The backstory of wallpaper

The Print Room at Blickling Hall, containing 52 European prints in paper frames, originally hung in the late eighteenth century and restored in 1974. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Print Room at Blickling Hall, containing 52 European prints in paper frames, originally hung in the late eighteenth century and restored in 1974. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

I have been perusing the recently-published book The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750. The book investigates the history of wallpaper from the perspective of its makers, sellers and hangers and is written by Robert M. Kelly, a historic wallpaper consultant and installer based in Lee, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Cupid after Angelica Kauffman, one of the pictures in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Downloaded

Cupid after Angelica Kauffman, one of the pictures in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Downloaded

Robert’s biography to date is wonderfully picaresque and includes teaching guitar in south side Chicago in 1968, a stint in a commune in the Rocky Mountains and working as a house-painter and paper-hanger in Munich (Bavaria, not North Dakota) before returning to the USA and becoming increasingly skilled and knowledgeable in the field of historic paint finishes and wallpapers.

The Chinese Room at Erddig, created in the 1770s, with Chinese pictures pasted onto its walls. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese Room at Erddig, created in the 1770s, with Chinese pictures pasted onto its walls. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the subjects discussed in The Backstory of Wallpaper is the development of the ‘print room’, the eighteenth-century practice of decorating walls by pasting prints with decorative borders onto them.

One of the Chinese paintings on paper used in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the Chinese paintings on paper used in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As Robert describes, some of these print rooms were made up with Chinese pictures and prints, as in the case of the 88 ‘Indian pictures’ hung by cabinetmaker Benjamin Goodison for the Countess of Cardigan (later Duchess of Montagu) in 1742.

Another Kauffman Cupid in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Another Kauffman Cupid in the Print Room at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Horace Walpole seems to have used European prints in a similar way at Strawberry Hill in 1753, and interestingly he describes them as hung in the ‘new manner invented by Lord Cardigan’.

Rectangular Chinese picture on paper showing a stage in the production of silk. in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Rectangular Chinese picture on paper showing a stage in the production of silk. in the Chinese Room at Erddig. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The research for the forthcoming catalogue of Chinese wallpapers in the houses of the National Trust has suggested that such ‘Pinterest-style’ use of prints may have been the inspiration for the development of ‘proper’ Chinese wallpaper. However, print rooms using Chinese pictures remained popular even after the development of Chinese wallpaper – as usual, history refuses to follow a straighforwardly logical path.

10 Responses to “The backstory of wallpaper”

  1. Sandra Jonas Says:

    That is fascinating! I learn so much for your posts.

  2. robert Says:

    Emile, Memory (such as it is) serves that at least one or more of the famous Lennox sister, daughters of the 2nd duke of Richmond created a brilliant print room at Castletown House and perhaps one of her sisters at another house. I have a passion for Chinese wallpapers as well as for Print Rooms. Thank you for this post.
    Robert

  3. imogen88 Says:

    Nice follow on from the “pinterest” posting. Good reading post and the book sounds like a good read too.

  4. deana Says:

    Robert brings up an interesting point, were the print rooms often created by the upper-classes and not just tradespeople? It seems likely they didn’t physically paste them (servants on ladders moving to instruction?) although Byron did do a boxing screen himself — the original DIY? I wonder, is there material on this fashion?

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Sandra, thank you.

    Robert, yes indeed, here is the Castletown one, done by two of the sisters, Louisa and Sarah, in 1768: http://bit.ly/1cUK4aJ

    And here is the Chinese Room at Carton, decorated in 1759 by yet another of the sisters, Emily, Countess of Kildare: http://bit.ly/VbN6Kz (fifth image from top)

    Imogen, glad you like both.

    Deana, good point. In his book Robert posits that most of these schemes were probably hung by professionals (because it would have been technically quite challenging to do for an amateur), but that the ladies of the household mostly made the the decorative choices – just as today we might choose a wallpaper but leave it to a professional to hang it. And in our Chinese wallpaper research, too, we have found a number of references to decorating firms such as Crompton & Spinnage and Bromwich & Leigh creating Chinese ‘print room’ schemes, giving people a choice of material but then hanging it neatly and professionally for them.

  6. thewallpaperlady Says:

    I had the lucky opportunity to hear Bob give his talk in person, at this past September’s convention of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers (NGPP). His info is well researched and sooo interesting, and he is a great story-teller, with a dry sneak-up-from-behind sense of humor.
    You can buy the book from him – well worth hunting down.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you Wallpaperlady. Some of Bob’s humour is evident in his writing style, too:)

  8. Robert M. Kelly Says:

    Thanks for recent comments, they are appreciated. Maybe it’s not clear that this title is also printed in England, and available from:

    http://www.foyles.co.uk/mpitem/marketplace/-9780985656102

    and

    The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750

    The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750

    Buy from Amazon

  9. Helene Says:

    Hello Emile,
    I am enjoying the Chinese, and other, wallpaper trails. I have long been a fan of hand painted Chinese wallpaper since first seeing it in a room at Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire. A couple of weeks ago I went to the Houghton Revisited exhibition and was delighted to see one of the rooms decorated in a wonderful blue Chinese paper with birds and flowers, tremendously detailed if you looked closely and the colours still incredibly vivid and unfaded. I was told it was it was laid on a silk backing and hung horizontally. It was certainly a refreshing contrast to William Kent’s deliciously opulent but occasionally overpowering rooms.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helene, how nice to hear from you! As a matter of fact I hope to see the Broughton Castle wallpaper this week. And yes that Houghton wallpaper is very striking, with its very lightly coloured or white flowers and foliage against that deep blue background. I wonder how it kept its colour so well? It reminds me a bit of the green-ground wallpaper at Winfield House, Regent’s Park (originally at Townley Hall, Co. Louth), which also has a lot of white foliage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 800 other followers

%d bloggers like this: