourcebook”, Fordham University. Last modified August 1998. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/arrian-bookVIII-India.asp (accessed March 24, 2012).
 Maryann Mott. “The Perils of Keeping Monkeys as Pets.” National Geographic News. September 16, 2003. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0916_030916_primatepets.html. (accessed March 24, 2012).
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