The museum is premiering a new temporary exhibit during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month entitled “The Influence of Asian Art During the Federal Period.” This exhibit explores the trade between America and China (and other Asian nations) in the early 1800s. Did you know that in the early 1800s China actually imported more American goods than America did from China? Do you know what the most important export to China was?
There had always been a general American, especially among the wealthy, desire for foreign and sometimes exotic wares, and, with the British East India Company no longer the dominant force in American trade, after the American War for Independence, the job of satisfying this demand fell to American merchants. It did not take long to realize that, while selling American goods to the Chinese was undoubtedly profitable, selling Chinese goods in America would be considerably more so. What resulted was the flooding of Chinese teas, cotton, silks, rhubarb, cassia, nankeens (durable, yellow cloth), floor-matting, lacquerware, fans, furniture, and porcelains, into America, to the extent that even those of poor social classes possessed some Chinese items.
These items became so popular, in fact, that European manufacturers mimicked Asian art. Chinoiserie (“Chinese-like”) describes the pseudo-Chinese decorative style which flourished in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was based on a fanciful European interpretation of “Chinese” styles, taken from countries all over East Asia, including China, Korea and Japan. Most Western consumers were quite unable to distinguish Chinese from Korean or Japanese imagery. For them, the attraction of Chinoiserie lay in its Far Eastern exoticism. Porcelain ware was especially popular – especially the blue and white porcelain associated with the era of Ming Dynasty art (1368-1644) – and remained a constant feature of Chinoiserie.
The exhibit features some of these imported goods as well as pieces of Chinoiserie including ceramics, lacquerware, porcelain, embroidery, and silk screening. All the items are from the museum collection and the exhibit will last through 2022.