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.
The Peacock Room at Prince’s Gate, Frederick Leyland’s home in Kensington, London.
Chinese porcelain displays were a feature in Victorian decorating manuals and sales catalogues.