A colorful scene plays out against a background of impressive classical columns in this handmade French paper dated to the 1820s. A musical quartet featuring a cellist, two violinists and a harpsichord player crowd atop a lush, green carpet to give an exclusive concert. Listening to the music are a regal couple seated in elegant armchairs, and two standing courtiers. All parties are outfitted in luxurious, jewel-toned robes and several figures wear fanciful turbans. One of the seated figures wears a saffron gown draped with a rich, blue overlay and trimmed with a white fur collar. He sports an impressive beard, which is set off by a jeweled turban and heavy gold chain. He does not appear to be enjoying the concert very much, and the eyes of all the other listeners and players are focused on him, eagerly awaiting a sign of approval.

Figural papers like this one were often based off artworks exhibited at the Paris Salon, or were taken from illustrations in popular publications. No doubt this particular scene makes reference to a work that would have been familiar at the time of the paper’s production (c.1825-1826). Commonly portrayed are biblical and mythological tales, and scenes from exotic locations that could transport the viewer to distant lands. Though the costume of our concert goers alludes to the Orient, the instruments, chairs and visages of the ladies are decidedly Western. For the moment, any possible allegorical connotations remain a mystery.

Another mystery, is whether this piece would have been used as an overdoor or a firescreen. In the early nineteenth century, decorative panels such as this were popularly installed in the space between a doorframe and the ceiling. But, they were also used to cover up an unused fireplace during warmer months. Measuring 82.5 x 112 cm, it’s difficult to determine which empty space this little concert was destined to play in.

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program

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