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.


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