coveting the unattainable hand-painted Chinese wallpapers glimpsed
on lofty walls in graciously proportioned rooms in English and
European country houses - elegant bamboo glades filled with exotically
plumed birds set against duck-egg blue skies patinated with age
- this reporter would qualify as a non-wallpaper person. Walls
are meant for paintings and books, or as lacquered, mirrored and
sconced backdrops to exquisite furniture and collectibles I told
myself as I clambered up the fine old oak staircase of the Cooper-Hewitt,
National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution that is
housed in the formidable former Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth
Avenue between 90th and 91st Streets.
So it came as a pleasant surprise to find myself
dazzled and beguiled by this exhibition, entitled "Rooms
With a View: Landscape and Wallpaper," which is on view from
April 24 to October 14, 2001. Most unexpected of all was the discovery
that the history of wallpaper is linked to the history of landscape
painting and the development of modern technology and machines,
and that science and art can and do co-exist in the creation of
beauty, whether it is traditional, or innovative, wallpaper for
the masses, or painterly, one-of-a-kind murals for the lucky few.
The show was the perfect accompaniment to Spring,
with blossoms bursting forth in the museum's beautiful and large
garden, featuring prize lavender wisteria, coral and Naples yellow
tulips and purple pansies, and Central Park, exploding with blossoms
and bright green foliage, beckoning through the elegant, tall,
wrought-iron fence which marks the perimeter of the mansion garden.
(The garden is one of the most treasured locations in the city,
and in early summer the bees fatted on an abundance of nectar
are worth a visit on their own. They are much to busy with the
flora to bother stinging anyone. The volunteer gardeners work
on it tirelessly and with an abundance of TLC. The garden is available
to all with the price of admission: $8 for adults, $5 for seniors
and students and free for children under 12 and members and free
for everyone Tuesdays 5 to 9 PM.) When broiling or frigid weather
does not permit the outdoors, the bright indoor café is
a peaceful and cheerful haven to sip and read or visit with friends.
The café offers cold snacks and warm drinks, which can
be taken outdoors to tables and comfortable chairs of cutting-edge
aluminum design and light as a feather that complement the concurrent
show "Aluminum By Design Jewelry to Jets," on view from
March 20 July 15, 2001, well patronized by fascinated young museum-goers
sporting jagged haircuts and hipster bellbottom trousers recalling
the sixties. The youngsters did, tentatively, venture upstairs
to the wallpaper show, and appeared to enjoy it. The juxtaposition
of these two related but very different exhibits is another subtle
testimonial to the timeless melding of creativity and technology
in the pursuit of beauty and innovative design.
Many of the most exquisite wallpapers on display
at the show would technically be termed "murals," beginning
with "Niagara Falls" which greets the visitor at the
top of the stairs. It is from the scenic wallpaper set "Vues
d'Amerique du Nord," (Views of North America), designed by
Jean-Julien Deltil (French, 1791-1863), block-printed by the famous
French wallpaper company Zuber et Cie in 1834. A fascinating video
of Zuber's painterly production methods, which remain unchanged
today, give insight into why these prized papers are so expensive
to produce at a cost which must be passed on to the client, placing
them at the luxury end of the consumer market.
Zuber originally traveled to North America,
adapting for his wallpapers the famous sights and wonders of the
new world, which he took back to sell to the wealthy French bourgeoisie,
who were fascinated by America. Jacqueline Kennedy selected Zuber's
"Views of North America" when she undertook to restore
the dilapidated White House to its former glory. They passed muster
with the Fine Arts Committee of the White House for their excellent
quality - as well as appropriate subject matter - for the most
famous building in America. (See The City
Review article on the "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House
Years" 2001 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
The exhibit is divided chronologically into
the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and explores the origins and
history of wallpaper design and its evolution to the modern patterns
we associate with our own time. The linking theme through the
centuries is landscape, the bringing of nature indoors, and the
time-honored desire for armchair tourism for those who could not
leave the comforts of home to endure the rigors of hiking the
mountain pastures of Switzerland or the Catskill Mountains, or,
most daring of all, venture into the unpredictable Orient. Travel
was not easy in the old days, which made the "scenic"
panoramas" very unique and exciting.
