Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Architecture of Joy

I just spent the weekend reading Chinoiseries by Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega (Rizzoli New York, 2008), a book which has generated a great deal of buzz in the blogosphere. And I just couldn't not write about it- the book is too stunning and in my opinion deserves all of the praise that it receives.

The book is a compilation of architectural watercolors of 17th and 18th c. Chinoiserie follies and pavilions in France. Rendered by Dams and Zega, the colorful paintings capture the exuberance and charm of these architectural gems. To the authors, these buildings represent "the architecture of joy". And joy is what Dams and Zega give to the reader.

Some of the buildings featured in the book were never built; the authors based their renderings on historical documents. Sadly, most of the structures that were built have been destroyed. That is such a tragedy, but I suppose we can take solace in the fact Dams and Zega have preserved the legacy of these buildings, if at least on paper.

Tartar Tent at Parc Monceau; built c. 1775. Commissioned for the Duc de Chartres, this structure was later destroyed.

Chinese Tent for Trianon Versailles. Conceived by the workshop of Jean-Baptiste Pillement in 1780, this tent, never built, was possibly designed for Marie-Antoinette's gardens at Trianon.

Refreshment Tent for Versailles. Another project that was never built, this charming tent was designed in 1779; the architect is unknown.

The Pagoda at Rheinsberg. One of the book's few non-French examples, this pagoda was built for Prince Heinrich of Prussia around 1765. Located at Heinrich's palace at Rheinsberg, Germany, the pagoda is sadly no longer standing.

(All images from Chinoiseries by Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega, Rizzoli New York, 2008)


  1. It's a fabulous book and a great post. Thanks!

  2. A- Glad you enjoyed the book too! I just love it.

  3. What beautiful pictures... I can't wait to see more on the book.

  4. My goodness what ravishing watercolours!
    It would be a great temptation to take the pages from that book and frame them.
    I forsee the walls of many a chic powder room covered with those delightful tents and pagodas..
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Pea green with envy - can't wait to grab it. As I'm on "house arrest" with my patient, I might have to order on line!

  6. They are the most amazing team, and their art is ravishing. Small wonder Hubert de Givenchy buys them whenever a new series comes out.

  7. Anonymous2:49 PM

    What I really like about these delightful designs is the way they demonstrate the falsity of the popular view that "Asian" design--whatever generic, monolithic look that's supposed to be--is all about serenity, simplicity & quiet tonal harmonies.

    Even cooloer is the way these designs show that however handsome & educational a pedantically authentic recreation of a foreign style may be, it's usually the scrambled, wacky version that comes when one distinct decorative style influences (or sometimes, collides head-on with) another, equally distinct decorative style that provides the richest & most imaginative results.

  8. Ordered some of pagoda watercolors depicted on cards a while ago from their website with future plans to frame them. The book will be a nice addition.

  9. London- I ordered some too a while back; they are charming!

  10. Magnaverde- Very good point. It's so interesting to see the Western interpretation of the Chinese style, b/c it really is quite different from the real thing. Someone who is really into the zen, Asian look would probably not like fanciful and over-the-top Chinoiserie.

  11. Aesthete- I would love to own one of their watercolors. They're stunning; in the meantime, the book will have to suffice!

  12. Hmmm, Amazon? Where's my copy?

  13. I adore pagodas and tents! Didn't realize this book had so many gorgeous illustrations in it!


  14. Anonymous5:30 PM

    Toby, you were right on! I couldn't resist, and now ten beautiful pages are framed in my living room, and make a wonderful graphic element above our extra long sofa. My kids like to argue over which is the "best"- we like the pagodas with dragons, having two boys. I matted them all in dove gray and put black and gold frames on them. I couldn't be more thrilled! My only advice is to buy 2 copies from Amazon so you're not high and dry when you cut the first one up-