Japanning - An Art of Great Importance to Commerce

Tuesday 6th February 2018

As one of the few decorative arts about which little has been written, japanning is today fraught with misunderstandings. And yet, in its heyday, the japanning industry attracted important commissions from prestigious designers such as Robert Adam, and orders from fashionable society across Europe and beyond.

Cabinet containing six drawers, in the "moresque" style, by F. Walton and Co., Wolverhampton, about 1850. Photo c.Wolverhampton City Council 2001.

Japanning is a method and a style of protection and decoration. Its name derives from the fact that the method and style came originally from goods produced in the east, mainly China, India and Japan.  The best work came to be associated with Japan and, although in earlier times Indiaware was a common term, Japan was the idea which stuck and came to predominate.  Alexander Pope, in The Rape of the Lock, reflects these origins when he mentions tea trays in the English version of the tea ceremony:


"On shining altars of Japan, they raise
"The silver lamp ...."


The original oriental japanning was produced by the use of natural lacquers which would take a very high polish.  The surfaces were highly decorated.  The ground colour was most often black and the decoration usually in gold.  When the demand for such wares proved to be more than the oriental countries could provide (and the Japanese were supposed never to export their best pieces anyway) Europeans tried to produce their own version of it (much as they had tried to reproduce porcelain).  Japanning in this country seems to have started in the last quarter of the 17th century.


(Source: http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/Museum/metalware/japtech.htm)

This talk on an interesting and little-known local trade will be held at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 6 February 2018 in the upstairs room (NB lift only to 1st floor) of The Wellington Pub, 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5SN.  0121 200 3115 



Please note that this renown real ale pub does not serve food.

One of the boards for a blotter cover, c.1865. Photo copyright Wolverhampton City Council 2001.

Yvonne Jones is ideally qualified to talk about the the history of the industry which centred on Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Bilston as she taught in schools and colleges before joining Wolverhampton Art Galleries and Museums in 1971, serving as Keeper of Applied Art, and then Head of Arts & Museums.  Researching, documenting and extending the town's collection of japanned papier mâché and tinware, she became aware of the breadth and importance of this field in the decorative arts.  She is now an international authority of the subject.

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