IAC Art Talks Lecture 5: The Secret History of Chinoiserie by Chris Chun (Catch up Online)

The event was held on Wednesday 23 August 2023.


Chinoiserie is an artistic style that emerged in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was fuelled by the fascination with the exotic and the mystique surrounding ‘The East’ which captivated the imagination of European artists and craftsmen. It entailed not only the stylised interpretation of Chinese artistic and decorative motifs but also provided a glimpse as to what life was supposedly like there, resulting in a visually distinct aesthetic.

Chinoiserie left an indelible mark on various art forms, including architecture, garden design, furniture and textiles, as well as most notably ceramics and wallpaper. This artistic movement emerged during a period characterised by significant trading, but limited communication and travel, between the East and the West. People relied on objects, artworks and trade to gain knowledge about distant cultures, and as such these goods acted as emissaries, introducing them to new cultures and fostering connections between distant corners of the world.

When examining chinoiserie through the lens of cultural appropriation, its nature becomes complex. On one hand it can be viewed as an example of appropriation due to the tendency to focus primarily on the superficial appeal of Chinese motifs, rather than delving into their deep symbolism and cultural significance. It also sometimes overlooked the distinct differences between various Asian cultures, homogenising diverse artistic traditions into one.

Conversely, chinoiserie initiated an artistic dialogue between Europe and the East, resulting in a creative fusion that combined elements from both cultures. European and Chinese artists engaged in a reciprocal exchange, blending exotic novelties with their own artistic patterns. This process of cross-pollination led to the emergence of unique and harmonious styles, which persisted well into the early 19th century.

In exploring the multifaceted history of chinoiserie, I will provide a fascinating overview of its enduring influence from its inception through to present day. Through my work, I highlight the ongoing inspiration and connection that chinoiserie fosters between different artistic and cultural traditions. By engaging with chinoiserie, artists and enthusiasts from both Eastern and Western cultures can cultivate a deeper appreciation for the rich artistic heritage that transcends geographical boundaries.

About the SpeakerChris Chun

Chris Chun is one of Australia’s leading textile designers known for his work in contemporary chinoiserie, a distinctly modern twist on traditional Chinese art that combines vibrant colour and pattern with his love of nature and the environment. His work draws inspiration from his Chinese and Australian heritage, often incorporating elements such as flowers and birds, and feature intricate patterns that create a sense of movement and energy. Chun's paintings explore themes related to identity, memory, and cultural heritage, and he uses a variety of painting techniques to create his unique, distinctive style.

Chris honed his craft in Europe, designing for well-respected textile design studios whose clients included the likes of Giorgio Armani, Missoni, Diane Von Furstenberg and Laura Ashley. His multi-disciplinary art & design studio specialises in product development, art licensing and brand collaborations with a select group of clients around the world.

Also an acclaimed fine artist, Chris creates originals and limited edition prints that are snapped up by collectors who have coined his style ‘Chunoiserie’ and affectionately refer to themselves as ‘Chunistas’. His incorporation of visual storytelling and symbolism result in an emotional connection with buyers who appreciate the meaning in each piece and want to own a piece of ‘everyday beauty’. This can be in the form of artwork or products ranging from ceramics, textiles, home decor, fashion, interiors and stationery.

Featured in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Belle magazine, Design Sponge, Uppercase, Decor 8, Anywhere magazine and various publications around the world, Chris divides his time travelling between Asia and Australia. His most recent exhibition ‘Lucky Rabbit - A Celebration of Chinese New Year’ was held at the Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne, Australia earlier this year.

vase 1

Dish, unknown maker, 1573 – 1620, Jingdezhen, China. Museum no. C.230-1926. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

wallpaperflowersMoonlight Bird

Left image: Panel of Chinese wallpaper, unknown maker, about 1750 – 1800, probably Canton, China. Museum no. E.3944-1915. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Middle image: A painting, ink an color on paper, after Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione), presumably late Qing dynasty/20th Century

Right image: Moonlight Bird, Chris Chun. Mixed Media on Paper