This lovely nineteenth-century panel is a testament to the Hewitt sisters’ affinity for fine French wallpapers, and perfect for those who wish everyday was St. Valentine’s Day. It was block printed on handmade paper c.1810, just a few decades before continuous roles of machine-made paper became the industry standard. The top edge of the paper features an elaborate trompe l’oeil cornice and a festooned, lace-edged curtain of white fabric with a garland of pink roses hanging from two gold rosettes. A string of gold beads is also suspended between the rosettes, and is held by two cupids tending a basket of pink flowers that rests on top of the draped curtain. Pink and green tassels dangle below the curtain arrangement, and are matched by two more tassels present on the bottom corners of the panel. A border of lozenges of intertwined cord and a border of lace create the vertical boundaries of the panel. The bottom edge is finished with an acanthus leaf border. In the center of the panel, cupid rests on a cloud with his lyre and quiver. At the bottom of the panel, he hides behind a rose tree and sneakily proffers one of his arrows to a seated maiden. The bottom scene is contained in a white bowl with gilded swan-shaped supports. The warm palette of beiges, golds, pinks and greens gives the paper a very soft and unobtrusive feel in spite of the involved pattern. A close look reveals that this panel is actually composed of three separate sections, and that matching borders have been applied (not very exactingly) to the top and bottom of the central sheet. The pattern formula of this design – two vertically arranged motifs with striped borders topped by drapery – is commonly found on French wallpapers of the early nineteenth century. A large-scale, formal pattern such as this would most likely have been hung in a hallway, parlor or dining room.
Anna Rasche is a master’s student in the Parsons-Cooper Hewitt History of Design and Curatorial Studies program, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.