This is a reproduction wallpaper about which very little is known. The Diament company was an importer so presumably the paper came from Europe. It closely copies a paper originally produced by the Parisian firm Jules Desfossé in 1856, woodblock-printed in five colors. The design is divided into two separate views: the top view shows three naked boys at play, where one swings on a vine, as another rides on the back of a dog; the alternating view shows two greyhound dogs, looking a little frazzled. Perhaps they’re hiding from the boys in the neighboring scene. Both views are surrounded by lush tropical foliage.
Screen-printing probably affords the closest appearance to woodblock printing of any of the printing techniques available in the 1940s. Screen-printed wallpaper was still in its infancy at this time, as the first wallpapers printed in this technique appeared around 1938. In the United States, the war effort curtailed the introduction of new collections until 1946.
Block-printed wallpapers were printed with distemper pigments which were very opaque and matt in appearance. The different colors are printed one on top of another, so there is a buildup of pigment which adds a slight texture to the printed surface. Screen-printing also uses opaque matt pigments, but the different colors are usually printed in voids, and there is almost no surface texture. One telling difference is the way the paper receives the pigment. To print with a woodblock, the block is first pressed onto a pad loaded with pigment. The block is then stamped on the wallpaper. When the block is lifted it creates a suction which makes little swirls in the wet pigment. For a screen-print, the pigment is forced through a screen using a squeegee which leaves a very smooth, even surface. Both types of printing can produce large or small repeats.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings.