Decorating “The Pastures” of Philip Schuyler: High-style Wallpaper Choices c. 1760

1. Philip Schuyler

by Robert M. Kelly

In 1761 Philip Schuyler was in London choosing wallpaper for his mansion then under construction in Albany, New York. His choices flowed naturally from the culture of polite society in the Anglosphere of the mid-eighteenth century. This article looks at the context of this wallpaper installation at "The Pastures."
The landscape paper-hangings that Philip chose were not only a cultural expression of the early modern era—they contributed to the advancement of that culture. His choices were soon emulated by his kinsman Stephen Van Rensselaer II and Boston-area merchant Jeremiah Lee. 

As the sun rose on a chilly late-February morning in 1761 twenty-eight year old Philip Schuyler looked uphill toward the site of his proposed mansion house. He glanced downhill where filigrees of ice decorated the banks of the broad Hudson River flowing south toward New York City. The cleared mansion site was surrounded by frosted grasslands. Nevertheless, it was a mere quarter-mile from the center of Albany, a fast-growing settlement of 4,000 souls. 

2. Schuyler Mansion, styled “The Pastures.”

From the mid-1750s to the mid-1760s Philip parlayed his successful military commands during the French and Indian War into a new and portentous occupation—that of a provincial politician. The stout brick walls of “The Pastures" would anchor his inheritance of twenty-eight acres from his forebears 24,000-acre share in the Saratoga patent. His estate would easily accommodate the gardens, Dutch barn, yellow coach house, and other outbuildings he deemed suitable to his stature. 

3. The immediate grounds of The Pastures in 1794.

But, on that chilly February morning in 1761, he did not yet know how he would decorate his entry hall. In a few more days Philip traveled down the Hudson River to the port of New York City (claimed as New Amsterdam by his Dutch forebears until 1664). He sailed for England on March 3, 1761 and returned on November 20, 1762. During those twenty-odd months he investigated his decorative options. 

It's possible that his excursions among the paper-hangings warehouses of Aldermanbury included visits to the shops of Edwards & Darby, Richard Masefield, and Thomas Bromwich. It is certain that he visited the shop of William Squire at the sign of the Three Tents and Lamb in the Poultry, for an invoice records that he purchased over £40 of Squire's high-style paper-hangings.[1]

4. Invoice Of Sundries Sent To America.

Nor was Philip the only man shopping for wallpaper in 1761. Thomas Gray, a friend of Horace Walpole, was haunting the same shops on behalf of his school chum Thomas Wharton. It's not impossible—strange thought— that Philip Schuyler and Thomas Gray may have bumped into each other as they gazed at the fluttering “Gothick” and “landskip” samples in the Aldermanbury shops. The character of these samples must have been influenced by the checkered career of a wallpaper impressario who made his mark in London over the previous ten years or so, a man by the name of John Battista Jackson. 

It seems that the main purpose of Philip's trip was to settle the financial affairs of his mentor, Colonel John Bradstreet. The ever-exasperating requirements of red tape caused long stretches of down time. Philip made a side trip to Ireland to observe the construction of canals. This interest would blossom during his subsequent work on a precursor to the Erie Canal.[2]

The invoice's title page listing Philip's wallpaper choices is the first page of many. Over £685 of fine British goods are accounted for. Philip took the opportunity to buy a crane-neck chariot which, with shipping, cost £95. This type of transport was for town and social use. The crane-neck consisted of two parallel iron rods bent to allow the front wheels to pass under them and thereby turn in tight quarters. He also picked up a backgammon table, a “spying glass,” and a case of drawing instruments.[3] 

The invoice was probably written by one not familiar with wallpaper. If so, this would explain such anomalies as writing “Tripoly's" for Trophies, “Caffy" for Caffoy, and “Nickolls” for nichework. Eighteenth-century wallpaper bills are rare but not unknown. What makes this one special is the division into known types: flocks, stucco papers, and papier-mâché, and that the centerpieces are the “10 paintings of ruins of Rome.” These were modeled after paintings by Pannini and others, and embellished with rococo festoons, trophies, and borders.

5. Detail, “ruins of Rome” wallpaper at
the Jeremiah Lee House in Marblehead.
Since none of Philip's wallpaper survives, we know it only through his meticulous record-keeping—an appropriate trait for the right-hand man of a quartermaster (Colonel Bradstreet). Yet Philip’s choices were not made in a vacuum. In 1761, wallpaper was not yet being printed on the North American continent and there was little competition from nations other than England. Although France had a substantial industry, their paperstainers had only recently converted from single-sheet production to joined rolls. [4] As a result, the known wallpaper choices of colonial Americans are almost exclusively a continuation of British culture.

