At many times during history—including during the late Nineteenth Century—Europeans found themselves enchanted by Asian culture and design. Though travel and trade was open with the East (to varying degrees), Asia remained very expensive, out-of-reach for the vast majority of Europeans. Only sailors and the wealthiest of Western civilians might be able to journey to "The Orient," the latter only once or twice in a lifetime. Impressive collections of Chinese and Japanese objets were the pride of many a Nineteenth Century industrialist.
As Victorian industrialism flourished, it allowed for the mass production of quality consumer goods (now, for the first time, affordable by a growing middle class). Asian design was popular (and fashionable) and those aesthetics sometimes found themselves adapted and worked-in to western design and craft. These modifications were rarely authentic. And sometimes the adaptations were insulting (especially when Asian people were portrayed as characatures). But the movement gave middle class people the opportunity to enjoy a touch of the "Mysterious Orient"—at a price they could afford.
These knife rests (English, circa 1890) were made during the Aesthetic Movement in England. The Aesthetic Movement often adapted Asian motif and themes—in this case a "faux bamboo" crosspiece. Faux bamboo furniture, framing, metalwork and graphic design was fashionable in the late 19th Century and it implied an "Oriental" design element.
This fascination with Eastern aesthetics (and their adaptation by Western designers and artists) is referred to as "Orientalism" (a movement that is viewed with a jaundiced eye by many contemporary academics). Funnily enough, the cultural and aesthetic flow often travels in the opposite direction. I have seen many young Tokyoites out for an evening in their "Western" jackets or sweaters—often bearing (somewhat) nonsensical use of English phrases or European iconography. The application isn't always authentic, but the "twist of adaptation" makes it something new, fresh and interesting. Perhaps some people are just fascinated about the art and culture of others?
To learn more about these knife rests, please click on the photo above.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248