This wallpaper is part of a French sidewall design that was originally created circa 1850. It was acquired by the museum through a donation by Helen Fioratto, who has run the L’Antiquaire & the Connoisseur Inc. since the two galleries merged in 1982. The medium has been identified as “machine printed on paper” which would be a more economical way to print than using wood blocks. By the 1850’s machine printing had truly begun in earnest, making wallpaper more accessible to more people.
For this particular wallpaper, consumers most likely would have used it to decorate a parlor or a sitting room due to it’s endearing charm. While warm and vivid, it does not necessarily demand attention or outwardly prompt the viewer to engage in conversation, such as a scenic or historical paper is likely to do. Instead, it’s single repeating design, a cluster of brightly shaded birds printed in nonsensical colors, flowers, and ribbons, creates a lighthearted atmosphere through color and form. Small details such as the curling blue ribbons that seem to be caught in a sudden breeze or the black markings behind some of the birds as they fly upwards create a sense of motion. The design has no highlights or shadows so reads as very 2-dimensional.
Emily Ewen is a student in the History of Design & Curatorial Studies graduate program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.