This is a pillar and arch paper, the format of which was introduced in England in the late eighteenth century. These papers consisted of a series of pillars and arches, with any variety of motifs used to occupy the space under the arch. The scale and repeat size was usually quite large so these designs were mostly used in the entry or up stair halls, where the rendering of stone would instill a feeling of stability. Pillar and arch papers usually have a great sense of depth, which this design takes to the extreme. The style was also popular in America and remained fashionable here into the early nineteenth century. Two of the earliest American papers in the collection are in the pillar and arch style, both commemorating George Washington after his death. So this design is a late bloomer from the mid-nineteenth century.
Many of these tend to be political in nature, with an early British example featuring Britannia, female personification of the British Isles, seated on her throne. Another American example contains images relating to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I don’t have a clue what is going on in this example. Each of the windows appears to be a stage, with actors performing various rolls. A couple of the windows show figures dressed in Shakespearean costumes, perhaps the lone female figure peering out the window is Juliet. The figures in the deep colonnade under the large arch are dressed in powdered wigs. Not sure what they’re up to, perhaps just promenading down that long arcade, stopping to chat with the gentleman seated in the chair.
Greg Herringshaw is the Assistant Curator in Wallcoverings