HISTORY OF WALLPAPER STYLES AND THEIR USE
In the following section, an introduction to wall paper styles and history of their use will emphasize stylistic characteristics as further clues to the age of wallpapers, and provide guidance in choosing replacement patterns for buildings from which any evidence of the design of papers has disappeared.
Traditionally, wallpapers have imitated more expensive materials, such as architectural details, painted wall decorations, wood grains, marble, and, most often, textiles. General stylistic trends, paralleling those of other furnishings and decorative arts can be traced in wallpapers.
The face side of the paper was designed with a field of gray covered with greenish-blue sheaves of wheat. This design could date as early as 1795-1805.
The meaning of the marking "J6" is unknown.
Prior to the Revolution, English papers dominated the American market. Flocking was a specialty of 17th- and 18th-century English paper stainers, and its popularity was reflected in American houses. English flocked paper and canvas, with patterns of strapwork and scrolls, were used here in the 17th century. Floral patterned papers with flocking reflected 18th-century textile styles; formal symmetrical bouquets in flocked hangings were derived from damask-woven patterns, and patterns formed of branching stems putting forth flowers and leaves over backgrounds of diaper patterning were executed in flocking, as well as in distemper colors (figure 12). Other English floral patterns included some that featured flowing ribbons among the flowers, and floral stripes. Examples of each of these styles of 18th-century English wallpapers have been found in American houses.
Hand-painted, rather than printed, English wallpapers with large-scale nonrepeating views depicting ruined architecture are known to have been used in at least three important American mansions of the 1760's: the Philip van Schuyler and Stephen van Rensselaer Houses in Albany, New York, and the Jeremiah Lee House in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The elegant views were surrounded by wallpaper "frames."
A distinctive English pattern type was made of "pillar and arch patterns" (figure 14). These were recommended especially for use in hallways. These and many other 18th-century English wallpapers were generally monochromatic and subdued in palate compared to the French papers of the same and later periods. Many examples of grey papers, some with sparsely applied high lights of color have been found in this country bearing English tax stamps (figure 13).
The end of British colonial trading restrictions cleared the way for a dramatic increase in the importation of French wallpapers to this country. Yet it was not until the 1790's that American advertisements began to feature the French paper hangings. Most distinctive of the French styles were the Arabesque patterns first popularized in Paris by Jean Reveillon (figures 15 and 16), and particularly admired in this country by Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries during the 1780's and 1790's. Through the use of many individual blocks to print the large number of colors within a single pattern, Reveillon was able to develop a clarity of color and a subtle combination of brilliant and pastel shades that distinguish his wallpapers and those of his successors.
Both the English and French styles were influenced by hand-painted nonrepeating papers exported from China to the West from the 17th century onward (figure 17). The expensive Chinese papers can be generally grouped into three basic types: flowering trees bedecked with birds and insects, landscapes, and processionals. Chinese papers were only hung in the houses of the richest Americans, but this trend filtered down; the incorporation of chinoiserie motifs in wallpapers printed by all the Western wallpaper manufacturing countries was common during the 18th century.
The earliest documentation known to the author for the printing of wallpaper in America appeared in the 1756 advertisement of a dyer and scourer "lately from Dublin," one John Hickey, who announced in the New York Mercury on December 13, 1756, that he "stamps or prints paper in the English manner and hangs it so as to harbour no worms." In 1765 another New Yorker, John Rugar, is recorded as having begun a wallpaper manufactory, and in 1769 Plunkett Fleeson, a Philadelphia upholsterer who had been in business at least since 1739, first announced that he had for sale "American Paper Hangings manufactured in Philadelphia ... not inferior to those generally imported." The American paper stainers based their patterns on imports, but despite their claims to excellence, they seem to have been held in low esteem by most consumers. The advertisement of one paper hanger published in 1785 is revealing: he offered to hang "any paper, from the most elegant imported from the East Indies or Europe, to the most indifferent manufactured in this country."
A late 18th-century style that lasted far into the 19th century featured the use of a plain solid shade of coloring applied to wallpaper, usually in green or in blue but available in a wide range of other colors as well. These papers were called "plain papers" and were usually advertised with "rich" or "elaborate" borders (figures 18 and 19). Walls painted in a solid color were also embellished with wallpaper borders; the "plain papers" had one advantage over paintthey hid the cracks.
French styles dominated the American wallpaper trade during the first 70 years of the 19th century. In the early part of the century bright, strongly colored, even gaudy, Empire styles (figure 21) vied for attention with the spectacular nonrepeating "views" and "landscape" papers (figure 20).
In the scenic papers, French block printers refined their skills in creating realistic imitations of paintings. In other wallpaper decorations, printers imitated drapery, sculpture, ornamental carving, plasterwork and other architectural detail. Simpler repeating patterns and stripes enjoyed steady popularity, and the French patterns served as models for American manufacturers. Bright powdery pastel shades were featured in many of the simpler patterns during the early part of the century (figures 22 and 23).
During the 1820's the Zuber factory in Alsace developed a printing technique that became a style in itself, widely imitated by European and American factories well into the 1840's (figure 24). The technique was one for printing subtle, blended color effects, called "irisée" by the French, and advertised as "rainbow papers" in this country. They resembled the ombré textiles of the same period, which were printed or woven with graduated alternating dark and light bands of the same or various colors. Factory records preserved in Alsace, document the dealings during the 1820's of the Zuber factory with a hundred American importers from Maine to New Orleans. The Zuber rainbow papers have survived in houses in New England, as well as the South.
From the middle years of the century, elaborate Rococo Revival styles were peculiarly characteristic among the thousands of patterns annually offered by hundreds of manufacturers (figure 25). Using wallpaper, the Gothic Revival found its way into numerous domestic interiors during the 1840's and 1850's, while in many cases exteriors remained chastely classical. During this period, combinations of vivid green with grey, strong harsh red with brown, or a brilliant shade of blue paired with brown were particularly popular. Shiny, polished satin finishes for wallpaper had also grown in popularity since the beginning of the century (figure 26).
The restoration of this paper to preserve it in place would have been so demanding and expensive as to render it impractical. It would probably have required that the paper be faced for removal, while a proper backing was prepared before it could have been rehung. Then a great deal of in-painting would have followed, so that the end result would have been little more than a newly painted reproduction. The alternative of replacing it with an antique copy of the same Captain Cook paper would have been the more practical and economical.
Scrollwork and miniature scenes appeared in profusion on wallpapers of the mid-19th century. Renaissance Revival styles competed with patterns of the other revival movements. Realistic flowers blossomed on many mid-Victorian walls (figure 27). There were also patterns for more sober tastes: in the 1850's and 1860's, papers featuring small embossed gold motifs, evenly spaced over grey or off-white grounds were considered very tasteful. Many of these embossed papers were imported from Germany.
In the 1870's, English styles pushed the French ones aside and regained dominance of the fashionable wallpaper trade. Turning away from the elaborations and realistic painterly effects of French papers, Americans accepted the abstract and stylized flower patterns introduced by the English, and praised in Charles Eastlake's newly popular book, first published in 1868, Hints on Household Taste (figure 28). The impact of these new English designs was strongly felt at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
American taste-makers continued to endorse the stylized artistry of Englishmen like William Morris, Christopher Dresser and Walter Crane during the last quarter of the 19th century. The subdued, grayed palates of their patterns were particularly admired. In 1882 Oscar Wilde toured America, popularizing the English ideas about decorative design that included admiration for the exotic styles of Japan and the Middle East. In the wake of his visit, American wallpaper manufacturers popularized Moorish motifs, and a style known as "Anglo-Japanese" (figure 30). The patterns were rendered commercially in metallic golds, maroon, olive, black, and creamy yellow-beiges. Even on the most commercial level during the 1880's a degree of self-conscious interest in "good" flat pattern design and in abstraction was manifested that had never before been apparent and was soon to disappear.
Three special types of late 19th-century wallcoverings were very popular. The first is "Lincrusta Walton," an invention of the 1870's made by an Englishman, Frederick Walton. Lincrusta is a composition, which like linoleum, is based on linseed oil. Very thick and strong, and patterned in high relief, it was sold both colored, and plain, to be painted after hanging (figure 29). In 1882 a company was organized to manufacture the English invention at Stamford, Connecticut. It was advertised during the 1880's as "The Indestructible Wall Covering," and had many imitators.
The second of these wallcoverings especially popular during the late 19th century was Japanese "Leather Paper." The final appearance of this product was so realistic that it fooled many a connoisseur into accepting it for actual leather. The heavy gauge paper was highly embossed and varnished, and featured richly colored and gilded decorations. It was not only hung on walls, but also frequently used to decorate the bamboo and imitation bamboo furniture that was popular during the period.
Finally, a third category of papers popular into the 1920's was "Ingrain" paper. According to the 1877 patent, the paper was to be made from mixed cotton and woolen rags, which were dyed before pulping. The process gave a thick, roughly textured "ingrained" coloring. Similar papers with rough grainy surface were known in the trade as "oatmeal papers."
Innovative flat patterns in the Art Nouveau taste had limited impact in America around the turn of the century. Some English designs continued to be bought by the design conscious avant-garde in America. But the 1890's witnessed a general return to commercial production of scrollwork and naturalistic styles not far removed from those of the mid-century. Commercial manufacturers leaned heavily on palates that featured saccharine pastel shades, and color blendings.
Last Updated: 26-Apr-2007