This wallpaper format is fairly typical of a new genre that appeared following the upheaval of the French Revolution. The designs consist of one or two landscape views which alternate with one or two smaller secondary elements. These are almost always printed over a spotted or otherwise patterned ground. This particular design contains two each of the primary and secondary elements. The paper also contains the matching top and bottom borders. You’ll notice that both borders are printed on the same patterned background as the wallpaper. The one element missing from this paper, found on most others of this genre, is a vertical band or riser running along one or both sides of the paper that would create the effect of a paneled wall.

Each of the landscape views contains a pair of figures dressed in period costume. The top view shows two women, possibly mother and daughter, looking at a prize rose bush. Behind is an elaborate draped vanity on which sits a bonnet adorned with ostrich plumes and strung pearls. The second primary landscape view shows a woman dancing and playing the tambourine while a man looks on. The figures are all dressed in period costume. Note the extreme high waist on the women’s gowns, and the waistcoat and knee breeches on the gent.

Alternating with these are two smaller views, one containing a reclining cat, the other a pumpkin with a small box. The cat seems to be staring intently at some future snack, which makes me wonder if the box is possibly an early mouse trap. Not sure how the pumpkin fits into this except maybe food for the mouse.

Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings.

One thought on “Roses and Music, or Cat and Mouse

In weighing the various elements, I wonder if Mr Herringshaw has overlooked Perrault’s popular fairytales as the inspiration for this paper: pumpkin and mousetrap (similar to known models) to turn into coach & horses; rich, selfish (not necessarily ugly) stepsisters in the process of dressing for the ball (one of them gestures to a distant object, perhaps a palace? not to the potted rose); cat, well, because cat; and Cinderella dancing with a tambourine in front of the elaborately dressed prince in full court drag complete with ceremonial sash (never worn by untitled folk) and elaborate wig.
Popular literature has often been used as the source for wallpapers. The V&A has a collection of papers (similar to toiles-de-Jouy) inspired by Perrault; Peter Pan inspired beautiful wallpapers in the early 20th century

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *