The fables attributed to the ancient Greek slave, Aesop, have remained relevant for thousands of years and been depicted by countless generations. Here we see an old favorite, “The Fox and the Crow,” retold through the magic of wallpaper. This paper was made in France, c. 1840, and the design is block-printed on white satin ground. The panel is done in the Greek Revival style, which is most certainly a nod to Aesop’s classical heritage. The edges of the panel are bordered with columns of grapevines strung between pearl-edged medallions of coral and brick red. Symmetrical arabesques and songbirds in blues, greens, pinks and browns frame a rectangular vignette containing the titular scene. Within the vignette, a crow sits in a tree holding a large piece of cheese in its beak. A fox waits below, hungrily eying the cheese. The animals’ interaction takes place against a black background framed by a blue, rectilinear border. Those familiar with the tale will know that the fox is hard at work, using flattery to convince the crow to open his beak and sing. Unfortunately for the crow, the fox doesn’t really care about singing – he only wants the crow to drop the cheese.
Wallpapers containing moralistic messages were commonly made for children’s rooms and nurseries in the later nineteenth-century, but the early date and formal aesthetic of this particular paper makes it difficult to definitively categorize as a children’s wallpaper. Regardless of the intended age of the audience, the moralistic message of the wallpaper is meant to be seen. The dark, angular surround of the fox and crow vignette cause it to stand out from the frilly surroundings and assert its presence. Perhaps it was hung in a parlor or other area where conversation frequently occurred, acting as a subtle reminder to those who would find themselves too easily charmed by flattery from new acquaintances.
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.