One lesser known area of the Cooper Hewitt’s collection are folding screens covered with wallpaper. Many of these contain panels from scenic wallpapers mounted on the face of the screen. Today’s object is an eight-panel folding screen containing a scene called Environs de Paris from the scenic paper titled “Jardín Baujon beí Neuílly.” This is one of the larger folding screens in the department, measuring over twelve feet long. Printed in a monochrome sepia colorway, the wallpaper contains a nice landscape view showing a woman and child on a promenade overlooking a cobblestone road filled with horse-drawn carriages, which separates the town from the nearby lake. Most of the screens are constructed with a flat top edge, while this one has a more decorative scalloped top. The scenic paper is framed top and bottom by a narrow leaf and dart border, with a wallpaper printed in imitation of black marble below the bottom border.
Folding screens originated in ancient China, dating back to the fourth century BC. Screens from the Far East began arriving in Europe at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and quickly became fashionable. Scenic wallpapers seem like a natural fit on screens as they are printed in panels 18-20 inches wide, they’re printed with beautiful landscape views that would visually enlarge the room they were placed in, and would not add a lot of weight to the wood frame in keeping with the portable nature of these furnishings.
The screens decorated with wallpaper usually contain a burlap or other heavy fabric stretched within the wood framework. The scenic panels would be pasted to the front side of the fabric forming a continuous scene, while the verso would be decorated with another wallpaper, usually a small repeating design. The back of this screen contains a repeating pattern of blue rosettes printed on a gray ground.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant curator in Wallcoverings.