The 18th Century room displays small treasures
like the sample book of famous English landscape designer Humphrey
Repton (1752-1818). Entitled "Observations on the Theory
and Practice of Landscape Gardening," (London: J. Taylor,
1803, Smithsonian Institution Library), this "sample book"
Repton included "flaps" that, when opened, revealed
the transformed landscape he envisioned, presenting the more "picturesque"
view to the client. Repton advocated improving the natural landscape
- and removed trees or slopes or even hills if they did not yield
the most idealized "vista." England, as a result, has
some of the most sublime parklands in the world, with the legendary
Lancelot "Capability" Brown following Humphrey Repton's
lead. Both men greatly influenced Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert
Vaux, among others, who were responsible for "landscaping"
many notable homes and locations in America, including New York's
The concept of the "idealized" landscape
was not new, but Humphrey Repton was the first to transfer his
ideas into the physical reality of moving earth and planting trees
to achieve his creative vision, no ordinary undertaking without
bulldozers and cranes. In 1800, Repton laid out the gardens in
fashionable Bloomsbury Square in London with its elegant new Georgian
terraces, applying his innovative genius to the urban landscape.
Many garden squares followed, making London a haven for city dwellers
and visitors in need of a break from the frenzied traffic and
noise of a major metropolis.
In the accompanying catalog to the show, entitled
"Landscape Wallcoverings," by Joanne Kosuda Warner with
Elizabeth Johnson, Editor (Scala Publishers in association with
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution,
$21.95), it is amusing to read Susan Yelavitch's (Assistant Director
of Public Programs) observations in the preface: "Gustave
Flaubert found the rigors of traveling so exhausting that he claimed
he preferred to see the world from a couch while paintings of
scenery were unfurled before him." I can think of several
family members who would identify completely with Flaubert's "passive
tourist" point of view, even in these days of speedy travel.
Armchair travelers like Flaubert can travel around the world at
"El Dorado" (France, 1849), a detail
of which is the catalogue's cover illustration, designed by Eugene
Ehrman, Georges Zipelius, and Josep Fuchs, exquisitely block-printed
by Zuber et Cie, is a gorgeously hued panorama representing the
four major continents, which took two years to completely from
conception to execution. Here the armchair tourist might choose
to visit a flower-covered terrace, including a peacock, overlooking
a lake representing Europe; architectural ruins, minarets and
a pagoda symbolizing Asia; the Nile River, desert plants and Egyptian
ruins recalling Africa, and, lushest of all, a small city near
Vera Cruz, Mexico, with exotic flora and fauna representing the
The title of this masterpiece, "El Dorado,"
(The Golden One), derives from the Spanish legend of a city of
great wealth in which everything is made of gold. Sixteenth century
explorers believed this kingdom existed, and used the search of
El Dorado to explain their exploration and domination of what
is now Central South America, Mexico and even the South Western
United States. It remained a symbol of wealth, opportunity or
abundance to treasure seekers throughout the 19th century, a coveted
mythical place anyone would long to have in his or her home albeit
a wealthy one. Each of the 24 panels is 99 by 54 centimeters and
is in flawless condition. Like most of the items on display, it
is from the museum's own collection and this was a gift of Dr.
and Mrs. William Collis.
While scenic panoramas like "El Dorado,"
a detail of which is shown at the top of this article, and the
entirely American "vista," "The Natural Bridge
of Virginia and Niagara Falls," shown above, (Rixheim, France,
1834), also by Zuber et Cie, dominate the show for their sheer
magnificence and technical virtuosity, the murals do not come
across to the viewer as "wallpaper" in the truest sense
of the word. Simpler, repetitious patterns like "Windsor
Castle," (England, circa 1920), produced by Arthur Sanderson
and Sons, Ltd. a gift to the museum of Arthur Dornsife, featuring
roses, trees and a garden spilling over with blossoming shrubs
and a faint silhouette of the castle in the background, sold well
until 1939. It was made available to the American marketplace
in 1952 and sold for 16 years, indicating a strong market for
historical and revival landscape wallpapers for much of the 20th
century. It is not unlike some of the papers in Sanderson's sample
books today, and is more consistent with the majority opinion
of what wallpaper should look like.
The impulse or need to bring nature into the
home is not new. Roman painters created "trompe l'oeil"
landscapes to extend the visual space of rooms. The "pastoral"
genre of poetry appeared in Greece and Rome, most significantly
in Virgil's "Ecologues," also known as "Bucolica,"
composed between 42 and 37 BC. They described the idyllic world
of Arcadia with shepherds tending their flock and leading simple
lives close to nature. This timeless pastoral landscape theme
recurs throughout the centuries, both in painting and wallpaper,
and is the theme of this show.
In the Middle Ages landscape was a background
motif and rarely the subject of a painting. By the 16th century
landscape painting was reborn particularly in the Netherlands
and Italy in the heroic work of Giorgione and the pastoral landscapes
of Titian, both Venetian masters. Simultaneously; Dutch painters
were becoming increasingly interested in the realistic representation
of landscape, as seen in the work of Pieter Brueghel the Elder,
who inverted the balance between nature and man in his painting
"The Return of the Hunters" in 1565, where, for the
first time, nature and not man, dominates the canvas.
By the mid-seventeenth century, Claude Lorraine
(French, 1600-1682) began to paint an entirely new kind of landscape;
his naturalism and attention to the effects of natural light raised
the "ideal landscape" genre to a new level. As a Frenchman
working in Rome, Claude's paintings of the 1630s and 1640s represented
a new pastoral ideal, generally a utopian view framed by trees
with a defined middle ground and blurry bridges and towns in the
distance, a classical formula used effectively to this day. A
fascinating object in the 18th Century section of the exhibit,
called a "Claude Glass" or landscape mirror (late 19th
Century, England) was used by landscape painters to scrutinize
subjects in miniature; the tinted, convex mirror reduces colors
to tonal contrasts, reminiscent of the paintings of Claude Lorraine,
and was also used by English "landscape tourists" who
sketched in picturesque spots in the 19th Century.
These "artistic effects" transferred
themselves well to wallpaper, creating a new breed of "landscape
wallpaper" with a direct historical link to the rise of tourism.
The invention of the steamboat and railroad in the 19th century
meant that travel was no longer the preserve of the upper classes.
New wealth brought with it a desire to visit exotic places and
return with souvenirs for some, like Flaubert, a scenic wallpaper
could serve to quell the longing for an exhausting journey, while
for those on a budget, the more affordable patterned papers showing
alpine meadows and Adirondack lakes brought equal pleasure and
a chance to dream of visiting bucolic resorts or famous sights
some day if they had not already done so. From room-sized panoramas
to small repetitious motifs of cowboys, camels crossing desert
dunes, cows amidst idyllic pastures and contemporary interpretations
of the wonders of nature, this exhibit explores the fascination
with landscape "themes" and how they transferred from
paintings to wallpaper for both the luxury and everyday wall-coverings
"For hundreds of years, European homeowners
had decorated their walls with various textiles for both warmth
and aesthetics. They hung linens, brocades, damasks, and tapestries.
The heavy, woven tapestries, which originated in the thirteenth
century, often depicted narrative scenes. It was these textiles
that first brought landscapes indoors in the modern period, and
they would later be drawn upon as a source of inspiration for
paper wallcoverings. In fact, in the late eighteenth century,
Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, one of France's most important
wallpaper manufacturers, employed designers from the Gobelins
tapestry factory," noted the exhibition catalogue's introduction.
While the exhibit spans 18th, 19th and 20th
century wallpapers, it is the 19th century which is the focus
of the show, when public and consumer interest in landscape and
landscape study coincided with the ability of manufacturers to
mass-produce wallpaper due to industrial advances, thereby removing
the limitations of what was a labor-intensive craft, most often
affordable only to the wealthy. The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design
Museum, Smithsonian institution, houses the largest collection
of wallpaper in the United States, including most of the magnificent
examples on view at the present show.
The origins of wallpaper date back to 1650,
when paper became less expensive and Europeans began to paste
papers painted with decorative motifs directly onto their walls.
One paper decorated with a textile design was discovered on a
beam in Cambridge, England, dating back to 1509. Across the English
Channel, French craftsmen produced single sheets of decorated
papers, called "dominos," for the middle-class market
throughout the first half of the 16th century. The English fashion
for "Print Room Paper," of which there is a wonderful
example in the 18th Century room - titled "Print Room Paper,"
(1750-1800) - is block-printed on handmade paper, accompanied
by the following wall-text: "In 1753 Horace Walpole noted
that he had cut up some prints and glued them to his wall and
framed them 'in the new manner' invented by Lord Cardigan; that
is with black and white borders printed. This fashion was taken
up by paper stainers, who made trompe l'oeil wall paper versions
with framed views of temples, ruins and landscapes."
In the 18th century, the most intricate and
stunning wallpapers in Europe and the American colonies came from
China. "Chinoiserie" objects were in fashion and very
much sought after; the British East India Company was founded
in 1599, and the Chinese had been trading with the British since
that time, described in history books as the "China Trade."
