The Chinese wallpapers at Saltram

Chinese picture used as wallpaper in the Study at Saltram. ©NTPL/John Hammond

After the recent flurry of posts about Chinese wallpapers and related subjects, both on this blog and on Style Court and Little Augury, I wanted to show a few of the intriguing eighteenth-century papers that have inspired the ones being created today by Fromental and De Gournay.

The Study, showing the astonishingly varied arrangement of papers used to decorate the walls. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Saltram, in Devon, was rebuilt and redecorated in the 1740s for John Parker and his heiress wife, Lady Catherine, daughter of the 1st Earl Poulett. They introduced high-quality plasterwork and also a variety of Chinese wallpapers.

A garden scene, in the Study. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The walls of the Study have a collection of sections of wallpaper and decorative pictures on paper of widely differing sizes and subjects divided and framed by (European) key-fret strips. It has the phantasmagoric feeling of a room-size picture book.

The Chinese Chippendale Bedroom. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Chinese Chippendale bedroom has a panoramic ‘wallpaper’, which in fact is a painted silk hanging showing people engaged in various occupations and industries. Mid-eighteenth-century Chinese paintings on glass hang on top of the wallpaper, and the chairs and hanging shelves with chinoiserie fretwork further enhance the exotic feeling of the room.

The Chinese Dressing Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The wallpaper in the Chinese Dressing Room, painted on mulberry paper, is probably the oldest at Saltram, dating from the early eighteenth century, and depicts elegant people in a garden setting.

A number of the panels are repeated, and various birds and other elements have been cut out from other papers and pasted in, showing how the decorative value of the pattern was valued more than its realistic content.

One of the mirror paintings in the Mirror Room, with the panoramic paper behind. NTPL/Rob Matheson

The paper in the so-called Mirror Room was moved here in recent times from a room not on view to the public. It is made up of sections of a panoramic wallpaper, again augmented by glass paintings, fretwork furniture, lacquer and porcelain.

Many grand houses would have had more than one Chinese wallpaper in the past, but Saltram is one of the few where so many of them survive.

23 Responses to “The Chinese wallpapers at Saltram”

  1. Mary Tindukasiri Says:

    These posts have left me craving more. The mirror paintings and frames are breath-taking. Thank you.

  2. Walls Surround You Says:

    Truly extraordinary! Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. downeastdilettante Says:

    High on the list of things I crave but may never own, a set of 18th century Chinese wallpapers.

    Slightly off-topic, these remind me of a stunning, near-abstract set purchased from the Marquess of Anglsey at Beau Desert by Elsie de Wolfe for the New York apartment of publisher Conde Nast. Since unlike at Saltram, nothing stays in place long in New York, I wonder where the paper has wound up today, or if it survives/

    • Jennifer Gracie Says:

      It does survive, and was purchased last year from us by Michael Smith. You can see it in his New York home in the September Architectural Digest.

      • Emile de Bruijn Says:

        Jennifer, how fascinating that this wallpaper has found a new home – I must try to get that issue of AD. As the Dilettante says, it seems to be quite unusual in being so ‘architectural’ and bold.

        I previously showed a bed with Chinese silk that also originally came from Beaudesert (, and that dates to about 1720, the time of Henry Paget, 1st Earl of Uxbridge of the 1st creation.

        The Condé Nast/Michael Smith wallpaper is probably slightly later, and could have been installed at Beaudesert either in 1771-1772, when James Wyatt remodelled the house for Henry Bayley Paget, 1st Earl of Uxbridge of the 2nd creation, or in the 1820s, when there was a further phase of remodelling by Joseph Potter for Henry William Paget, the 1st Marquess of Anglesey (who lost a leg at Waterloo).

        So at Beaudesert there seem to have been several different generations who were into chinoiserie.

        Equally, Chinese wallpapers were popular at different points in time: in the mid-eighteenth century, and again in the Regency period, and then again the 1920s and 1930s, and once again now – which makes them such a fascinating barometer of taste.

  4. thedowneastdilettante Says:

    Forgot to include a link to the Conde Nast paper:

  5. frenzzee Says:

    So enjoy these posts! Arrived via PigtownDesign and am thrilled to be a recipient of your depth of knowledge, excellent pics and access to glorious decorative arts.
    Keep up the stellar work! And thank you!

  6. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    These are all stunning, and I especially like the Chinese Dressing Room, which looks so contemporary. I imagine these wallpapers go beyond decoration to now also document aspects of Chinese life that have disappeared. Are Chinese scholars interested in these papers, or are there enough examples left in China?

