France started making advancements in wallpaper manufacture in the 1770s, and by the 1780s they were making papers of a quality that has never been surpassed. Réveillon is one of the better-known manufacturers from this period, and was most celebrated for his arabesque designs, which were influenced by the recently discovered wall paintings at Herculaneum and Pompeii (1758). Arabesque designs are easy to recognize as all the design elements are aligned along a central axis.

This is a full unused roll of wallpaper produced in 1788. It is woodblock-printed, hand painted, and has applied gold leaf. I’ve included a detail below for your reference, but the figures and yellow ocher areas are block printed, while the areas on the figures that read as highlights are gold leaf. The fruit, floral motifs and scrolling foliage are hand painted. You can see how the color shades from light to dark, or to another color altogether. This cannot be done with woodblocks, which only print in solid blocks of color.

Image shows detail of cupid holding fruit basket.

And it gets better! This still contains the original end paper with the Manufacture Royale stamp. Royal manufactories did not necessarily produce for the court but were factories that merited special consideration: they were producers of strategic goods or luxury items and were also centers of invention.

Sadly, Réveillon’s factory was one of the first casualties of the French Revolution. In April 1789, he was addressing his local assembly, reminiscing about the days when workers were happy earning lower wages. This started a rumor that he was calling for wage cuts which did not go over well with the working class. Several days later an angry mob stormed his factory and began breaking up the place, throwing furniture and wallpaper out the windows into bonfires burning in the garden. On a happy note, Réveillon was succeeded by Jacquemart & Benard who were able to carry on the wallpaper factory’s expertise.

Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings

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