This French sidewall, produced ca. 1845, was block-printed in grisaille tones on a light gray background. Vignettes of daily life in a country village ride magic carpet-like atop grassy meadows. The vignettes are framed by the foliage and trunks of large trees, and two columns each feature alternating pairs of vertically repeating scenes. The left-hand column shows a maiden walking down a dirt road, holding what appears to be a bouquet of flowers. She looks wistfully over her shoulder at a white church in the background. This scene alternates with an image of two swans, swimming serenely in a pond surrounded by classical archways. The right-hand column shows a young couple courting under the supervision of a chaperone in between scenes of a husband gazing dotingly upon his wife and young child.
This sidewall would probably have been used in the parlor or receiving room of a middle to upper-middleclass family, as the relatively few printed colors would have made the complex figural paper relatively affordable. The neutral coloring would also set the perfect background for brightly colored draperies, upholstery and carpets. The subject matter is innocent, pleasant and above all, appropriate. The single maiden dreams of love (symbolized by the swans), but only in the context of marriage within a church. A young man and woman arrange a rendezvous, which is made acceptable by the presence of the young woman’s chaperone. Lastly, a happily married couple illustrate the joy attainable through adherence to the socially constructed morals of the nineteenth century. By hanging this paper in one’s home, the family values of the household would have been readily apparent to any visitors.
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.