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.

Wallpaper in the Royal Apartments at the Tuileries

Review: Wallpaper in the Royal Apartments at the Tuileries, 1789-1792, by Bernard Jacqué, in the journal Studies in the Decorative Arts, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Fall-Winter, 2005-2006 (Bard Graduate Center).

By Robert M. Kelly

The story of the royal family's steadily dwindling luck during the French Revolution is gripping. It becomes more personal yet when we learn about their personal choices, among which were wallpaper choices. In this article we learn what their wallpaper consisted of and why it was chosen to decorate the previously empty apartments of the Tuileries in Paris after the family was forced to abandon Versailles.

This article is ostensibly about the royal wallpaper, which was significant in both price and effect. But, M. Jacqué, former curator at the Musée du Papier Peint, has a magisterial and enthusiastic grasp of wallpaper history. Like a seasoned jazz drummer, he cannot resist throwing in a few extra beats. It's surprising that the editors at Bard were able to limit him to one exclamation point and thirty pages.

None of the wallpapers survive but thanks to billing records Jacqué nonetheless paints a believable picture. For example, he estimates the size of the rooms based on the linear feet of cornice border. Some of the rooms were large (the Queen's Dining Room was almost 114 feet in circumference). Madame Royale's Study was about half that size. No less interesting are the eight color illustrations of surviving late-eighteenth century installations. These styles and colors bring the text to life.

The section on Madame Royale’s cabinet d'entresol is a sort of mini-glossary of French wallpaper terminology. There are differences between camees and cantonnieres. “Objets en feuilles” refers to single sheets: this short-lived style featured a wide variety of vases, medallions, overdoor elements, framing, and rosettes. 

Wallpaper was used extensively at the Tulileries, amounting to thousands of yards and almost 20,000 livres by the time the family was sent off to their last rather more sparsely furnished accommodations. As to why decoration was even an option in these perilous times, Jacqué explains that in the new setting "…monarchical ceremony, although subdued, continued in full public view. The sovereign still retained broad powers, not to mention a real popularity. It mattered, then, that the king was surrounded by décor suited to his status and functions."

The king hesitated to spend too much on furnishings because of the political and financial crisis. Besides, he hoped to return to Versailles. The solution to these quasi-permanent decorative needs was wallpaper. By 1784 wallpaper was appropriate for royal use, at least in private rooms, though it cost far less than fabric. And unlike fine silks painstakingly woven in Lyons, wallpaper was almost immediately available.

But this was no routine redecoration. The single sheets just referred to (objets en feuilles) were often trimmed and pasted onto a background prepared with plain green or blue paper. Single-sheet motifs were more distinctive than those found on sidewall papers and were more carefully printed. These creative layers were applied within panels, and, more adventurously, on overdoors and ceilings. No wonder these installations were so expensive.

Not everyone was thrilled with the results. An anonymous letter criticized Thierry de Ville d'Avray, the official who oversaw the installations. The writer was of the opinion that "in royal residences such décor [wallpaper] is only suitable for the lodgings of domestics."

But any opposition would have been easily overcome by a supremely important voice, that of Marie Antoinette.

By this time her preference for wallpaper was well-known. She apparently went hog-wild in her dining room. She created an entirely new style with pale green grounds, wide borders of floral twists, and no less than 229 rosettes installed in spandrels and at the corners of panels. The cornice area sported four different borders.

The wallpaper in the study of Madame Royale was elaborate and even more expensive than the dining room paper. Other important rooms dissected by Jacqué are the King's Study (arabesques) and the King's Bedroom and Alcove (arabesques again, but this time in avant-garde colors).

Jacqué suggests that high-ranking Parisians imitated these rooms soon after their official and semi-official visits. He argues persuasively (through a careful selection of examples and by comparing like to like) that the royals were fashion leaders.  According to Jacqué, the royal family followed aristocratic traditions of using the best decorative materials with "… great artistic audacity, even in difficult times," which certainly applies here.

He singles out the forward-looking color combination of black, orange and violet in the King's Bedroom. This combination predates by almost a decade a wider transformation whereby a warm color palette based on florals curdled into acidic tones.

Jacqué also highlights the Queen's innovative use of floral twist borders on plain grounds. He ruminates on a conflicted combination: rich floral borders surrounding austere, almost monochromatic antique images in the King's quarters. The borders looked backward to the Rococo while the cool classicism of the prints foreshadowed the Neoclassical style.

Arthur & Robert, suppliers of the papers and installers, were hugely important. They were not only royal manufacturers - they also employed over 400 people. This article makes a good case that their factory rivaled that of Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, whose reputation has long overshadowed theirs. The review of the French wallpaper industry is excellent. It's still surprising that although dominos and papier de tapisserie were well established in France during the early years of the eighteenth century, good-sized factories producing joined paper did not exist until the 1770s.

In 1772, an Irishman by the name of Edouard Duras set up a factory in Bordeaux and began importing the latest patterns from England. Within a few years he faced stiff competition from a nascent French industry, which, Jacqué writes “…transformed an item formerly considered an imitation…into a truly autonomous product”. French manufacturers did this by “…calling on the best designers, reviving and perfecting once obsolete techniques, establishing a vast network of international sales, and adapting themselves to various methods of hanging…”

What is astonishing is the seeming ease with which the French nation pulled this off. Within a few decades they had eclipsed England as America's preferred wallpaper supplier (though another fateful event - the American Revolution - played a large role). By 1800, there were six wallpaper firms with over a hundred employees in Paris. There were also ten wallpaper firms with fifty to a hundred hands. These were joined by many smaller shops throughout the country.

The text is awkward in spots and on one occasion seems wrong. Figure 2 is a watercolor of a proposed arabesque installation. Its caption describes this as a "decorator's sketch"; in the text, it is described as a "paperhanger's sketch." The word "decorateur" sometimes described a French installer. But "decorateur", when applied to paperhangers, seems to relate to the on-site job of arranging paneling.

As Geert Wisse writes:

"… these paperhangers became "decorators" when their services were offered to customers; "...herewith are papers which our decorator will arrange for you..." wrote the same Dollfus to an Alsatian client on September 18, 1791. This staff was trained by serving apprenticeships in Paris. If a "decorator" was not coming to the place and pasting the wallpaper, manufacturers sent the customer a diagram, many of which appear among the invoices in Mulhouse."[*]

Thus, a paperhanger could be a hands-on "decorator" in the sense of arranging panels, but it seems unlikely that paperhangers would have been adept at rendering the artwork. That job would probably have been assigned to one of the in-house designers.


* This quote is from Geert Wisse's chapter on installation in the French-language book "Les papiers peints en arabesques du XVIIIe siecle". The translation is my own.

The image used here is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art: "Marie Antoinette and her Children," by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.

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