Chinamania: Porcelain Frenzy

In the seventeenth century, many aristocratic palaces and country houses throughout Europe boasted a Porzellanzimmer (porcelain chamber), a room specifically built for large displays of ceramics. Such sumptuous collections were recognized as a symptom of the epidemic Porzellankrankheit (porcelain sickness). Two hundred years later British decorators revived the practice when Chinamania spread down the social ladder. During the middle decades of Queen Victoria’s long reign (1837–1901), the middle class in England bought and displayed masses of blue-and-white ceramics in a decorating frenzy. Frederick Leyland, the first owner of the Peacock Room, followed the Chinamania craze and assembled an exceptional collection of Kangxi blue-and-white plates, vases, and display pieces that he arranged on the shelves of Whistler’s decorated room.

George du Maurier satirized the obsession with Chinese export porcelain in a series of cartoons published in the British humor magazine Punch. Labeling the trend “Chinamania,” du Maurier drew comedic inspiration from the collecting habits of the Victorian middle class, particularly women.

Punch magazine cartoons.

Acute Chinamania The Six-Mark Tea-Pot. Intellectual Epicures Aptly Quoted from the Advertisement Column The Passion for Old China Incipient Chinamania A Disenchantment. Chronic Chinamania (Incurable) Chinamania Made Useful at Last! An Apology Chinamania Our Chinamaniacs Abroad Pet and Hobby

The Peacock Room at Prince’s Gate, Frederick Leyland’s home in Kensington, London.

Whistlers Peacock Room at 49 Princes Gate, London, looking north. Whistlers Peacock Room at 49 Princes Gate, London, looking south.

Chinese porcelain displays were a feature in Victorian decorating manuals and sales catalogues.

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Press Release

We are excited to reopen the Freer in October 2017, following a renovation to allow us to better present our art and serve our visitors. The Sackler remains open, with a full lineup of exhibitions and events both in the museum and around DC. For your safety, all visitors will have their bags checked. See the complete list of restricted items and bag sizes.