Tag: chinese rug

Rug of the Week

Antique Peking Chinese Landscape Pictorial Carpet.

23194 for blog

Chinese painting goes back at least to the early centuries AD, on wall and portable on silk scrolls. It has been, at least from the 10th century under the Sung Dynasty, most esteemed when landscape is the primary subject matter. Figure painting, especially in the Chinning Dynasty ancestor portraits, has been a decidedly secondary consideration and the latter really are not considered art at all by rigorous Chinese connoisseurs.  Landscape (shan/shui, mountain and water) is the true goal of the artist.  But painting are not intended to be true representations, but landscapes of the mind, abstracted, formalized, idealized. Landscape painting has affected other Chinese art media: porcelain, jade and hard stone carving, lacquer work, snuff bottles, textiles, literally everything. That it has been a carpet design source is obviously predictable.

Our antique Peking Chinese carpet number 23194 (7’8″ x 5’2″) is a prime example of this influence.  The anonymous Chinese designer, clearly familiar with hanging scrolls, has put a painting on a pile rug. Among the traditional motives are: an arched stone bridge, a similarly arched brick storage building with round top double doors (probably a granary), a wine shop flying a banner announcing that it is open for business, a rustic gazebo on a promontory, a two level pavilion further back on the hill, various iconic vegetation like grape vines and pine branches, and multi color swirling, knotted clouds. Conspicuous by their absence are munchkinoid humanoid figures: the ambling scholar with his staff, the fisherman in his cockleshell boat, the leisured gentleman taking in the scene from one of the airy buildings. The season looks like summer and this is no surprise since the home of painting for centuries was the old capital of Nanjing, a warm, subtropical city.

The color scheme of number 23194 is warm, with a gold ground in harmony with the secondary blue tones. Were it a classic blue and white antique Peking carpet, the effect would be significantly cooler. This rug comes right at the viewer and is laded with exotic, anecdotal charm. Peking Chinese pictorial rugs are often room size and depict fantasy palaces ensconced amid lakes and mountains, in both blue and white, and poly chrome, as here, palettes. The Chinese designer drew on a bottomless reservoir of interchangeable design elements to produce an unmistakably oriental creation. The rug was woven in the first quarter of the 20th century for the American market. So where do you put the furniture? A chair on the bridge? A coffee table on the wine shop? A floor lamp on the gazebo?  Or give it some breathing room and use it as a window (on the floor!) into a lost, imaginary time and place.


Rugs of the Week

Chinese Art Deco Minimalism

Today, minimalism reigns in much of the decorative carpet world. No borders, no traditional patterns, no classic design protocols. It is all so new, or is it? You might be surprised to discover that border less carpets, with minimal or even no patterns, in monochrome colors, were a considerable design thing in America in the 1930’s. The Great Depression affected domestic carpet demand. A flood of Persian goods shouldered aside the dominant Chinese carpets in the 1930’s and exports plummeted. Prices fell and manufacturers’ cost had to be reined in. This meant less design and faster weaving times, reducing labor costs. The trend from jazzy 1920’s Art Deco to more hard edged, more graphic 1930’s Art Deco can be seen in carpets from both European and Chinese sources.

Nichols was the leading, most stylish of the American firms in Tientsin, and most attuned to decorative trends. This group of progressively more minimalist Nichols antique Chinese Art Deco carpets is the result. One of the first things is to eliminate the borders, producing a uniform single allover tonality. On this is laid an asymmetric, two corner pattern.  In our number 20288 (11’9″x 8’10”, 1920), the saturated navy ground is open except for two mountain “coins” in one corner and one diagonally across. These are most subtly embedded in tone-on-tone striated segments. The rich midnight ground does the talking here, a minimalism with a real presence.


Minimalism does not have to mean self effacing. Orange-pink, never found in nature,  gives a real punch to our 22091 (12’0″x9’0″, c. 1920) with bamboo fret and writhing dragon  diagonally opposed in the corners. The same tonality appears in number 22131 (15’10″x12’0″, early 1900) which is totally without any pattern, no secondary colors. This is as minimalist as you can get, except the tonality is not. Today, minimalist means taupe, tan, beige, ivory, straw or some other non-color, totally inoffensive, total ignorable. You just can’t ignore Deco Chinese minimalist carpets.


Almost as restrained in pattern is our royal blue carpet number 22616 (13’2″x10’0″, early 1930) with a design wholly delineated by carving alone. The color is magnificent and the subtle pattern makes the viewer’s eye work a bit, which should happen when appreciating a work of art. A close-up picture gives an idea of the subtle style of this piece.


Finally, two carpets with the same open fields, and geometric bud and rectangle opposite corners are number 20997 (11’4″x8’8″ c. 1930, royal blue) and 21781 (11’3″x8’6″, c. 1930, cardinal red) are wholly in the 30’s style, sharply drawn with a pars-pro-toot rendering of floral ornament. The corners cannot be ignored, but the almost minimalist fields easily dominate.



What these and other “minimalist” antique Art Deco Chinese carpets have in common are strong, saturated tonalities, superb physical texture and real personalities. Nothing wishy washy or non-committal about them. They have a commanding  presence. Thus minimal need not be synonymous with invisible or ignorable. They worked with Art Deco furniture, the first Western unornamented furnishing style and they will work with whatever you throw at them!.