Vol. 1, No. 5: Is Wallpaper Essential?

Summary


We start at that moment hundreds of thousands of years ago when a man and a woman (let’s call them Brad and Karen) wake up within their newly-invented shelter. It's an improvement over a cave. 


On previous evenings Karen had helped Brad struggle into his skins before they dropped to the ground, snuggled together, and fell asleep. But on this very different morning Karen and Brad awoke not in a cave but inside the first built home. In due time they were spreading the same types of claddings that had clothed them over a framework of branches and in that moment interior decorating was born.

So begins my affirmative answer to the title of this essay. I propose here that wallpaper is a type of cladding and that on this account wallpaper is an essence. More precisely: cladding is essential. And since wallpaper falls under the category of cladding, that makes wallpaper an essence, at least. But what difference would this make?

First, considering wallpaper as an essence would lift wallpaper out of such pseudo-categories as minor art, lesser art, or decorative art. It would help explain why wallpaper is still popular some 350 years after it was invented. Reclassifying wallpaper as an essence would also sharpen our ability to examine its past. We may be able to assess some of the slippage that has occurred with terms such as design, decoration, and wallpaper.


To clarify my outline: the need for cladding sets off a chain of corollaries. This need causes decorating, which is done through artifacts; one of these artifacts is wallpaper; wallpaper causes paperstaining; and decorating with wallpaper causes wallpapering. I use the nineteenth-century term paperstaining to stand in for all manufacture because it was during the nineteenth century that wallpaper rose to unprecedented importance in Western interiors.


Vol. 1, No. 5 can be accessed here:

http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/qfc0-he07

Vol. 1, No. 4: Bernard Jacqué, His Thesis, and His Methods

Summary:

The point of this issue is that the material culture methodology of Bernard Jacqué as displayed in his thesis is not only apt - this methodology holds great promise for reviving the study of wallpaper in America.

Previous issues have focussed on the shortcomings of other methods. The methods of material culture are defined here to be sure everyone is on the same page as we head into exploring Jacqué’s thesis - “From the Workshop to the Wall,” also known by its French title: “De La Manufacture Au Mur: Pour une histoire matérielle du papier peint 1770-1914”. 


To aid this exposition we introduce another scholar, the art historian Jules David Prown. It was Prown who codified much of the standard material culture approach in the pages of the Winterthur Portfolio in the early 1980s.

I am aware that a redefinition of wallpaper is also necessary if a renewed project of study is to succeed. I leave that aside until next issue on the grounds that a greater sensitivity to how it is studied - methodology - is also needed. The focus of wallpaper historiography in the US has been essentially wallpaper-as-decorative-art. Another important strand coming from England has been wallpaper-as-social-value. These have been discussed at some length in previous issues.

Vol. 1, No. 4 can be accessed here:

    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/rvfw-gy30

Vol. 1, No. 3: Wallpaper Values

Introduction

I. The Values of “The English Wallpaper Trade 1750-1830” (P. Mapes)


II. The Values of Wallpaper In America (C. Lynn)


III. Comparisons


IV. The Values of “Toward A Material History of Wallpaper” (B. Jacqué)

Introduction

Here’s a sketch about what Lynn and Mapes bring to bear and have in common: first, they often mention “values.” But despite this I find no consistent sense in the works under consideration that the remarkable continuity of wallpaper over 350 years is a cause for celebration. Instead, wallpaper becomes a sermon within their respective topics. Lynn’s topic is how wallpaper, through the medium of design, fills a role as applied art. Mapes’ topic is how wallpaper fits into consumer studies, whether those are social, economic, or decorative. Wallpaper illustrates their topics.


Lynn’s arguments follow cumulative and linear lines. Mapes’ methods are largely inferential. They depend on original work and on her interpretation of the work of many others. I intend no disparagement of anyone, or anyone’s work. But I am bound to say that I find many of the results dangling from the ends of Mapes’ inferential chains unconvincing.

On this account the failings of the thesis are mainly in execution; whereas the failings in WIA stem from a flawed premise: that wallpaper is a decorative art. My definition, which I will flesh out in future issues, comes from a very different perspective: I believe that wallpaper is a household object. Probably each of these authors would agree that wallpaper is a household object. But, wallpaper as a decorative art is clearly the center of gravity in their respective treatments.......


The essay can be accessed here:

The WALLPAPER Vol. 1, No. 3

Vol. 1, No. 2: Wallpaper and America

Volume 1, Number 2 of The WALLPAPER is an essay titled “Wallpaper and America,” a critique of the standard text in the field of historical wallpaper Wallpaper In America (1980) by Catherine Lynn. 

Below are excerpts.

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Lynn’s Wallpaper In America
 
WIA had the blessings of the art and design establishment of its day. But it also bears the unmistakable stamp of Catherine Lynn, trained as an art historian and schooled in the intricacies of wallpaper through her decade-long curation of the 10,000-item Cooper-Hewitt Museum wallpaper collection.


The Foreword by Charles Van Ravenswaay sets the tone. He quotes A. J. Downing that wallpaper should be chosen based on its “fitness and truthfulness” for the job at hand. The question of how truthful wallpaper can be runs through WIA. The forms that this truthfulness takes are also important. As we will see, the qualities of a given wallpaper - whether it is distinctive or imitative, for example - matter a great deal to Lynn.
 

WIA is essentially an aesthetic exercise. The cutoff date of 1914 was chosen by Lynn for two reasons specific to design: first, wallpaper by that date had been ignored by the “students and practitioners of contemporary architecture and design” for at least 20 years. Second, with the onset of World War I “the major movements in nineteenth-century design that affected wallpaper came to an end.” This comment is directed at the constant tug of war between French floral naturalism and British reform styles during the last half of the nineteenth century. 

Her Introduction addresses many of the ambiguities of wallpaper. Wallpaper is for rich and poor; it is machine-made and also hand-made. It is neither décoration fixe (part of the architecture), nor décoration mobile (movables). As a result of this in-between status, historical wallpaper is not often the subject of private collections. Yet, it is impossible to ignore if we want an accurate record of how people furnished their homes.....

The essay can be accessed here:

The WALLPAPER Vol. 1, No. 2

 

Vol. 1, No. 1: Three Views Of Wallpaper

Volume 1, Number 1 of The WALLPAPER is an essay titled “Three Views Of Wallpaper” which contrasts the approaches to wallpaper found in the work of Catherine Lynn, Bernard Jacquè and Phillippa Mapes. Below are excerpts.

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It’s past time to admit that the study of wallpaper in the United States is dead.

That should be cause for curiosity, if not alarm. Wallpaper crossed the ocean by 1700. Domestic production began in the 1760s and by 1850 at least 4 million rolls were being produced annually. The US went on to produce enormous amounts of wallpaper. Why then, are European books about historical wallpaper continually rolling off the press, while American wallpaper books are vintage in their own right and can be counted on one hand?

That question leads naturally to others: what is American wallpaper, as opposed to other types? For that matter, what is any wallpaper? Why has it been so popular? 


Over these first issues I shall compare and contrast the approach to wallpaper of Catherine Lynn, Phillippa Mapes, and Bernard Jacqué. In summary I will claim, and prove, that Jacqué’s view of wallpaper as material culture is superior to the other models for unlocking the significance of historical wallpaper.

Lynn’s masterwork published in 1980 rescued wallpaper from a century of critical neglect. Wallpaper In America opened consideration of wallpaper to the fields of sociology, philosophy, and economics. But while doing so Lynn fenced her subject within an art-historical framework. A close reading reveals that she interprets wallpaper design as the driving force in the wallpaper project. She holds that critical engagement with wallpaper design had all but ended by the 1880s with grave consequences for the significance of wallpaper itself.

For Mapes, wallpaper is a bundle of social values. Her inferential approach puts analysis in the center. She states that “…analysis of the wallpaper trade has necessitated a multi-disciplinary approach across business, marketing, urban and consumer histories, also contributing to each of these disciplines in turn.”

Meanwhile, Bernard Jacqué in his thesis “From The Workshop To The Wall” sees wallpaper as material culture. That Jacqué’s primary sources happen to center on the high-style French block-printed wallpaper surrounding him during his twenty-nine years at the Wallpaper Museum in Rixheim I take to be accidental.

Returning to the American problem, we’ve been in a black hole ever since Wallpaper In America came out, broken only by an exemplary study in 1986 (Wallpaper In New England) and a handful of journal articles about high-style wallpaper which viewed their subject from an art-historical perspective. In summary, after Nylander there was darkness.  


The essay can be accessed here: 


The WALLPAPER, Vol. 1, No. 1

About Jacqué's thesis and "the WALLPAPER"

In 2003 Bernard Jacqué wrote a doctoral thesis about wallpaper: ‘De La Manufacture Au Mur: Pour une histoire matérielle du papier peint, 1770-1914’.

The French original can be accessed at:
http://theses.univ-lyon2.fr/documents/lyon2/2003/jacque_b

This thesis, the title of which I have translated "From the Workshop to the Wall - Toward a Material History of Wallpaper" is large (600 pages, 2,300 footnotes) and important. Trust me.

"The WALLPAPER" newsletter is founded on an assumption: that the linchpin to an all-around better understanding of historical wallpaper, in all countries, is “Manufacture Au Mur," hereinafter "MauM." I have translated three parts of MauM (hopefully without wrecking them beyond repair) and those links are below.

