All About: The Wallpaper History Review 2015

The Review from 2015 edited by Christine Woods is an overstuffed sandwich of wallpaper. 

It contains close to a hundred pages with an astonishing number of excellent color photos (140) and wonderful articles. The Review has been out for some time but news travels slowly in the wallpaper world. It is is based in the UK, only available through print subscription, and North American wallpaper is rarely encountered in its pages. Nevertheless, the content is rich and addicting.

Below, I am summarizing some of the most important articles from this 2015 issue.  This first photo is from "Matching 'furnitures’ - Some Mid-18th Century Stencilled Wallpapers” by Andrew Bush. Bush, who works for the National Trust, explains how these simple check and plaid and stripe designs made the jump from textiles to wallpaper, sometimes because someone wanted to do up a single room and have them match (custom work) but also because they were so versatile and could be stocked. Most all of these are on ungrounded paper.

1. 200 Years Of Home Decor, by Linda Imhof
2. The American Taste For English “Regency” Stripes, by Philip Aitkens
3. Challenging Assumptions, by Andrew Bush
4. Regional Versus Metropolitan: The Provincial Wallpaper Trade, by Phillippa Mapes
5. Paul Balin, Master Of Illusion, by Astrid Arnold-Wegener 
6. Chinese Wallpaper, A Cultural Chameleon, by Anna Wu
7. Japanese Leather Paper, by Wivine Wailliez
8. A Spanish Odyssey, by Veronique de La Hougue

1. 200 Years Of Home Decor

The photo below could be titled “Date Me!” What year do you think it is from? Now bear in mind that this design features a round motif of raspberries in the middle of the circles. The color has faded terribly so that they now appear white…..but they used to be red.

This quiz introduces an interesting project: a regional study of a canton (state) smack in the middle of Switzerland. Two hundred or so wallpapers were catalogued by freelance art historian Linda Imhof. She did this work in conjunction with her MA thesis to obtain her degree. The wallpapers came from 8 buildings in the Swiss canton of Zug. Two dwellings were in Zug (also the name of the chief city of the canton), three were in rural areas, and three were clerical buildings. According to Imhof, wallpaper research is still young in Switzerland; it started in around 1990.
Her questions focussed on: 1. identification of manufacturing technique and dating of each paper; 2. recording where and how the papers were hung in the houses; and 3. comparison of the use of the papers in the three groups of houses.
The stone city houses are old. Somewhat astonishing to this American, one dates from the 16th century and the other from the 17th. A few blockprints from around 1790 were found; in some cases wallpaper sandwiches of up to 5 or 6 layers as well. These latter were from roughly 1880 to 1960, so a wide range of style and materials were evident.
Not surprisingly, most of the wallpapers hung in the rural areas were cheap. Many ungrounded papers were found. One house in particular was a treasure chest and gave up 66 papers, of which only two were blockprints. These three houses in the country were made of wood. They have since been torn down.
The houses for clerics yielded some upscale papers, and in particular the so-called Biedermeier period is well-represented. Most all of these papers were block-printed. Imhof rounds out her paper with sections on “several options for hanging wallpaper”, “reusing wallpaper leftovers”, and “repapering”. Imhoff found that the type of paper, i. e., whether it was composed of earlier rag paper or the later and cheaper pulp machine-made paper, had a decisive impact on the condition of surviving wallpapers.

2. The American Taste For English “Regency” Stripes 

This is a marvelous exercise in close visual analysis. It considers the question: “How did American paper stainers and their customers move away from imported English designs as independent taste developed in the USA during the early 19th century?”. This article compares three versions of a design that apparently originated in London in about 1800. It was copied closely (but not completely) by Zechariah Mills of Hartford. The design was then adapted in a simpler version by Mills for a paper that was used to line a trunk (shown in “Wallpaper In America” (1980) by Lynn, p. 114).

Aitkens, an English historic building consultant who has a collection of about 500 18th and 19th century wallpaper fragments (!) corresponded with Richard Nylander of Historic New England who shared his unpublished research into the Cadwell House wallpaper in Connecticut. Aitkens reports that his own collection contains not a single striped pattern and ventures a question: could it be that although English custom favored stripes in the 1770s and 80s (among other types) that English paperstainers began “turning away from stripes for a while during the years around 1800”? 

