If walls could talk

As part of our well-established approval plan for French fine arts books we recently took delivery of a beautifully produced and prizewinning book on wallpaper: Murs de papier: l’atelier du papier peint, 1798-1805 by Christine Velut. It features over 250 pages of wallpaper samples which have been held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France since the turn of the 19th century when manufacturers were invited to deposit them under 1793 revolutionary legislation to protect their intellectual property from counterfeit.

In recent years the Library has acquired a good number of interesting books on wallpaper and its history across a range of languages. I think this demonstrates that there is a growing academic interest in the history of wallpaper and more generally in interior design and the social history of domestic life.  Indeed, only last year an exhibition was held at the Musée départemental Albert et Félicie Demard, Champlitte and we have a copy of the accompanying catalogue: Murs & merveilles: le papier peint s’expose au salon. A couple of years earlier wallpaper was also the subject of an exhibition at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris for which we also have the corresponding catalogue: Faire le mur: 4 siècles de papiers peints.

At the same time as the samples were being deposited in the BNF, the company Joseph Dufour was also having huge success in France with its panoramic wallpapers. The most famous of these is probably Sauvages de la Mer du Pacifique which extended to over ten metres and contained views of exotic Pacific peoples and events, based on the accounts of European explorers including Captain Cook. Small sections of this were used for the cover and endpapers of Joseph Dufour: génie des papiers peints, a substantial and richly illustrated treatment of the company and its wallpapers.

Cover and endpapers of Joseph Dufour: génie des papiers peints (click on the image to see larger version)

Looking further afield than France, wallpaper has been the subject of recent books in Russian, Spanish and Swedish:

For a good and clear general history of wallpaper with many illustrations Wallpaper: a history of styles and trends by Carolle Thibault-Pomerantz is a good starting point. Another general work to consider is Wallpaper in interior decoration by Gill Saunders.

Katharine Dicks

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