Other European companies set up their own trading companies, and
brought home the first Chinese papers in the early part of the
1690s. Interestingly, Chinese homes were completely devoid of
patterned or painted wallpapers; scholars are of the opinion that
sets of painted wallpaper were specially created by Chinese merchants
to give as gifts to finalize deals with their European trading
partners. These "prized" painted papers, like the ones
alluded to in English country houses at the beginning of this
article, were of such a high standard compared with their European
counterparts, that scholars credit their quality as the impetus
for improved quality in the European industry. A little competition
The only regrettable omission at this show
is an example of Chinese wallpaper, but perhaps they are too fragile
to move. Their luminous quality was masterfully achieved with
many hues and layers of water-based gouache or tempera, applied
by hand, not printed. The most treasured papers from China still
closed to Westerners throughout the 18th century depicted Chinese
people going about their business in landscape settings. For those
who have seen these exquisite papers in famous country houses
in Britain and France, they leave a lasting impression for their
incredible beauty, enhanced by the quality of furniture, paintings
and interior decoration deemed worthy accompaniments to them.
What a spectacle it must have been in the days of candlelight
and fine evening dress, with exquisite painted wallpapers as the
Illustrations of examples of homes with Chinese
wallpapers may be found in "The Papered Wall: The History,
Patterns and Techniques of Wallpaper," edited by Leslie Hoskins,
Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1994. The wonderful book gives
a fine global view of the history of wallpaper, as well as memorable
images of the finest wallpapers ever produced "in situ"
in the most beautiful and functional homes, castles and palazzi
in the world, including Hampton Court Palace, Brighton Pavilion,
the Chinese Drawing Room at Saltram, the hunting lodge in Stupinigi,
Piedmont, a worker's flat decorated with a modest Art Nouveau
paper in Paris photographed by Eugene Atget in 1910 and a hauntingly
beautiful mural called "Envol" ("Taking Flight")
first hand-screen-printed by Zuber of France.
The Great Exhibition, or the Crystal Palace
Exhibition, of 1851 in London became a landmark international
or world fair in which the nations of the world offered the cream
of their arts and manufactured goods to the public. Fifty wallpaper
manufacturers exhibited at the Crystal Palace, with the most notable
entries hailing from French and English companies. By mid-century,
wallpaper companies in those two countries were the chief source
of almost all the Western world's wallpaper, each country printing
2 million rolls of wallpaper per year.
The French manufacturers, like Zuber, created
the most luxurious papers for the wealthy market, while the English
focused on technological innovations and perfecting mass-production.
A technically awesome example is Eleanor and Sara Hewitt's gift
to the museum titled "Alpine Scene with Chalet," (France,
1835-50), shown above, a gilt-stamped, block-printed lithograph,
a soothing daydream in soft tones, which is part exclusive and
part mass market: lithography allowed for faster printing compared
with the labor-intensive requirements of block printing, which
took much longer. In contrast, "Le Soir," (France circa
1858, a gift to the museum of Germaine Little) is a block-printed
paper in rich exotic tones, featuring a glowing pink eastern sunset,
palm trees, minaret and camels, guaranteed to blow away the misty
chill winters of Europe in a well-to-do parlor. Its one-of-a-kind
beauty derives from the painterly quality of pigments pressed
by hand with varying degrees of pressure on a carefully prepared
("brushed") background. The Zuber video explains and
shows the entire process, which in many ways is far more exacting
than an artist painting a canvas.
Artists and artistic movements continually
influenced wallpaper designers, and the firm of Defosse and Keith
(the company was founded by Defosse in 1851) produced a design
called "Décor Pastoral" (France, 1863-65, Block-printed,
Purchase, Friends of the Museum, 1955) which took its inspiration
from the Barbizon School of painters, including Jean-Francois
Millet (1814-1875) and Jean-Baptiste Corot (1796-1875), who were
heavily influenced by the 17th century Dutch landscape painters.
The naturalistic depictions of the Barbizon School paved the way
for the Impressionists a few years later, and their style was
in marked contrast to the idealized version of nature found in
the traditional landscape paintings of Claude Lorraine and Nicholas
Poussin (1594-1665). The rivalry between naturalism and idealism
continued throughout the second half of the 19th century in France.
