I recently had the pleasure of photographing two rather large window shades that had never really been viewed before, due to their large size and fragile nature. These are part of a group of four shades, with each being contained in a rather simple but elegant wood cornice. The two shades that were photographed had been removed from the cornices at an earlier date, making them more accessible. These were made in China and are hand painted on a patterned silk. While all are painted in a similar style each is unique. Each shade features vining trees covered with a variety of exotic blossoms and bamboo. Brightly colored birds alight on the branches while additional birds and butterflies can be seen flying through the foliage. Large bizarre rock outcroppings are included in each panel.

I don’t know the exact provenance of these shades but they were gifted to the museum by one of its founders, Eleanor Hewitt. Not much research has been done on window shades of this sort but the Chinese hand painted wallpapers were always among the most expensive to purchase. These shades are approximately twelve feet in length so were used in a room with high ceilings, most likely one of the more formal rooms used for entertaining.

These shades are painted in the same fashion as the Chinese hand painted wallpapers that were made for export beginning late in the seventeenth century. The Chinese wallpapers are thought to have started the fashion for wallpaper in Europe and America.

This Chinese shade is part of a larger group of window shades and curtain papers at the museum. Other significant shades include one from the New York Crystal Palace, 1853, and a set of six shades from Duke Farms in New Jersey.

One thought on “Window Shade for the Well Dressed Parlor

I was just told by friends about this post. What a fascinating piece. We were discussing how the style of this bird-and-flower design is quite similar to the Chinese wallpaper at Broughton Castle, Oxfordshire (hung after 1847, perhaps 1860s), and at Weston Park (probably hung after 1865), Shropshire, as well as at Kasteel d’Ursel near Antwerp (probably hung 1877). That kind of approximate date – mid nineteenth century or second half of nineteenth century – would kind of fit with them being associated with Eleanor Hewitt (1864-1924).

I wonder whether these shades were made as shades or as wallpapers on silk? Either way, there was a lot of cross-fertilisation between Chinese wallpapers and Chinese painted and embroidered furnishing silks. But of course silks have tended to fare less well than wallpapers, so it is wonderful to see that these have survived in the Cooper Hewitt collection.

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