As anti-Asian sentiment, stirred by the coronavirus pandemic, continues to motivate hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the Bay Area and across the country, and as political relations between the United States and China sharply deteriorate, objects in museum collections serve as a reminder of the positive influence that East Asian cultures have had on Western cultures. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco do not have a department of Asian art per se, because the city is also home to the Asian Art Museum. Yet while the latter captures the history of Asian art, objects in the European Decorative Arts and Sculpture collection at the Legion of Honor reflect the distinct history of how East Asian art has influenced European decorative arts and interiors.
From the height of the Roman Empire through the late Middle Ages, trade between Europe and China persisted intermittently along the Silk Road. The establishment of maritime routes during the seventeenth century increased trade between Western Europe and East Asia. East Asian exports, such as silk, lacquer, and porcelain, became more widely available in Europe and began to influence European artistic production. Objects at the Legion of Honor that resulted from this exchange can be divided into three broad groups: those incorporating East Asian materials; those inspired by East Asian design, such as chinoiserie furniture and porcelain; and East Asian export wares produced specifically for the European market.
Artworks Incorporating East Asian Materials
Numerous objects at the Legion incorporate materials exported from East Asia. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, East Asian porcelain and lacquer were acquired by Parisian marchands-merciers (retailers), who dominated France’s luxury-goods market. Porcelain was fitted with elaborate gilt-bronze mounts; examples at the Legion include Chinese vessels mounted with French gilt bronze (ca. 1700–1750), as well as a recently acquired pair of Chinese beakers decorated with the piqué d’or technique (ca. 1720), in which gilded points are applied to a surface.