The exuberance of pre-WWI style is captured with great panache in this French sidewall c. 1905 – 1913. Cherry blossoms, hanging orchids and host of other gigantic pink flowers burst out from a gnarled moss-laden branch, which snakes its way up the panel. An in-your-face cockatoo, rendered in riotous rainbow colors sits front and center, stealing the show from a slightly more subtle tropical bird that peeks out from behind a colorful spray of fringy leaves in the lower left-hand corner. The dark navy background contrasts wonderfully with the bright colors of the fanciful jungle foliage, and when combined with the lively movement of branches and surprised look of the cockatoo, makes it appear that one has stumbled upon a wonderfully-lit midnight party.

By the time of this wallpaper’s manufacture, the Art Nouveau aesthetic had become quite a trend. Fluid, curvilinear depictions of natural motifs, informed by the art of Japan and the Far East, adorned everything from dressing gowns to subway stations. The Art Nouveau influence can be seen in this wallpaper in the graceful curves of the branches, leaves and petals, and in the luxurious rendering of the birds’ plumage. Though most early twentieth-century European wallpaper manufacturers relied on modern machine-printing methods, many French firms, like Zuber who produced this paper, continued to utilize traditional block-printing methods in the production of luxury wallpapers. With at least seventeen different colors (and therefore different blocks) needed to create this design, this wallpaper represents a harmonious meeting of artistic and technical ability.

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.

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