On the other hand, it seems that the USA was not turning away. One can point to the Janes & Bolles (also of Hartford) sample book of 1821-29, which was full of stripes. Although the topic is debatable, Aitkens wonders whether we should be leaning toward emphasizing “late-Regency stripes” in England rather than simply “Regency stripes”.

3. Challenging Assumptions

The article centers on a group of six wallpapers covering notebooks dating from 1733-44. The steps in their production: 1. grounding paper; 2. applying opaque stencil designs; 3. applying a block printed outline; 4. applying a transparent colored glaze. All of this was done by utilizing a registration system.

Bush explains that most wallpaper in the UK from the mid-18th century onward had a registration system of pins in the leading corner of a woodblock and/or bars printed alongside the wallpaper pattern. But not these. Although to our eyes these designs might look somewhat primitive compared to what was to follow, nevertheless, the number of individual processes required for these early examples led to the need for a registration system to help with alignment. 

Note figure 5 (reproduced here). This photo shows edge details from six sheets of wallpaper, and indicates how the registration system worked. The colored squares within the red circles are a result of color being brushed through cut-outs on both sides of consecutively applied stencils. Essentially, what looks like a “notch” (consisting of a square area) was created when the black outline from the woodblock was applied above and below the registration square.

These wallpapers are from the period of transition from individual decorative sheets with stand-alone patterns (like the domino papers of France and Italy, which have the black rectangle around a design, for instance) to a period when paper was joined and all patterns were expected to provide an endless design in both directions. Bush concludes that “the seamless nature of these later continuous patterns required the development of the pin and bar registration aids, and it seems that the earlier system described above faded into obscurity.”

4. Regional Versus Metropolitan: The Provincial Wallpaper Trade 1750-1830

One of the really fine things that the Wallpaper History Society does is that they have a research grant program. One of the recipients, Ms. Mapes, is a paper conservator and has been looking into the trade history of wallpaper as part of her work toward a doctorate.

In this article, Mapes shows that the wallpaper trade enjoyed a period of expansion in the second half of the 18th and early 19th century as part of the economic boom and rise in population attributed to the Industrial Revolution. This enabled middle class consumers to spend more on newly developed consumer goods like wallpaper. Although the wallpaper trade was primarily based in London, Mapes has found a surprising amount of evidence for the migration of manufacturers to regional locations such as Ipswich, Bath, Bristol, Liverpool, York, and Manchester.

She not only traces the sheer evidence that they existed, but notes the various ways that consumer goods either flowed from the capital into the provinces, or vice versa. The way that pricing worked was complex. Mapes does a good job of sorting it out, for there were advantages to producing wallpaper in a city, and other advantages to being in the country. For example, country locations advertised that they could do custom work right away, as opposed to sending to London to have it done where it might take longer due to distances and complications.

The transportation network was often key. But, it was not that factories needed to be near raw materials, as in other trades. It was the mobility, and population concentrations enabled by the new canals and railroads, and the coastal cities, that were important for these regional factories. Even the Isle of Man had a factory, for their citizens were equally impatient for the latest fashions and were willing to patronize a new paperstainer in town, especially if he was employing London blockprinters, rather than wait for the opportunity to visit London to pay what were perceived as huge markups to decorators and upholders’ shops for the privilege of purchasing the wallpaper. 

By the time that heavy machinery arrived into the trade starting in around 1830, these regional centers had grown and were in a position to compete more directly with London, especially since the London paperstaining industry had itself been weakened by a shift in fashionable focus from London to Paris, which had happened in the first few decades of the 19th century. 

5. Paul Balin, Master Of Illusion

This overview of Paul Balin’s career can be seen as a sort of introduction to the 2016 summer show at the German wallpaper museum in Kassel and even more as a sort of teaser for the gorgeous book that resulted from the exhibition: “Schöner schein : Luxustapeten des Historismus von Paul Balin”. 

