January 9th, 2016

Dragon Chi

The interior of Catalpa Garden, the residence of the painter Wang Yiting (1867–1938)

Thanks to an invitation from a new friend, I got a chance to visit an apartment in the mansion of the famous painter Wang Yiting in the old town.

There's a big chapter about Catalpa Garden in the future second volume of my "Shanghai Old Town" book, so I won't go into the whole story here. Just wait one year. Lou Bin, the present-day occupant of the best room on the second floor, is a distant relative of the painter. He lives in what used to be Wang's mother's bedroom.

The alcove has retained the original carved posts and overhanging decorations that point at Wang Yiting's love for things Japanese. Unfortunately, no old furniture survived the Cultural Revolution. In the 1960s Red Guards moved out all the precious redwood cabinets, chairs and tables.

The eclecticism of Wang Yiting's taste finds its extension in Lou Bin's interior design decisions. The wallpaper is hand-painted in ink over the whitewash, the sofa is covered with a giraffe-pelt throw, and the autumnal maple in the pot is plastic.

The jewel of the estate – the traditional Chinese garden around the mansion – has not survived the 1937 Japanese air raids. The little assortment of balcony plants in the care of Wang Yiting's descendant is all there is left.

For more pictures and stories see my flickr photostream.