The story of grisaille landscape papers in the period 1750-1770 cannot be told without mentioning the influence of J. B. Jackson, the celebrated wood engraver who turned to paper-hangings production during the last phase of his career. [5]

Philip Schuyler's choice of such dramatic subjects to decorate his colonial mansion in 1761 was the first of three significant American installations of this type, the other two following around 1768. There can be no doubt that Philip's elaborate paper-hangings from the shop of William Squire must have resembled in some ways two surviving ensembles: the wallpapers in the entry halls and two upstairs rooms at the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts; and those which were installed in the Van Rensselaer Manor House on the north side of Albany (The Pastures was on the south side). The Van Rensselaer Manor House wallpapers are now preserved in a period room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

6. Van Rensselaer Manor House wallpaper
 at the Metropolitan Museum.

7. Jeremiah Lee Mansion wallpaper.

As reported by David Skinner, the connection from Pannini’s paintings to the versions found in wallpaper shops was by no means straightforward. The celebrity of the oil paintings of Pannini and others was exploited by printmakers, who produced engravings based on them. These prints in turn were the models for the handpainted versions in distemper which began appearing in retail outlets around 1755. Ultimately, some of the landscapes were put into repeat as explained by David Skinner: “The colonnades, tempietti and obelisks which provided the essential elements of Pannini’s paintings were, meanwhile, adapted as repeat patterns which would be printed on rolls and sold as wallpaper in the usual way.”[6]

As noted by Catherine Lynn in Wallpaper in America, though Squire seems a probable source for all three papers, he is not the only possible maker. She cites Richard Masefield, who provided “…Paintings of Landscapes, Festoons and Trophies, India Paper, Papier Machée, Ornaments, &c, and a Mock India Paper...” from his showroom shown below.

8. Trade Card of Richard Masefield, c. 1758.

The paper-hangings warehouse climate of 1752-62 can best be described as tumultuous. We know of the successful firms like Bromwich and Squire, but many others failed, sold out, or were taken over. For example, James Wheeley advertised in 1754 that he, like Squire, had recently acquired the prints from a rival's shop. [7]  

What about the proposed setting for these elaborate decorations, The Pastures of Philip Schuyler? Philip’s wife, Catherine Van Rensselaer, was described as a “lady of great beauty, shape and gentility.” She bore Philip fifteen children, one of which (Elizabeth) married Alexander Hamilton, who was fatally shot by Aaron Burr in 1804, the year of Philip’s death.[8] 

We don't know much about the Schuyler household, but we do know that Philip oversaw a busy clan and that he presented himself as a proper eighteenth-century gentleman. He read widely. He wore a powdered wig. He rose early each morning and led the family, including servants, in prayers. He habitually met his peers in an Albany tavern at noon but unlike many of his peers left soon after the meal and returned to The Pastures to receive guests. The yellow coach house with pleasure vehicles (phaeton and crane-neck chariot) was quite some distance from the house, which was the epicenter of the estate and often referred to as “the farm house.” 

His house not only anchored his estate, it was a popular stop for visitors to Albany of a certain class. The mansion “became a handsome home, a rather brilliant social center and visiting place for many distinguished guests, including Benjamin Franklin and Charles Carroll…Washington, Lafayette, Kosciusko, [and] Steuben…”[9] Oddly, it was also a "visiting place" of sorts for British General John Burgoyne, who was incarcerated there for some time after the fall of Saratoga. In later years Burgoyne had fond memories of his stay.[10]

Like many of the long-settled Dutch families in the Hudson Valley, the Schuylers were land-rich. Philip seems to have had good business instincts. He ran another family estate upriver in Saratoga. There are indications that he was a man of style. Philip commissioned a portrait of his daughter Catherine playing a pianoforte, an instrument found in less than 1% of colonial homes in the late-eighteenth century. Of the thirty-two chairs he purchased between 1765 and 1793, half were mahogany.[11] Tench Tilghman, aide to Washington, observed that Schuyler “has a palace of a house and lives like a prince.”[12] Count Francesco dal Valme, a visitor to The Pastures in 1781, described it as “magnificent, as it is well-situated on a hill a quarter mile from the city…”[13] 

Over time (and possibly relating to Philip’s military and political prominence) the cultural affinity of the household switched from England to France. According to researchers, the Schuyler's had many aristocratic friends who fled the French Revolution, and made their home even more stylish on their friends' behalf. The Schuyler's also took steps to secure their farmland and make it attractive. The grounds of The Pastures around 1790 have been described as "laid out in all the elaborate art of French landscape gardening with here and there parterres, some of which are nicely lawned.”[14]

