They responded by creating furniture and works of art that emulated the style of the pieces they admired through the technique known as japanning.
In its winter exhibition, Looking East: Japanned Furniture of Georgian England (continues until December 15), Mackinnon Fine Furniture has assembled a collection that celebrates the European works and the Asian pieces that influenced them.
It features around 20 examples of 18th century japanned English furniture in the gallery’s ground floor space as well as several pieces on loan.
“There’s always been a fascination with the crossover of different cultures, and the interplay between the colourful lacquer and japanned pieces really appeals to the current market,” says gallery manager May Geolot.
Buyers will have a chance to browse through clocks, chairs, cabinets and more.
One of the highlights is a pair of green japanned bureau bookcases, attributed to Giles Grendey from c.1740. They feature mirror plates, interiors fitted with pigeonholes and folio shelves and each is decorated with matching gilt chinoiseries. Notable for being a pair (these were unusual in 18th century England), the pieces are also marked by their rare olive colour.
It is just one example of the range of colours also including red, cream and other greens in Mackinnon’s offerings. These are ranged around the gallery’s exhibition space, which has been pared down for the purposes of the show. Each piece stands out and the setting aims to give potential buyers a chance to consider the versatility of each.
“We set up the gallery in a slightly more minimalist way to show these pieces off in a different light,” says Geolot. “The japanned pieces work across all types of interiors, both traditional and contemporary, Georgian spaces or a white cube.”
The gallery – set up by former Mallett dealer Charlie Mackinnon in 2005 – aims to appeal to a diverse client base and to draw in new buyers as well as traditional collectors for the furniture and fine art it offers. Its website features the catalogue of each exhibition, and it supplements its online profile with an active Instagram account and a regular newsletter.
With a street-level exhibition space on St James’s, it is in a position to benefit from the rhythms of the London calendar, particularly the semi-annual auction high seasons, now marked too by the double edition of London Art Week (the winter edition of which takes place this week).
These are the times of the year that bring new visitors and potentially new clients through the doors.
Indeed, Geolot tracks the idea for the current exhibition back to the comparable week last summer, when Mackinnon hosted a themed show, Gilded: Golden Treasures of Georgian Furniture.
“We had success with our giltwood exhibition and wanted to continue to explore different techniques and materials used in the 18th century to show the variety of pieces made at that time,” she says.
“We set up the gallery in a slightly more minimalist way to show these pieces off in a different light
Now, along with its annual appearance at the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in September, the gallery plans to continue running themed exhibitions on a biannual basis – a chance for those in search of English furniture to discover something that might be a little different.