The book combines the work of a half-dozen wallpaper scholars in telling the story of Paul Balin, a very gifted but somewhat eccentric wallpaper manufacturer who started in the Defosse workshops in 1861 and proceeded to invent and create (along with litigating against and exasperating his competitors) for the next 40 years or so. Of special interest is the “wallpaper affair” in which his litigation threatened to grind the high-end industry to a halt for several years while patent disputes about embossing and finishing machines were resolved, not only in France but in several other countries. Zuber, among other companies, was deeply affected. He seems to  have won most of his cases but certainly did not leave many fond memories behind among his competitors. He was an excellent networker and social butterfly and no doubt would have had an iPhone and a well-used Twitter account in our times. His crowning glory was the 1873 World’s Fair in Vienna where his productions met with acclaim. Subsequently he was able to finagle his way into state recommendations, honors, and awards. In short, he aspired to be a “thought leader” in the luxury trade and succeeded. 

Ms. Arnold-Wegener tells the inside story about how the documentation, some of it discovered quite recently, was gathered, and how the show came together. Of special interest is her explanation of how Balin worked. He was genuinely obsessed with his work, which cannot be understood without the repeated invocation of “historicism” — in other words, the constant quest for finding new processes to carry forward the craft of earlier generations. He was a genuine aesthete but he was nevertheless sometimes accused of a backwards fussiness. It is said that he particularly loathed Art Nouveau as "degenerate art" that he would never engage with or promote.

In these photos, we can see how Balin, a master marketer, took a single pattern from a gilt leather panel (the so-called Peacock pattern) and reinterpreted it in a bronze paper; as well as a leather paper; as well as a chintz blockprint. The last one named has brilliant coloring and was produced as "A" and "B" rolls. This was probably necessary because the usual width of the paper rolls (about 18") would hold only about half the horizontal repeat; it is likely that the original embossed gilt leather was fairly wide.

6. Chinese Wallpaper, A Cultural Chameleon

Wu is an academic expert on Chinese wallpaper and has developed good connections to China where she has done some innovative research and also visited certain high-style hotels and private clubs where contemporary Chinese wallpaper is on display.

In this piece she sets out to tell a comprehensive story of how Chinese wallpaper has remained an exotic presence, a highly-polished craft, and yet at the same time a commodity over the last several hundred years, resulting in worldwide popularity. What makes this piece fresh is that she links up the several traditions of Chinese wallpaper (East and West) and then follows its fortunes  through the many historical twists and turns of the 19th and 20th century, and does not neglect todays wallpaper scene.

As to the blending, for example, it was not only Chinese pictorial traditions and scroll legacies that resulted in Chinese wallpaper, but also the Western ideas of perspective and indeed, the very idea of market-driven and portable “paper-hangings” that were the essential European contribution. She explains her theme: “through an examination of specific designs and use contexts this essay explores some of the contrasting identities of Chinese wallpaper in order to reveal their broader significance, dynamic and multivalent character and the rich variety of cultural ideas contained within them.” 

Her explanation for how Chinese wallpaper became fused with the ideal and idea of the English country house is not exactly new, but it has seldom been stated so clearly. She writes that “Chinese wallpapers are also a regular feature in lifestyle magazines such as Country Life, which, since its foundation in 1897, has featured an article on a country house in every issue, alongside articles on art, architecture gardens and countryside issues. In this context, images of Chinese wallpaper instantly communicate strong visual messages about social and familial connections, heritage, wealth and history: concepts which define the “country house” and underpin the magazines ethos and reader’s aspirations.

She concludes that “the richness of the design presented on them and the stories and traditions which surround them have allowed generations of consumers and viewers to project their own ideas, fantasies, personal histories and aspiration onto Chinese wallpaper, establishing several contrasting identities for this rarefied global design phenomenon.”

7. Japanese Leather Paper Or Kinkarakawakami: An Overview From The 17th Century To The Japonist Hangings By Rottmann & Co.”

One of the things you learn right off the bat from Wivine's article is that the origin of the rather impossible-looking name of Kinkarakawakami makes perfect sense. 

kin = gilt 
kara = foreign 
kawa = leather
kami = paper

Therefore, kin-kara-kawa-kami means “gilt foreign leather paper”. This article is like Anna Wu's in that we get a head-spinning overview of how leather papers started in the East, came West, were influenced by Western design, moved back East, picked up more Eastern influence, and then headed back to be sold in the West. Or something like that.

In this particular article Wailliez pivots nicely from his usual chemical and technical work, at which he is a master, in order to explain why we should care about kinkarakawakami (Japanese Leather Paper) and why this industrialized art form has endured. Reproduced here is a plate which shows the essential steps: beating wet paper onto the embossing rollers; gilding; stenciling; and applying other finishes.

This is an extraordinarily well-sourced article (67 footnotes) and includes dozens of references to important 19th century magazines such as Decorator and Furnisher and The Furniture Gazette, but also hard to find books such as Felix Regamey’s “Japon” (1903) and Alcock’s “Art and Art Industries in Japan” (1878).

Like early Chinese wallpaper, and dominos, Japanese embossed papers were generally made in a single sheet when they were introduced at large expositions. A key arrival was at Paris in 1873 where they caused quite a commotion. Later they were produced in longer rolls, like most wallpaper. Wailliez divides their history into three phases:

1. 1873-1884: many of these smaller pieces had an oily smell and had distinctly Japanese designs, not all of which were acceptable to a European market. They were therefore often used to put into the panels and coves of furniture, for example that of Godwin.

2. Starting in about 1882 a Rottman, Strome & Co. factory opened in Yokohama. This company's public relations campaign touted their new Westernized designs as not only washable but also “…Japanese, but not too Japanese…” This reinvention and blending of designs resulted in an all-over character that most decorators and the public found acceptable.

3. The third phase went from about 1890-95 to 1905. Japanese Leather Paper became a mass-produced commodity. Design luminaries such as Walter Crane, working for Silver Studio, delivered designs, many in the “Modern English” (Art Nouveau) style. 

Wailliez, a conservator at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, concludes that “Kinkarakawakami offers a synthesis in the conjunction of Western historicism and a Far Eastern renaissance resulting, paradoxically, in a form of modern industrial art.”

8. A Spanish Odyssey 
(A book review of “La Real Fábrica de Papeles Pintados de Madrid (1786-1836): Arte, artesanía e industria”, by Isadora Rose-de Viejo

This is the story of a royal manufactory of wallpaper. Not England, not France, but Spain. Spain? Spain.

What fascinates is that the de Villette family that obtained the rights to produce in Madrid (and obtained a monopoly on wallpaper production within 90 miles of that city) was based in France, and that the time period was early 19th century. And as we know, early 19th century French wallpaper was about as gorgeous as wallpaper ever became.

Another interesting detail is that the original proprietor after survived painstaking negotiations for years with the Spanish ambassador and various royalty happened to drop dead about a month before the final contract was to be signed. No problem, he had a brother, who signed the contract and set up shop. But then four years later he, too, dropped dead. No problem, there was a third brother. It was the third brother, Peter, who carried the factory into its heyday, roughly 1793 to 1829, and passed it down to his son, Segismundo Giroud de Villette. The life of the factory was about 50 years.

This is a Spanish language book, which of course presents a problem for English readers, but not an insurmountable one among wallpaper people, who are used to looking at pictures. Still, an English translation would be incredibly helpful in this particular case as it seems likely there are many references to the nuts and bolts of how, exactly, a wallpaper factory was set up during the late 18th century, what the working conditions were like, and what sort of product lines were offered. For example, part of the deal was that during set-up they were allowed to import 5,000 rolls of joined paper; they could also import the necessary raw materials such as pigments from France and Holland. Getting back to the product line, it would be interesting to know about not only the de luxe types, but also about the more moderate types which presumably were bought and sold as in most wallpaper factories. What we see in the pictures here are French-influenced and exquisite. Since the de Villettes had a license to import as well as produce it is not always clear which surviving papers were actually made in Spain. 

One tiny detail of the social history is touched on when we learn that 12 local homeless orphans were hired by the factory as part of the deal. No doubt they took the lowest rungs of the work such as tier boys, hanging-up, and rolling up.


So there! I hope you enjoy this preview about this excellent 2015 edition of the Review!

Having said all that, if you are seriously interested in wallpaper, you _need_ to subscribe. It’s as simple as that.

On the plus side, they have an arrangement on their web site to pay via Paypal. 

Like I said, if you are really serious about wallpaper, you really _need_ to do this. 

Go to the “subscribe” link, plop in “non-UK member, 30£” and fork over $38.72 via Paypal.

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