"The WALLPAPER," on the other hand, is essentially a commentary, in monthly installments, on the thesis, for at least the first year of publication. You may subscribe by sending request to thewallpaper@roadrunner.com


This commentary is my own work and consists of adapting the lessons of the thesis to the American situation and to present-day wallpaper scholarship. Beyond any one detail or lesson, the focus of MauM is critically important. MauM is the first extended attempt to view wallpaper not as decorative art or applied art or as a minor art of any kind, but as material culture.

In other words, MauM dares to ask the question: outside of style, why is wallpaper important? 

Granted, there have been many books published about wallpaper over the last 20 or 30 years (not any about American wallpaper, mind you) but books published about wallpaper nonetheless. But few of these wallpaper books break new ground. And fewer still are written in English.

Instead, the most interesting writing has come from people with names like Velut, Koldeweij, Cerman, and Wailliez - the Europeans. As for major journal articles published in the US over the last twenty years, to the best of my knowledge there have been precisely three, and two were written by Bernard Jacqué. This only underscores that Jacqué is the most prolific writer about wallpaper of our age. Indeed, of any age. So that the volume as well as the quality of Jacqué’s writing is a factor in putting his thesis at the forefront of the agenda of "The WALLPAPER."

After Jacqué’s thesis I judge the second most significant English-language publication about wallpaper over the last 17 years as David Skinner's book about Irish wallpaper. Skinner took Catherine Lynn's approach. His broadly-based archival research searched well beyond the scant visual evidence to find the social, economic, and personal stories that needed telling. Next most important publication might arguably be the catalog about Chinese wallpapers in National Trust houses authored by Andrew Bush, Emile de Bruijn, and Helen Clifford.

For the rest in the Anglo/American world, I note four theses as worthy of study, all from the UK, and all freely available to browse on the internet: those of Clare Taylor, Phillippa Mapes, Wendy Andrews, and Anna Wu.

Taylor: ‘Figured Paper For Hanging Rooms’
http://oro.open.ac.uk/60714/1/518280_Vol1.pdf

Mapes: The English Wallpaper Trade, 1750 - 1830
https://core.ac.uk/display/76987513

Andrews: The Cowtan Order Books, 1824-1938
https://www.martincentre.arct.cam.ac.uk/downloads/wd-andrews-phd-thesis-2017/view

Wu: Chinese Wallpaper, Global Histories, and Material Culture
https://tinyurl.com/wlywor5

Some final words about the thesis. In compiling this massive work, Jacqué kept his nose to the grindstone.

He did, however, allow himself one personal memory. It's about a boy's visit to the Wallpaper Museum in Rixheim. This youngster took in the panoramic views of 'Scenic America' with great excitement. He knew this one! A recent reissue had been hung in his grandmother's house. Everyone was enjoying the moment until the boy began reviewing the troops near West Point. Something caught his attention. Much to his disappointment, THESE soldiers in the museum sported brilliant red plumes; whereas the same soldiers back at grandma's house had none! Jacqué comments: “...a printer had failed in his task - and only a child's eye's could see it."

I thought of this boy and this anecdote when reviewing Jean Zuber's earliest successes after taking over the factory in 1802. For it is a fact that this young visitor to the Wallpaper Museum was walking on the same wooden floors where children not much older or younger than he had toiled throughout much of the nineteenth century.

In a typical year, the Zuber factory employed 200 workers. At least a quarter (50) of these workers were between the ages of 8 and 12. Indeed, during the 1790s the proportion of child labor was double that - half of the entire work force. Jacqué repeatedly brings home that the low price of labor in the quasi-feudal village of Rixheim, a dependency of the independent city of Mulhouse, was a significant factor in the success of Zuber. Labor cost less than in Paris, Lyon, and other French cities. 

And this is just one example of the value of the thesis. We may come away with the same conclusion: that the French dominated luxury wallpaper-printing in the long nineteenth century, and that therefore Malaine, the artistic director, as well as other artisans, deserved the gold medals handed out at international exhibitions. 


But thanks to Jacqué's unblinking assessment we know that the provision of beautiful ornaments for parlor walls also depended, to a significant degree, on the willing hearts and tiny hands of children.

_____________________

Three selections from Jacqué's thesis are presented in English-language versions (the links lead to a PDF):

1: A Historiography of Wallpaper, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/rzsz-6286

2: Zuber’s ‘Indépendance’ (1853) a hand-painted restatement of ‘Scenic America’ (1835), 
http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/jnr1-zv39

3: The Scenic Revival of the 20th Century, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/e87a-2350