Philip employed a full-time gardener in 1790 and likely in many other years. According to the United States Census of 1790, there were five white males, three white females, and thirteen slaves living at The Pastures.[15] It's likely that when receiving company the Schuyler household consisted of twenty-five or more. This number is only a fraction of the 100 to 200 people who belonged to the household of a peer or great prelate in the late middle-ages, but the idea of a great household was nevertheless being carried forward on American shores, an idea that was no less important in the homes of Stephen Van Renssaelaer II and Jeremiah Lee. Oddly, one of the permanent residents of The Pastures was Colonel Bradstreet, Philip's former boss. Bradstreet was in residence at The Pastures for many years after his financial affairs had been settled by Philip.

It seems that inherited wealth drove manor-building in the Albany area. Stephen Van Rensselaer II was only twenty-three when he began planning the reconstruction of the Van Rensselaer Manor House.  As previously mentioned Philip was twenty-eight when he began building. In contrast the self-made merchant Jeremiah Lee was forty-five years old before construction began in Marblehead. Nor did Philip scrimp when it came to constructing his house. Master carpenter John Gaborial was paid £453 12s. 6d. by Bradstreet on behalf of Schuyler.[16] By his own reckoning Schuyler spent £1,425 16s. on furnishings. Mayhew and Myers describe this as 'showering expense’ on the house.[17]

Philip’s choice of workmen influenced his close relative Van Rensselaer. Both William Waldron and Lucas Hooghkerk, Albany-area masons, were employed by Philip and then rehired by Van Rensselaer some years later. But not all labor was local. His master carpenter Gaborial was from the Boston area. Perhaps Gaborial's hand, or his training, is responsible for the many rococo flourishes of  the interior of The Pastures. As for the exterior, the Georgian style was not new to the colonies, but it was new to the Albany area.

A visiting British peer, Lord Gordon, found Albany to be "dull and ill-built" but had praise for The Pastures, noting that “…one Mr. P. Schuyler has a good house near [the Hudson River], lately built in a better Stile, than I have seen in America."[18] Nevertheless, the fronts of Georgian buildings in the colonies can look numbingly similar.
9. Present-day view of Schuyler Mansion.

10. Stenton near Philadelphia, c. 1730.

11. Fort Johnson, c. 1750.

12. Johnson Hall, c. 1763.
13. Van Rensselaer Manor, built in 1765,
 as it appeared c. 1790.

14. Jeremiah Lee Mansion, c. 1768.

A British scholar has claimed that two broad developments were responsible for a flowering of interior decoration in the mid-eighteenth century: 1. the invention of "design" in the period 1740-1760, and 2. a stagnation of exterior architectural forms.[19] 

Whatever the causes, one of the most visible mediums of this flowering in an almost literal sense was wallpaper, just then hitting its stride in England. Wallpaper exploded onto early modern walls, resulting in a profusion of vines, flowers, buds, and branches. It is hardly surprising, then, that c. 1760 paper-hangings were also patronized by the gentry in the North American colonies. 


[1] The 4,000 souls of Albany are documented on p. 92, fn 29 of Judy Anderson's well-researched Glorious Splendor (Donning, 2011), a study of the wallpaper at the Lee Mansion. William Squire was a long-lived manufacturer and retailer. One William Haywood had the audacity to steal 38 rolls of freshly-printed paper-hangings from Squire’s shop in 1770. Worse (as Squire testified at in court) the rolls were worth 18s. each and Haywood was selling them for 7s. 6d. each. Haywood paid dearly. He was found guilty and transported. See for 17th January 1770.

[2] "Schuyler's leadership in the Western and Northern Inland Lock and Navigation Companies formed the basis of New York canal legislation and of the construction of an inland lock system that was the forerunner of the great Erie Canal." cited in HSR, p. 2 as from the introduction to "Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York, 1733-1777” (1964, Don Gerlach, University of Nebraska Press).

[3] HSR, pp. 14, 37.

[4] Robert Kelly, The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750 (WallpaperScholar.Com, 2013), pp. 23, 25, Appendix A, Table 2, “Ten Transactions from Daniel Henchman’s Shop”. Single-sheet production vs. joined rolls matters because single-sheet installations have not been recorded in either New England or New France, though they must have occurred. It’s possible that joined paper was preferred by colonists as soon as it became available.

[5] In 1754 Jackson authored An Essay on the Invention of Engraving and Printing in Chiaro Oscuro, as practised by Albert Durer, Hugo di Carpi, &c. and The Application of it to the Making Paper Hangings of Taste, Duration, and Elegance
Jackson’s Essay was forcefully written in a vacuum of better information. This helps to explain why the Essay cemented Jackson’s reputation as an important wallpaper manufacturer for the next 150 years. Edna Donnell’s article changed all that in 1932: 
"The Van Rensselaer Wall Paper and J. B. Jackson: A Study in Disassociation," by Edna Donnell, Metropolitan Museum Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1932), pp. 76-108.

[6] David Skinner, Wallpaper In Ireland 1700-1900 (Churchill House Press, 2014), p. 55.

[7] Smith, p. 129. A helpful resource for delving into the mid-eighteenth century wallpaper trade is a recent book: The Design, Production and Reception of Eighteenth-Century Wallpaper in Britain by Clare Taylor.

[8] Anderson, p. 92, fn 39.

[9] Gerlach, pp. 39 - 42.

[10] He reported to the House of Commons in 1778 that " that [very elegant] house I remained during my whole stay in Albany, with a table with more than twenty covers for me and my friends, and every other possible demonstration of hospitality...". HSR, p. 29.

[11] As cited in “Historic Furnishings Report, Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site” (hereafter HFR) p. 22.

[12] Samuel Harrison, Memoir of Lieut. Col. Trench Tilghman, Secretary and aid to Washington together with an appendix, containing revolutionary journals and letters, hither to unpublished (Albany: M. Munsel, 1876), pp. 80-1, 92; as cited in HFR p. 11.

[13] As above.

[14] L. B. Proctor, "Historic Memories of the Old Schuyler Mansion"  p. 4, said to be (but not confirmed to be) a quotation from the Gentleman's Magazine (London, 1790), cited in HSR, p. 34.

[15] HFR, p. 18.

[16] HSR, p. 19.

[17] Edgar Mayhew and Minor Myers Jr., A Documentary History of American Interiors (New York: Scribner's, 1980), p. 54.

[18] Newton D. Mereness, ed., "Journal of Lord Adam Gordon, an Officer who travelled in America and the West Indies in 1764 and 1765,” in Travels in the American Colonies (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916), p. 417; cited on p. 14, HSR.

[19] Charles S. Smith, Eighteenth-Century Decoration (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), pp. 138, 143.

caption credits:

1. From Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1852) 1:38; retrieved February 24, 2016, from

2. Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1900, 5:433.

3. Historic Structure Report for Schuyler Mansion, New York State Parks And Recreation, 1977 (hereafter HSR), p. 34, from “Plan of the City of Albany” by Simeon DeWitt. The original is in the Library of Congress.

4. Courtesy of the New York State Parks Department. Attributed to the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. The invoice for wallpaper must have been created prior to May, 1762 because another document from that month refers to it.

5. Anderson, p. 22; Marblehead Museum & Historical Society.

6. The current tone of the background is misleading. When paper conservator Marjorie Shelley examined the paper during the Met’s restoration efforts she found that a thick yellow calcimine wash had been applied, poorly, in the 1870s. The original background color had been a “thin but semi-opaque raw sienna/yellow ochre”. Shelley, “The Conservation of the Van Rensselaer Wallpaper,” JAIC 20(1981), p. 129.

7. Anderson, p. 22.

8. Text on trade card: "The Nobility &c, may be supplied on the best Terms, with all sorts of Paper Hangings, Paintings of Landscapes, Festoons and Trophies, India Paper, Papier Machée, Ornaments, &c, and a Mock India Paper, made after a method peculiar to himself, which surpasses every thing of the kind yet attempted and for Variety Beauty and Duration, equal to the Real India Paper. - / NB. Merchants & Dealers may be Supplied on the least notice & Lowest Prices.”, Museum Number D, 2.3231. Richard Masefield's successor at 427 The Strand was Joseph Knight; see Knight's trade card dated 1788 in the British Museum online catalog (Heal, 91.38). Another candidate for providing painted and printed paper-hangings is James Wheeley, active from at least 1754, when he took over the shop of Wagg & Garnett. Charles S. Smith dates the often-depicted James Wheeley Paper Hanging Warehouse trade card to c. 1760. 

9. New York State Parks.

11. Public domain.

12. Johnson Hall State Historic Site.

13. American Architect and Building News, Dec. 3, 1892. Measured and drawn by Gilbert F. Crump, Architect(s) showing the house as it existed c. 1790. Public domain.

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