I came across this frieze paper and the image seemed a little unusual. The whole theme of the paper is wheat. Printed in grisaille, or shades of gray, this frieze is a trompe l’oeil design with a large inset panel as the main element. A wide architectural molding runs across the top edge, with a narrow band of laurel leaves below. On either side of the inset panel are vases or wall pockets containing bouquets of wheat ears. This of course ties in with the image printed on the inset panel, which shows two cherubs cutting and baling wheat. They seem to be enjoying themselves, as the one on the left is in a reclining position cutting down the wheat stalks with his scythe, while the standing cherub bales it and carries it off, wearing nothing but a smile. For cherubs they’re both looking rather toned so perhaps they’ve been at this for a while!
I don’t know if the wheat on this frieze is supposed to be symbolic but when I look up wheat in the ornament dictionaries wheat ears and wheat shafts have been used as symbols of fruitfulness or fertility in offspring or vegetation. If there is a symbolic message here it is probably one of hope or optimism, looking forward to bountiful harvests or maybe just a better future. This makes sense given the political climate and hard times most people endured in France just prior to the production of this paper.
This paper dates to the Napoleonic era in France, and is woodblock printed on handmade paper. You can see the discolored seam just to the left of the reclining cherub. Prior to 1820, all paper was made by hand in single sheets. To make wallpaper, these sheets were first pasted together to make a roll, then printed.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings.