This wallpaper commemorates Commodore Isaac Hull and the first important American naval victory of the War of 1812 in a battle between the USS Constitution and the British frigate HMS Guerriere. Commodore Hull was credited for the victory owing to his superior seamanship, even though the Constitution was nearly 50% larger with a better firing accuracy. The battle lasted fewer than 30 minutes and left the Guerriere demasted and a total wreck. The ship was later burned. This single victory showed the strength of the small US Navy and belied the seeming invincibility of the British fleet.
Hull was born into a maritime family in Connecticut and began going on voyages with his father while still a boy. By his early twenties Hull had commanded several merchant vessels, and at the age of twenty-five was commissioned a Lieutenant in the newly-formed US Navy. Hull was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his victory over the Guerriere.
The battle scene alternates with a portrait of Hull who is shown with personifications of Victory and Fame standing on either side. Victory is holding a laurel wreath over Hull’s head to signify his glory and honor, while Fame is spreading the news with her trumpet.
Both images shown on this paper were copied from existing artwork. The image of the battling ships was based on a painting by Thomas Birch, while the Hull portrait is the reverse of a painting by Gilbert Stuart. This technique of selecting portions of existing artwork to create wallpaper designs had also been used to create portions of scenic wallpapers.
This design format, with the alternating views printed on a spotted background and foliate stripe along the edge, was introduced in the early nineteenth century. This format was obviously very fashionable as the museum collection contains numerous variations on this style.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings.