Traditionally, wallpapers have imitated more expensive materials, such as architectural details, painted wall decorations, wood grains, marble, and, most often, textiles. In the mid-18th century when wallpapered rooms became a prevailing fashion in England and France, wallpaper borders were as important a decorative element as the coverings themselves. A brilliant swag of printed paper flowers, for example, might be used to outline a ceiling below the cornices, or a pair of hand blocked trompe l’oeil columns to accentuate a doorway. Because the eye is drawn up, a border can make the ceilings seem higher than they really are. Wallpaper borders also became popular for more practical reasons. They covered the raw edge of the wallpaper, and offered a less expensive option for depicting sophisticated architectural detailing.
This wallpaper is flocked which means it was made to imitate cut velvet hangings. Flocking was used to embellish designs in every style, from florals to borders and trompe-l’oeil printed ‘draperies.’ Flocked wallpaper was more expensive than other block-printed papers and most surviving examples come from the houses of the wealthy. The luxurious aristocratic associations of flocked papers continued into the mid-19th century. It is unlikely that flocked wallpaper would have been used in a dining room because these papers tended to hold on to the smell of food. They also gathered dirt and dust, and were therefore generally considered to be impractical in a dining or kitchen context.
The alternating layers of imitated textiles and swags truly look as though they have depth. The use of bright baby blue, pink, white, green, and orange makes for a visually stimulating frieze that would have definitely attracted and impressed the viewer’s eye.
Emily FitzGerald 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.