The first wallpaper-printing machine was patented
by the British textile printers Potters and Ross in 1839. Each
color required a separate roller, and synthetic pigments like
ultramarine blue and chrome yellow were used on rolls of continuous
paper made from wood pulp instead of cotton-on-linen-rag fiber,
greatly reducing the manufacturing costs. The scale of the design
was also affected by machine printing, as the circumference of
the new rollers was relatively small, so the size of each repeat
French manufacturers continued to specialize
in hand-printed papers, while American and English manufacturers
took advantage of new technology. Large, non-repeating papers
such as Zuber's were too large, too extravagant and expensive
for the average home. However, reproductions of "The Horse
Fair," a famous painting at the time (painted in 1853, now
in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Rosa Bonheur
(1822-99), was machine-printed in a repeating pattern by an English
company (1855-1875), intended for the mass-market. The manufacturer
is not known, because it was not until the late 19th century that
manufacturers of machine printed papers put their names on the
selvage, or uncut, edge.
The second half of the 19th century witnessed
the rise of another industry in Europe and America: in the United
States 700 magazines were published in 1865. By 1885 the number
had escalated to 3,300 due to technological advances and a more
literate public. Magazines like Scientific American, Scribner's,
Harper's and Leslie's were crammed with travel articles,
literature, current events and fashion. Electrotyping, a process
that created a facsimile of type or an engraving, revolutionized
the printing of pictures. Books like William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque
America" (New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1872-74) fired
the public's imagination and increased an interest in American
scenes in the late 19th century.
Wallpaper manufacturers and buyers responded
to popular literature and contemporary scenes; in the United States,
papers with titles like "Framed Canadian scenes (La Chine
Rapids, Montmorency Falls, The Thousand Islands, Victoria Bridge,"
shown above, and "Framed scenes with figures on horseback,"
(U.S., or England, circa 1870) featured American cowboys herding
cattle across the frontier. The bucolic pastures, shepherds and
herds of sheep of the idealized landscapes were replaced by the
American version of the European "pastoral" landscape
- the cowboys exuding freedom, self-reliance and ruggedness of
life in the new world.
Current events became commonplace images on
wallpapers, depicting subjects as diverse as the Prince of Wales'
visit to India, scenes from Daniel Defoe's (1660-1731) novel "Robinson
Crusoe" and the Turkish town of Gallipolli that was under
siege during the Crimean War (1835-56). These wallpapers reflected
the tastes of the new middle-class market, which increased with
the affordability of machine printed papers.
The East continued to influence and fascinate
the "movers and shakers" of the late 19th century like
William Morris, Owen Jones and Christopher Dresser. Morris (1834-1896)
spearheaded Britain's Arts and Crafts Movement, favoring a return
to a pre-industrial past. His wallpapers portrayed stylized plant
forms incorporating cleverly concealed repeats which are popular
and still in production today. Jones (1809-1874) was drawn to
flat pattern and geometric ornament, eschewing recognizable scenes.
Dresser (1834-1904) was smitten with Japan and interested in designing
for the machine with the belief that it would make better design
available to the masses.
Japan had been inaccessible to Western traders
for hundreds of years, until the signing of a trade agreement
between the United States and the Emperor of Japan in 1854. Europeans
were dazzled, for the first time, by examples of Japanese ceramics,
bronzes, prints and textiles with ornament based on stylized natural
forms on view at the 1862 International Exhibition in London.
Once again, artists like Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and James
Abbott McNeil Whistler began incorporating these innovative design
elements in their work and wallpaper designers followed their
lead. By the 1880s pattern books were awash with bamboo, cherry
blossoms, cranes, fans and oriental style vases.
Wallpaper manufactures responded to the public's
mania for things Anglo-Japanese by combining familiar images of
lighthouses, boats and boys building sandcastles with cherry blossoms
and flat, abstract design elements. Some even combined famous
sights like the Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island with Japanese
vases and bamboo leaves, as in "Japonaiserie-style paper
with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Niagara Falls, (United States,
1883-85, machine-printed, gift of Grace Lincoln Temple), shown
In the United States a return to tradition
ran parallel with the sprouting of hundreds of new millionaires,
eager to emulate the fine tapestries, gilded leathers and painted
ornament of their European counterparts. In the 1890s American
architects who studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris were
eager to show copies of French chateaux, Classical villas and
fine furniture to their wealthy American patrons back home who
were furiously commissioning properties on Fifth Avenue in New
York and in their summer "cottages" in Newport, Rhode
Wallpaper followed the "sumptuous"
design trend, and sought to imitate the gilded leathers and tapestries
of fine and extremely expensive craftsmanship: "flocking,"
a new technology which imitated velvety textures became fashionable,
as did simulated tapestry and gilded leather. In the last quarter
of the 19th century, wallpaper moved away from being relegated
to the ceiling where it had hitherto been utilized to becoming
a total design element. As the exhibit is small and therefore
limited in range, it is useful to find in "The Papered Wall,"
fine examples of these wallpapers which were used in grand American
and European homes, including a fragment of Lincrusta-Walton paper
installed in John D. Rockefeller House in New York in the 1880s.
Lincrusta had a relief pattern machine-embossed
on the surface by engraved iron or steel rollers and was a technological
marvel at the time for its hygienic properties (it was easy to
clean), but more importantly it was considered artistically perfect
when compared with the much criticized "sanitary" wallpapers
like linoleum, which was similar in composition. Both wallpapers
were invented by Frederick Walton in 1877, but Lincrusta was chosen
by such avant garde designers as Hector Guimard for his extreme
Art Nouveau designs in the famous Castel Beranger in Paris (1896),
and Christopher Dresser was known to have supplied some of the
first designs to Walton's London showrooms, at least one of them
in the Anglo-Japanese style which he advocated.
It was an era of exciting new developments
and rapid change: the electric light was designed by Thomas Edison
in 1880, changing the domestic scene forever; Henry Ford built
the first mass-produced car and the motion picture was invented
by the Lumières in 1895. In the midst of all these technological
wonders, the public reverted to the comfort and reassurance of
traditional wallpaper design, and the consumer market was flooded
with Barbizon School style "natural" designs featuring
old watermills, sheaves of corn and romantic landscapes. A block
printed and flocked paper entitled "Ceiling corner block
with water mill," (1875-1900, United States) is accompanied
by the following wall text: "Flocking, gilt, a colorful palette
and trompe l'oeil elements create a rich painterly effect in the
ceiling decoration. The representation of nature, marsh plants
and pre-industrial water power are consistent with Arts and Crafts
ideals." "By placing traditional landscape imagery within
a modern compositional device, this wallpaper anticipates the
two approaches to landscape wallpaper that dominate the twentieth
century: a revival of romantic subject matter and modern abstraction,"
observed Joanne Kosuda Warner in the exhibition catalogue.
The 20th Century, with many new and exciting
forces at work, witnessed a move away from rural areas to cities
and suburbs, and farmland and forests began to disappear. Machines
speeded up the pace of life and provided more consumer goods and
a population that was increasingly able to afford private housing.
The Arts and Crafts Movement that had begun decades earlier in
England gained popularity in the United States. Furniture like
Gustav Stickley's "Mission" style pieces became less
ornate, with interior design elements like window treatments and
wallpaper following suit.
Wallpaper manufacturers soon emulated the Arts
and Crafts style with unfussy views of nature evoking a pre-industrial
landscape as well as the aesthetic style and methods of production
of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The frieze was the preferred
wall treatment of the Arts and Crafts Style, a wooden wainscot
or plain paper on the lower section of the wall, crowned by a
pictorial or patterned frieze. Many of the friezes at the show
reveal the influence of Japanese art, which continued to influence
artists and designers. In wallpaper design, it took the form of
cropped objects in the foreground, a flattened rendering of perspective,
Stunning examples like "Frieze,"
(circa 1900, United States), machine printed and produced by Hobbs,
Benton and Heath, have far more kinship with paintings or Japanese
screens than repetitive motif style wallpaper. Walter Crane's
tranquil "The May Tree," (England, 1896) is a block
printed, abstracted frieze that was as expensive to produce as
any Zuber design, and which appealed to worldly and cultured customers
who understood Japanese design and modern art.
The invention of photography in the 19th Century
undermined the painters or illustrators need to create realistic
images. Early 20th century designers began to interpret rather
than imitate nature, once again emulating modern artists like
Henri Matisse, Wassilly Kandinsky and Juan Miro, who abstracted
nature and rural life and landscapes. All three artists were hugely
influenced by the natural landscape around them, expressing them
abstractly on canvas. Wallpaper designers also left literal realism
This trend to interpret rather than copy nature
was popularized by the influential teacher Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922)
through his book "Composition: A Series of Exercises Selected
from a New System of Art Education," (1899) and his teaching
posts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn,
and Columbia University. All of the examples in the 20th century
section of the show bear the mark of his teachings.
Following William Morris's concern for the
preservation of historic monuments and buildings he founded the
Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings in the 1870s.
The nostalgia for a vanishing way of life resulted in interest
in colonial revival in the United States, which had its roots
in the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Centennial Exhibition held
in Philadelphia in 1876 awakened interest in the nations early
history, which included buildings and their decoration and furniture.
Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) reproduced colonial furniture and
sold millions of his own nostalgic photographs of rural homes,
country lanes and a disappearing agrarian lifestyle. There is
a wonderful hand-tinted photograph by Wallace Nutting in the exhibition
titled "At the Fender," (1904), showing a staged parlor
scene of a lady in appropriate colonial attire knitting peacefully
by the fire; on the walls surrounding her is Dufour's magnificent
wallpaper, "Views of Italy," (Paris, circa 1825) on
display in the 19th century section of the show.
For the first time, the homes of American heroes
were restored and opened to the public as museums, which generated
a demand for "revival" wallpapers of the quality of
those produced between 1830 and 1850. The Paul Revere Memorial
Association (founded 1905) asked Thomas Strahan & Company,
Chelsea, Massachusetts to reproduce the paper originally used
in the house, and other museums and societies followed. Birge
and Sons, in Buffalo, New York created a revival wallpaper called
"Roosevelt," (c.1924) to be used for the nursery of
the boyhood home of President Theodore Roosevelt, a gift to the
museum of the Women's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association
Wallpaper was not considered a serious subject
for study till quite recently, and the interior designer Nancy
McLelland (1877-1959) was one of the most important promoters
of historical wallpapers in the United States. She was also an
author and founded her decoration and antique business in New
York in 1922. She sold antique scenic panoramas and produced her
own line of block-printed reproduction papers that were printed
in France. She published "Historical Wallpapers from their
Inception to the Introduction of Machinery in 1924." It remained
the chief source of wallpapers for many years. Large and small-scale
scenic landscape papers can be found mainly in historic house
museums and restored private homes in the United States today.
As before, the consumer market looked forward
as well as backward, and "modernism" took root in the
wallpaper industry, just as it did on famous canvases in the 1910s
and 1920s: with production limitations out of the way, manufacturers
scrambled to provide a wide range of exciting designs for the
new avant-garde sensibility. Simple forms and bright colors abounded.
A machine-printed paper called "Mariza," (Vienna, Austria,
1926, produced by Flammersheim and Steinmann), designed by Maria
Likarz (1893-1971) for the influential Wiener Werkstatte (Arts
and Crafts Workshop in Vienna) depicts an abstract landscape of
overlapping forms that echoes Cubism, the elegance of Viennese
decorative arts and the strong colors of the Ballets Russes.
Continuing in the Arts and Crafts tradition
of printing by hand, Edward Bawden, an English painter, printer
and illustrator created "Tree and Cow," (England, 1927),
a charming and highly sophisticated lithograph from linocut, printed
by hand on single sheets: it is a modern interpretation of a timeless
agrarian scene, which has not "dated" and would look
new in any room today; it is amazing to think that it was created
over 70 years ago.
"The Birches," (Buffalo, New York,
1921), shown above, designed by the artist Charles Burchfield,
(1893-1967), an American artist well known for his lyrical watercolor
landscapes, depicts leafless trees against mounds of snow and
rocks, produced by M.H. Birge and Sons Company. For those as yet
unwilling to embrace such modern interpretations of nature, manufacturers
also produced "pastiches" of traditional and modern
subject matter. The Great Depression and World War II created
not only economic hardships but also a cautious attitude to new
design an attitude.
In peacetime, however, the booming economy
of post-war America led to many new designs to meet the unprecedented
number of new homeowners who were eager to decorate and traditional
and modern landscape papers continued to compete with each other.
In a romantic "fete galante" wallpaper, "Shepherdess
with sheep," (England, 1945), produced by Crown Wallcoverings,
couples portrayed together in the bucolic countryside recall the
paintings of Watteau and Fragonard, and the popular wallpaper
of the 18th century. This escapism is the aftermath of a Europe
devastated by war, with cities and rural towns reduced to rubble
and ruins. Many post-war European papers were designed for export
as a means of generating income. The American
firm the Eisenhart Wallpaper Company designed a similarly idealized
and peaceful though unpeopled landscape in the naturalistic style
called "Tree-framed scene," (Hanover, Pennsylvania,
1945-58). Post-war American designers and builders offered papers
like this as a way of bringing nature indoors, adding patios and
windows as well as imitative natural textures like real grass
cloth to "tract" suburban homes. A new innovation was
to hang wallpaper on only one wall of a room, creating the illusion
of a view where there was none.
Simplified modern abstracted landscapes glorified
a rapidly disappearing agricultural lifestyle in the United States
as cities grew and suburbs flourished: "Gray landscape with
red buildings" (possibly United States 1955-59) captures
the California lifestyle, which represented "the good life"
for many Americans, with its emphasis on the outdoors and informality.
