The Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle. The Chinese wallpaper probably dates from about 1800, but the room was put together in the 1830s. ©NTPL/Michael Caldwell
A little while ago we were speculating about the similarities between different panels of Chinese wallpaper, and wondering whether they might have come from the same workshop. Ming Wilson, senior curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, has now told me that hardly anything at all is known about the workshops that made these wallpapers. So far no records about them have been identified in China. The only available documentation relates to their importation and use in Europe.
Eighteenth-century Japanese lacquer cabinet in the Lower India Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond
Chinese art historians are certainly interested in these wallpapers, so hopefully they will discover some sources sooner or later. But until then the best thing we can do is conserve and study the surviving examples, so that we can at least identify what they were made of and how they were made.
Late eighteenth-century Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Penrhyn. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel
On that point, my colleague Andrew Bush (paper conservation adviser for the National Trust) has just told me that some of the decorative elements on these wallpapers were in fact printed onto the paper, with wooden blocks. This may account for some of the similarities between different papers. The designs would then be filled out and finished by hand.
Penrhyn Castle, with the Cambrian Mountains in the distance. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus
The examples shown here are from Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, Wales. This extraordinary fantasy castle was built by Thomas Hopper in the 1820s and 1830s for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, who had inherited the extensive Penrhyn estate from a cousin. He also inherited West Indian sugar plantations, and the income from those, as well as from a nearby slate quarry, allowed him to build the castle.
Detail of the State Bedroom showing a Louis XIV desk and an English Rococo mirror hanging against the Chinese wallpaper. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel
Hopper designed the castle in Norman style, using examples surviving elsewhere in Britain as his models. He designed the furniture and fittings in the same style, and these were combined with antiques and works of art to create a dramatic and rich ensemble.