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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.