It shows houses alongside mountains and near the ocean a domestic
lifestyle completely integrated with nature.
Huge reproduction photographs called photomurals
appeared on the market, some in monograph and others in full color.
They were designed to fill one wall, creating the illusion of
a picture window with a vista beyond of the Teton or Rocky Mountain
range and similar American wonderlands. The concept had been introduced
in the 1930s by the American photographers Margaret Bourke White,
Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams, but did not become successful
till the 1950s. They allowed the viewer to sit in a suburban living
room and look out upon an exotic or fantastic landscape paradise
perfect for Flaubert and other armchair tourists. Sample books
often complemented such views with new furniture design and interiors,
like an Eames chair or sofa, first produced in 1946.
Artist/designers were not to be outdone by
the new technology and designed large-scale, non-repeating landscape
papers that alluded to the tradition of heroic landscapes - modern
versions of Virgil's "Bucolica" - or pastoral, which
dates from 37 BC. Ilonka Karaz's mettzotint print "Arches,"
manufactured by the New York firm of Katzenback and Warren, with
its architectural structures amidst trees, plants and animals
has more kinship with a 19th century mural than wallpaper because
the repeat is almost impossible to define. The romantic "pastoral,"
non-repeating landscape murals would be overshadowed by abstraction
in the 60s, but they have endured the test of time.
Consumer culture flourished globally in the
post war years, especially in Europe and the United States, and
the earliest wave of baby-boomers reached adolescence in the 1960s.
Youth culture, as it had never been known before, was born. Magazines,
T.V., and film exploded on the scene, exposing the latest trends,
and people became more "style conscious," defining themselves
by the products they consumed, the clothes they wore and the way
they decorated their homes. The wallpaper industry complied by
embracing abstract pattern, bright colors and new materials.
For the first time many designers emerged from
formal university design programs advocating the Bauhaus philosophy
of flat and simple pattern and that form should follow function.
Modernist artists, architects and educators emigrated to the U.S.
in the 1930s; Walter Gropius became professor at Harvard, Mies
Van der Rohe lead the architecture department at IIT (The Illinois
Institute of Technology) and Joseph Albers, the great color theorist,
established a design course at Black Mountain College.
The gap between fine and commercial art narrowed
as each field borrowed from the other: Andy Warhol glorified Campbell
soup cans and Yves St. Laurent designed a dress like a painting
by Piet Mondrian. Visual culture was freely appropriated by artists
and designers and then rendered as purely graphic elements including
landscapes. "Groves" by Ben Rose (1960-67) reduces landscape
to pure pattern, (Chicago, Illinois, screen-printed on vinyl,
Gift of Ben Rose).
In contrast a wallpaper mural "On the
Scene" by James Seaman (1971) reduces a mountain range to
pure form and color, reminiscent of the paintings of Joseph Albers.
This non-repeating paper would have filled one wall, but the Zuber
et Cie, not to be outdone or outmoded, created new panoramas that
would fill an entire room like "Les Falaises (The Cliffs),"
Rixheim, France, 1976, designed by Alain Le Foll (1934-81). The
four panels resurrect the masterful form of Zuber's awesome 19th
century creations, catapulting them into the 20th century. It
works simultaneously as a landscape and a pattern of subtly colored
The most recent wallpaper at the show draws
attention to the landscape in a different way. "Acorn Paper,"
(2000, United States), designed and digitally printed by Francesco
Simeti (Italian b.1968), created for the Glyndor Gallery, Wave
Hill, New York, is accompanied by wall text which explains the
artist's intention: "set in the 18th century format of print
room wallpaper, 'Acorn Paper' comments on the toxic use of environment
with images from contemporary newspapers. Using wallpaper as background,
Francesco Simeti illustrates that our bucolic image of the landscape
may be in jeopardy." This powerful visual image of masked
human beings dealing with a polluted environment filled with toxic
waste and landfills harboring poisons as yet undiscovered, is
an indictment of a society governed by consumption, with side
effects that are threatening the land and all natural existence,
Recently, the French government classified
the Zuber and Company woodblocks as national monuments, because
there is no longer anyone alive able to produce them. The words
of the master printer in the Zuber video in the 19th century room,
(directed by Jean-Marc Robert), echo in the viewer's mind when
confronted by the ominous digitally printed "Acorn Paper":
"Young people do not want to be printers. They say the blocks
are too heavy" Today there are five men working as printers
at Zuber and Company, none of them young. Hand crafted, hand-generated
work may become as precious a commodity in the 21st century as
the landscape itself.