This handsome nineteenth century French paper features a block printed pattern of white and gray on a powder-blue background. Rococo Revival scrollwork frames two alternating landscape vignettes of far off and exotic destinations, and the whole pattern repeats vertically. Once scene show idyllic islands topped with classical columned temples. Wind-blown trees, flying gulls and a pair of dignified swans add romance to the picture. The second landscape presents a spindly mosque, its three onion dome towers stretching upwards towards gigantic palm trees. The mosque, too, sits on an island amid tranquil waters. Sections of foliate scrollwork separate the two scenes, and match the frames that border them.
Made during the eighteen-forties, this paper was produced during what has been described as “the golden age of French Wallpaper”(1). An increasing number of affluent bourgeoisie with discerning tastes, and the perfection of centuries-old block printing techniques created an environment where manufacturers had both the necessary consumer base and the technical know-how to produce large amounts of high-quality, innovative papers. Working mainly out of Paris, wallpaper companies hired designers who were expected to be up to date on the latest fashions(2), ready to interpret current trends in the decorative arts as skillfully executed wallpapers.
The excellent reputation of French papers created demand throughout the rest of Europe and the Americas. This particular piece ended up in the collections of Weikersheim Palace in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, where it stayed until it was donated to the Cooper Hewitt in 1952.
See this work on view beginning December 12 in the Immersion Room, an opening exhibition that features selected wallcoverings projected onto the walls at full scale and an interactive design table where visitors can create their own.
1) Hoskins, The Papered Wall, 56
2) Ibid., 58
Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department