Chinese Wallpaper

One of the minor surprises of life is that things you thought were in some sense or another objects represented according to visual conventions turn out to be quite real. I remember feeling that when I first actually saw some Tuscan castelli, which I had seen so often in North European paintings, with their fishtail battlements and all, that I had naively imagined they were purely fictitious objects belonging to the world of two dimensions. — similarly the bobbly stone-pines which are again part of the collective landscape of Renaissance art, but are in fact, not exaggerated at all. More recently, I discovered that oriental pictures of peonies, frilly affairs with improbably large flowers, are simply pictures of oriental peonies – i.e. moutans – and botanically accurate. The most recent object to enlighten me in this way is a rose. Should you ever have cause to look at the eighteenth-century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the Victoria & Albert (and if you can get into the damned place without being mugged for about ten quid which is against the terms of their charter), you will find that they feature roses, bamboos, and iris. The iris are oddly flat-looking, because they are iris ensata rather than sibirica or germanica, so they are that shape in nature, and the roses are odd little things, very sparsely clad with leaves, with improbably large, cabbagey flowers on slender twigs, the whole plant rather wispy and insubstantial looking. Chinese art has ironclad rules for representing flowers, which are written down in a sort of book of rules, but even rulebooks have to start somewhere. I grow a Chinese rose called ‘Tipsy Imperial Concubine’, which is almost certainly named after Yang Kui Fei, a tempestuous seventeenth-century beauty who was one of Chinese history’s more notable femme fatales, and according to legend, a bugger for the bottle. This is now finally in flower, and to my only momentary surprise, I have discovered that it looks exactly like the Chinese roses in the wallpaper. It looks as if the Bamboo Garden, or whatever the thing was called, was right all along. ‘Tipsy Imperial Concubine’ also, incidentally, has the most intoxicating, honeyed perfume. Like Yang Kui Fei’s breath.

3 Responses to “Chinese Wallpaper”

  1. Jeri Jennings Says:

    I would love to use this, eventually, in the Heritage Roses Groups “Rose Letter.” I think people who know this rose would find the connection fascinating.

    Jeri Jennings

  2. Jane Says:

    Dear Ms Jennings

    You are welcome to quote this if you like. Sorry not to get back at once but term has started & we have been neglecting the blog in consequence.

    Jane Stevenson

  3. Jane Says:

    Dear Mr Orent, again, you are most welcome. My blog is, and I am a novelist and academic living in the north of Scotland.

    Jane Stevenson

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