This wallpaper honoring Major General Nathanael Greene is designed in the arabesque style, a format very popular in France at the end of the eighteenth century. Inspired by the mosaics and painted murals discovered at the recently unearthed Herculaneum and Pompeii, the designs are delicately balanced along a central axis.

General Greene, spelled Green on the wallpaper, is shown in profile wearing full military garb and rendered as a cameo. The cameo suspends from a canopy, where it is secured by a cord with bow knot and tassels. Below this hangs another larger cameo showing a battle scene, possibly between the personifications of Mars and Fame. On the ground in front of the horses is a fallen soldier, while a fourth figure carries what appears to be the flag of England.

The overall design appears quite drab with its current monochrome gray colorway, but there are traces of pink in the fragments of border paper and in both of the cameos. The use of pink in the cameos would definitely add some life to the all-gray scheme, while also highlighting the bust of General Greene and the battle scene. In its heyday it may have appeared more like this dado paper below, a French design from the same period.

Wallpaper dado, France, 1780-1785; block printed on handmade paper; Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, 1931-45-58

Greene was born in Rhode Island in 1742, and after managing a branch of his father’s iron foundry, served several terms in the colonial legislature and was elected commander of the Rhode Island army in 1775. He served under George Washington and became his second in command. While ships and numerous places across the United States have been named after him, the legend of Major General Nathanael Greene has been largely forgotten.

Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator of Wallcoverings.

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