Wallpaper: From Imitation to Art

Hanging things on walls for decoration is nothing new. So while it is true that wallpaper is enjoying a recent surge in popularity, it has actually been around for longer than you may think: some historians place the earliest European wallpapers in the 1400s!

french chateaux 18th century wallpaper

Historically, wealthy Europeans hung large, elaborate tapestries on their walls – both to keep out the draft, and to display their wealth and status. The scenes on the tapestries were complex, intricate, and beautiful: which also means they were extremely expensive! The earliest wallpaper was thought to be created to imitate these tapestries (without the expensive price tag).

But early wallpaper creation was a painstaking process: the motifs were created with wooden blocks and stamped onto the paper – colour was added by hand.
GIRLS ROOM wallpaperIn 1785, the first machine for printing wallpaper was invented. Suddenly, printing wallpaper wasn’t so hard anymore. By the 1820s, colour printing was invented, and the luxurious hand-stamped and coloured papers of the past were being tossed aside in favour of hastily produced, machine-made papers. Who can blame them! With this new technology, “designers” could give the masses what they wanted without all that hard work.

The quality, and thus the popularity, of wallpaper began to suffer. Although the technology made wallpaper more widely available, it was no longer being treated as an art form. It got so bad that some, like William Morris, railed against the machine and returned to hand printing wallpaper – and these pre-industrial style designs were like the Prada of wallpaper in their day.

 

The British nobles and royalty in their palaces and grand houses gladly turned to China for their stunningly luxurious (and extremely expensive) hand painted “Chinoiserie” wallpaper.

 

wallpaper in 80sIt wasn’t until the invention of the mechanical silkscreen in the 1920s that wallpaper really came into its own in Europe. Artists saw wallpaper as a way to showcase bold, colourful designs meant to stand alone as art in their own right. No longer was wallpaper an imitation of tapestries or textiles!
Since the 1920s, wallpaper styles have run the gamut from understated to intricate. (There are some wallpaper designs that are best relegated to Granny’s guest bedroom…)

 

vineyard mist wallpaperEven still, the majority of wallpaper is still produced by machine. I, like William Morris in his day, think that there is something to be said for hand painted wallpaper. By definition, every panel is unique.
And although machine produced wallpaper has gone in and out of style, hand painted wallpaper has remained in history as a distinguished style feature. In keeping with modern trends, my hand painted wallpaper is perfect as a statement piece on a feature wall.

 

 

 

Some of my beautiful hand painted wallpapers – 

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