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mary, thanks very much. You can see some of the other mirror paintings at Saltram here:

    Superstrata, glad you like this.

    Dilettante, I have never seen a Chinese wallpaper with such a prominent decorative garden wall in it like that one – conveying the feeling of sitting in your mansion surveying your artfully arranged courtyard garden. Wonderful. And interestingly there is a baroque bed at Plas Newydd, another Paget (Anglesey) family house, now owned by the National Trust, covered in Chinese silk, which also originally came from from Beadesert ( So things get moved around in the UK too 🙂 It may even have shared the same room as the Condé Nast wallpaper – I don’t know how many ‘Chinese’ rooms Beadesert had.

    Frenzzee, thank you for your kind words.

    Mark, yes the wallpapers can be very realistic, showing plants and birds in accurate detail for instance. Even the ‘Long Eliza’ willowy ladies in their other-worldly gardens may reflect some kind of historical reality, as Qing-period upper-class women would have been restricted in their movements and public appearances and would have spent much of their time in such mansion-with-walled-garden settings.

    Apparently Chinese scholars are starting to take an interest in these wallpapers, but because they were originally made exclusively for export no examples are known to ave survived in China itself, and no records have as yet been found about the workshops that produced them. And the documentation in the west is mainly about how they were purchased and imported. It would be very exciting if some original Chinese documents about them did come to light!

  8. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    What beautiful examples of timeless wallpapers. Particularly enjoyed the one in the bedroom. Just gorgeous dahhling.

  9. Rosemary Says:

    I believe the revival in Chinese wallpaper is growing. You may be interested to see some lovely paper that I showed on my blog on the 15th September at Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire which I think is stunning.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you, HRH.

    Rosemary, that paper at Broughton Castle is wonderful, such fresh and intense colours – thank you for sharing that. For other readers, here is a link to Rosemary’s post:

  11. Andrew Says:

    How odd – I visited Saltram only a couple of years ago, and don’t recall the wallpapers at all (unlike, for example, the embossed leather at Dyrham). But then you get a very different visiting experience when you are accompanied by small children! Interesting wallpaper can make a good distraction (How many animals can you see? What are the people doing?). The woodland walks in the gardens and the outbuildings – icehouse and orangery, I think – made more of an impression.

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, your comment illustrates how historic houses have something for everybody – a bit of art, a bit of architecture, a bit of antique technology and a bit of nature 🙂

    I know what you mean about the interests of small children. My two-and-a-half-year-old son is mainly into balls, balloons, sticks and animals.

  13. style court Says:


    Thanks so much for highlighting the study. That grid created by the key-fret strips is something much less expected (for many of us, at least) and I think the approach will inspire contemporary designers. Endless possibilities.

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes it is fascinating and also satisfying in a decorative way isn’t it? You occasionally see this use of decorative strips with Chinese wallpapers, especially if the scheme consists of various disparate pictures. I read somewhere that the concept of the ‘print room’, with a selection of prints pasted to the walls with paper borders around them, was inspired by the look of these ‘mixed’ Chinese wallpaper rooms.

  15. Andrew Says:

    Re Conde Nast, I don’t seem to be able to reply in the right place above, but downeastdilettante seems to have found a photo of (part of) the ballroom here –

  16. Andrew Says:

    Ah! Found a couple of photographs, including one in colour, here:

  17. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, thanks again very much – that photo is also interesting in how it shows the pattern of the wallpaper being continued on the cabinets, a very ‘decorator’ thing to do 🙂

    Jennifer has very kindly sent me some more information and sources, from which it appears that that particular wallapper was initially at Welbeck Abbey (in the attic, so perhaps it wasn’t actually used there), then in the Ballroom at at Beaudesert, then with Mrs J.H. Weaver, the wife of a Pennsylvania coal and railroad entrepreneur, in the early 1920s, then with Condé Nast by the end of 1924, then with Gracie post-WWII and now with Michael S. Smith. Quite a life it’s had.

    But much of the chronology is still a bit hazy: When was it originally produced – the Regency period perhaps? Are or were there chinoiserie interiors at Welbeck? Who installed it at Beaudesert and when? Mary (‘Minna’), third wife of the fourth Marquess of Anglesey, knew Elsie de Wolfe, but was she instrumental in the transfer of the wallpaper from Beaudesert to the US?

    Its use in a ballroom at Beaudesert also seems noteworthy, as Chinese wallpapers had previously been used in the more private rooms – which makes the question as to when it was installed there all the more interesting.

    More questions than answers, as usual 🙂

  18. Andrew Says:

    Re Welbeck Abbey, indeed, see p.54 of the same book – – which says the wallpaper was “found in the attic”. See also p.233 and 234 of this book –

    Perhaps the paper was acquired but never installed? I think there were substantial building works at Welbeck Abbey in the 1740s, for the dowager Countess of Oxford, and in the 1790s. by her grandson, the 3rd Duke of Portland.

    Beaudesert was remodelled at various points in the late 18th and early 19th century. There was a fire at Beaudesert in 1909 and then substantial renovation works, but the 5th Marquess of Anglesey had spent much of the family fortune before his death in 1905, and the 6th Marquess moved away to another house in 1920 and sold the remaining furniture. Perhaps the wallpaper was included in the sale catalogue in 1920/21? The house was sold for £800 in 1932 and partially demolished. Shocking, really, but so many great houses were lost in the 20th century.

  19. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much for those links. I agree with you that the fact that they were in the attic at Welbeck suggests they were unused there.

    If I had to guess when they came to Welbeck I would go for the 1790s date you mention, as they somehow remind me of some of the Chinese wallpapers at the Royal Pavilion, which might indicate a Regency date. Pure speculation of course, which would have to be verified by research in the Cavendish-Bentinck family papers.

    As you say, there was remodelling going on at Beaudesert in 1771-2 for Henry Bailey Paget, 1st Earl of Uxbridge of the 2nd creation, and in the 1820s for Henry William Paget, 1st Marques of Anglesey.

    The 1770s would seem to be too early for Chinese wallpaper in a ballroom, as chinoiserie then still tended to be confined to more private rooms. I suppose it is possible that a chinoiserie ballroom was created at Beaudesert in the 1820s, perhaps in emulation of George IV’s chinoiserie Banqueting Room and Music Room at the Royal Pavilion. Or it could have been done at the end of the nineteenth century, perhaps by Minna, the (3rd) 4th Marchioness, during her tenure between 1880 and 1898, or at the beginning of the twentieth century by Marjorie, 6th Marchioness, after the 6th Marquess succeeded in 1905 (as you say) and before they moved permanently to Plas Newydd in 1920 (and likely before 1914). Again as you say there was redecoration after the 1909 fire, but that seems to have been rather historicist, in sixteenth-century style. So many questions 🙂 I should try to find the 1921 sale catalogue.

  20. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I have just read that there was a Blue Bedroom at Beaudesert which was hung with an eighteenth-century Chinese wallpaper. Michael Hall mentions it in his article on the Hinton House state bed in Country Life (May 2, 2012 issue, pp. 130-133). He mentions that that bed was bought by the 6th Lord Anglesey in about 1910 and installed in the Blue Bedroom at Beaudesert, which was then renamed the Queen Anne Bedroom in reference to the date of the bed.

    So presumably that was part of the redecorations at Beaudesert following the 1909 fire, and it is interesting that that redecoration wasn’t entirely sixteenth century in character, as I was led to believe by another reference, and appears to have respected eighteenth-century elements like the Chinese wallpaper in the Blue/Queen Anne Bedroom.

    So we seem to have three potential windows for the installation of the Chinese wallpaper in the Ballroom at Beaudesert:

    – 1820s: Chinoiserie was fashionable in the circles around George IV, and the 1st Marquess of Anglesey knew the King, and had the means to install such expensive decoration; but it seems an early date for a Chinese wallpaper in a ballroom

    – 1880-1898: when Minna, the 3rd 4th Marchioness was in charge, who later got to know Elsie de Wolfe, who in turn installed the wallpaper in the Condé Nast penthouse; and a chinoiserie ballroom would seem to be a more likely concept at this time; but on the other hand Minna may simply have been instrumental in selling the wallpaper to Elsie (or alerting her to its sale), and not necessarily in originally installing it.

    – 1909-1914 (or 1905-1921): as substantial redecoration was undertaken at Beaudesert by the 6th Marquess and Marchioness following the 1909 fire and before the contents were sold in 1921, (and presumably before the outbreak of WWI in 1914).

    I wonder if photographs survive of the interiors of Beaudesert post 1909 – it must have been a remarkable example of grand Edwardian historicist tast – and so tragically short-lived.

    I will try to contact the curator at Temple Newsam (where the Hinton bed is now, beautifully restored) mentioned in Michael Hall’s article, to find out if she knows more about the history of Beaudesert, and if not who does.

  21. Andrew Says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing photos in the September edition of Architectural Digest!

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