Sometimes beautiful objects disappear from view for a while, and when they re-emerge part of their history has been forgotten. This happened with the Chinese House at Stowe, but it also seems to have happened to an unusual Chinese wallpaper which has just been published in Architectural Digest.
A while ago I spotted this Chinese wallpaper in a post by the Down East Dilettante. It had been painted with garden walls and trellises, which seems to be a rather rare feature. It had been hung in the ballroom of the penthouse of media tycoon Condé Nast, at 1040 Park Avenue, New York, by decorator Elsie de Wolfe in 1924.
The Dilettante also mentioned it in a comment on my post about the Chinese wallpapers at Saltram, which in turn elicited a reply from Jennifer Gracie, director of the eponymous New York family firm which has been supplying furnishings, wallpaper, painted decoration and antiques since 1898. Jennifer told us that Gracie had acquired the paper after Nast’s penthouse was sold and dismantled in 1943. And very recently they had supplied sections of it for the New York apartment of interior designer Michael S. Smith and James Costos, which has now been published in the September 2012 issue of Architectural Digest.
Jennifer also sent me an image from Nancy McClelland’s 1924 book Historic Wallpapers which showed the wallpaper when it was owned by Ida Weaver, the wife of coal and railroad baron John Heisley Weaver of Merion, Pennsylvania. Various sources indicate that it had come from Beaudesert, the Staffordshire country house of the Paget family, Marquesses of Anglesey. As much of the contents of Beaudesert was sold in 1921, the wallpaper may have then made its way to Mrs Weaver, but it probably wasn’t hung, as it turned up very soon afterwards in Condé Nast’s penthouse.
Beaudesert had then only recently been comprehensively redecorated by the interior designer Captain Harry Lindsay for the 6th Marquess of Anglesey. Between 1909 and 1912 Lindsay created sumptuously historicist interiors at Beaudesert which included as many as five rooms with Chinese wallpapers. The house was published in Country Life in two articles by Henry Avray Tipping in the issues of 22 and 29 November 1919. But following the First World War the economic outlook for landed families worsened and the Paget family gave up Beaudesert and concentrated on their other country house, Plas Newydd.
There is a tantalising reference in the McClelland book to the wallpaper having been in the attic of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire – presumably unused and in storage – before it came to Beaudesert. So thanks to the Dilettante and to Jennifer Gracie we can now propose the following tentative ‘biography’ for this wallpaper:
- Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, unused?
- Beaudesert, Staffordshire, hung 1909-12, sold 1921?
- Mrs Ida Irona Weaver, Maroebe, Merion, Pennsylvania, pre-1924?
- Condé Nast’s penthouse at 1040 Park Avenue, New York, installed by Elsie de Wolfe by 1924
- Acquired by Gracie after 1943
- Supplied by Gracie for the apartment of Michael S. Smith and James Costos, New York, 2011