History of Wallpaper and Panoramic Tapestry

Wallpaper had become popular in Renaissance Europe among the upper classes, allowing them to add colour to their rooms and providing an insulating layer between stone walls and the cold air. They could also be easier to hang and replace than tapestries, which were laborious and expensive. The gentry continued to hang tapestries, but less well-off members of the elite, as well as people living in cities or those unable to afford the expense of a full-scale tapestry, turned to patterned printed papers for their decorative needs. By the 1790ies two French wallpaper producers decided to further develop the idea of woodblock-printed paper by specializing in special printed panoramic scenes. Joseph Dufour in Lyon and Hartmann Risler (who would later become Zuber & Cie) in Rixheim hit on a winning formula.

The technique required a large number of blocks, one for each layer of colour. Adding a simple design might require hundreds of different coloured blocks, but the more complex and intricate designs demanded thousands of individual blocks. This was not a job for the faint-hearted, but those with patience and great skill were rewarded with beautiful and detailed wallpapers that rivalled the best of tapestry.

A few surviving early examples of wallpapers can be seen in museums today. The earliest chintz-style floral pattern found in England dates from about 1730, a fragment of which with pink and blue flowers was discovered at Hampden House in Buckinghamshire. Other examples include the formalised pomegranate pattern from the Master’s Lodge at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and an 1809 pattern with green acanthus leaves found in the library of a Georgian country house.

In the 18th century the fashion for scenic wallpaper exploded. Manufacturers produced sweeping views of antique architecture, exotic landscapes and pastoral subjects, and repeating patterns like florals and geometric shapes that were a far cry from the traditional drab damask.

Panoramas were a particular favourite, often inspired by the Grand Tour of Europe or expeditions to distant places. Joseph Dufour & Cie created a panorama of Captain Cook’s voyages, and Zuber came up with L’Hindoustan (1807), Les Vues de Suisse (1814) and La Grande Helvetie (1825).

By the late 1800s the fashion for panoramas had revived in America and France. Manufacturers devoted entire factories to them and sold them in a lively trade with America. The most famous panoramas were huge, such as the 20 strip wide ‘Savages of the Pacific’ designed by Jean-Gabriel Charvet for the company of Joseph Dufour in Paris.

During the 1900s and into the 1920s, machines became more advanced and affordable, enabling many middle class families to decorate their homes with machine-printed wallpaper. However, luxury firms like Susan Harter & Co continue to produce high-end hand-blocked wallpaper using the same techniques as their forebears, employing skilled artists and taking enormous amounts of time. This allows them to produce a range of spectacularly beautiful wallpapers that evoke the elegance of the past. papier peint nature tapisserie panoramique

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