Wallpapers have a long history of celebrating innovations in technology, especially when it involves mobility. Early steam-powered locomotives and paddle boats, automobiles and airplanes are frequent themes. Feats of civil engineering including the Brooklyn Bridge are also highlighted. Here is a wallpaper celebrating industrial progress.

This paper is commemorating the Exposition Universelle of 1855, the first of several international expositions held in Paris. Four buildings were constructed to house the event, including the Palais de l’Industrie which was the main building of the fair, and a temporary pavilion on the right bank of the Seine, which are both illustrated in the wallpaper. The event hosted 23,954 exhibitors, almost an equal split between French exhibitors and those from twenty-seven foreign countries and attracted over five million visitors. The wallpaper design contains two different views of the fairgrounds along with some Parisian highlights, with trees growing up the sides and serving as dividers between the two views. The larger view shows the grand entrance to the Palais de l’Industrie, which is framed by images of the Marly Horses, sculptures of rearing horses and their grooms, commissioned by Louis XV. A smaller view shows the temporary pavilion on the banks of the Seine. Flanking this second view are two city statues on pedestals on the Place de la Concorde, though between the abrasion on the wallpaper and the lack of printed detail it is unclear which two cities are represented. Both scenes show street views with people entering the buildings.

In the center of the paper, separating the views of the Palais de l’Industrie and the temporary pavilion, is a heap of equipment including a plow, a large cog, and numerous unidentifiable pieces, perhaps signaling the old industry now being replaced by what’s on view inside the pavilions.

Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator of Wallcoverings

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