Britain’s Imagination: China-inspired Elements in the English Landscape Garden, c.1720-1870

Luo, Yi 羅易
2018
Supervisor: Prof. G.M. Thomas

Among the many artistic interactions between Britain and China in the 18th and 19th centuries, landscape gardening was one of the most common and consistent areas displaying western curiosity about the remote civilization. By adapting elements from the foreign culture of China, British patrons and designers took the new style of garden design as a way to demonstrate their own social and cultural beliefs and identity. This thesis examines selective garden examples from the 1720s to 1870s, focusing on how British people represented the Chinese style and how various China-inspired elements embodied specific and varied meanings. While there was no clear geographical or chronological pattern in the way gardens represented China, the thesis demonstrated that these works became progressively more sophisticated over the years to better resemble authentic Chinese models. Analyzing construction techniques, materials, visual effects, patronage, and the historical context of each work, I show an intriguing diversity among the gardens’ aims and their interpretations of Chinese culture. Far from being just exotic supplementary follies in the pleasure grounds, China-inspired buildings, pavilions, rock formations, and plantings provoked discussions that facilitated Britain’s own improvement in the cultural, ideological, and social domains. Moreover, most gardens and garden designers viewed China not as an inferior civilization but as a serious and elite counterpart to Britain.