The imaginative style of decoration known as chinoiserie reflects a fascination by Westerners with the luxurious wares of Asia that reaches back into antiquity. For centuries, exchange between East and West was sporadic, and Cathay (China) remained more a myth than a reality. But during the seventeenth century, actual contact and trade with the East increased, and such luxury items as silk textiles, lacquer, and porcelain were eagerly sought in the West and later imitated by European artists. Europeans also began to decorate a wide variety of objects in the chinoiserie style, with motifs culled from anywhere east of the Mediterranean and west of Japan. As more Europeans visited Asia, greater authenticity became possible, but fantasy proved more appealing.
This exhibition included mainly European textiles, furniture, silver, and porcelain in the chinoiserie style, dating from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, as well as some of the imported Asian objects that inspired them.