HISTORY BY DESIGN

The mysterious castle, part 2

, August 20, 2012 - Projects

Wallpaper puzzle

In the previous post about the mysterious castle I told you about my first explorations of the building and how I found but a few traces of the oldest periods and some remnants of early 20th century life in there. Today I will focus on some of the surviving 19th century wallpapers that I did research into for the owner of the building.

Viewing window of the earliest four papers. There were five more on top of these

In a large room on the main floor many layers of antique wallpapers had been preserved.  I uncovered them one by one by carefully peeling away the overlying layers (see picture above). These paper layers can give a nice overview of changing fashions in interior decoration and developments in wallpaper printing techniques in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Wallpaper with garden motif, ca 1850-60

The earliest paper in the room, which was attached to a jute support, is this pretty, almost panoramic wallpaper filled with branches, leaves, flowers and birds against a golden grillwork. These kinds of wallpaper designs have French origins and were very popular around 1850-60. To make a wallpaper like this, wooden blocks had to be carved by hand for each and every colour in the design – quite a task. The printing had to be done with equal precision, taking care to perfectly align each additional colour with the design. The wallpaper has a very large pattern repeat, making the paper even more complex to produce (and to align in situ as well).

It’s a lovely design and the details are so pretty – definitely one of the best finds. Note the pairing of the light, spatial design in the paper with a more formal dark green and red border. Another nice detail is that the paper is situated is a sunny room facing the gardens, so you can imagine there was a close link between the walls and  the view out the windows.

Detail of the handprinted paper which was stuck onto a jute support

The paper that sits on top of the panoramic wallpaper is a tapestry- imitating design from 1870-80 (pictured below). It is very different from the previous paper in many ways: it has a flat, stylized appearance, dark moody colours and it was machine-printed (which for the record still was a process that required painstaking accuracy). There is quite a large border, also having a stylized and tapestry-like motif in a muted colour scheme.

‘Tapisserie’ wallpaper, 1870-80

It was very fashionable to have your home filled with tapestries at the end of the 19th century, but real tapestries could be quite costly so they also made wallpaper – a much cheaper choice – look like tapestries or woven wall hangings. Making ordinary materials look like much more costly materials is a trick that has been applied all throughout the history of design and decoration.

How did they do it here? The floral design was overlaid with a small-scale pattern of tiny black dots. When seen from further away they create the illusion of a weave.

Detail of the tiny black dots

 

Art Nouveau wallpaper, machine-printed, ca 1900

The next one  in line  is this ca. 1900 Art Nouveau paper : again a totally different style and feel. Pastel colours, swaying lines and the star feature in the design is an elegant tulip-like flower. Altogether very Art Nouveau indeed.

We’re going upstairs now to find some (fragments of) very interesting wallpapers hidden in a couple of built-in closets. I have to admit that I couldn’t immediately tell what period or style these papers were, but a visit to the Musée du Papier Peint (in Rixheim, Alsace) and some suggestions of friendly wallpaper experts helped me figure out that the paper pictured below, with black intertwining lines and  rhombus motifs was made ca. 1820-1840 which completely surprised me. On first glance I thought it to be at least a hundred years younger. It’s quite a modern design and it goes with a precious border with a floral motif printed in mint green, dark orange and baby blue on a satinated (glossy) paper.

Wallpaper, handprinted, 1820-1840

Detail of the motif

Detail of the high-quality handprinted border

In a room nearby I found another paper from this period – also with a sort of geometric design (possibly resembling embroidery motifs) printed in a single colour on a white ground and paired with a contrasting floral border. Can you see the resemblance?

A few decades later, in the mid 19th century, a fashion arose for delicate fabrics like silk, satin and lace. I found two wallpapers on the upper floor printed to resemble silk by introducing white ‘watery’ lines into the design to create the illusion of a shimmer typical for silk.

Wallpaper with silk-imitation, ca 1850-60

Wallpaper with silk-imitation and a ribbon / bow motif, ca 1850-60

The effect is more obvious in the left picture, but the paper to the right also has a very subtle, silk-like shimmer. As you may notice in the pictures, these precious wallpapers were badly damaged. Only some fragments remain.

You may also have noticed throughout this post that in earlier times wallpapers were always trimmed with borders and sometimes even with friezes. In most cases I was lucky to find some pieces of borders stuck to the bottom of the papers, but sometimes, as with the papers pictured above, there were no traces of them.

The other way around I did come across some pieces of borders with nothing or very little of their papers preserved:

Viewing window of some wallpaper and border fragments

This might look a bit like a mess to you, but on a closer look you will see some remarkable details in these dark strips of paper. There are two borders sitting on top of each other here, both in a reddish colour, and they were paired with what seem to be very pale blue-grayish wallpapers. Too little of them has been preserved to be able to say something about their patterns and style.

Wallpaper border, flocked, first half of 19th century

The borders are very cool however: the oldest is this bright orange-and-black one with a clever cut-out effect and a velvety appearance which was achieved by applying glue to the paper and then sprinkling over textile fibers (a technique called flock or velouté). I think the combination of a pale gray wallpaper with this bright, textural border is striking.

The same goes for the scheme that sits on top.

Wallpaper border, flocked, mid 19th century

The brownish leaves in this border are also flocked, whereas the green cord motif is ‘regularly’ printed, giving the design some textural variation. Again there is a striking combination of a pale paper (with fragments of motifs that look like flowers and ribbons) with a heavily tinted border.

It amused me to find these daring and unexpected colour combinations and such contrasts between papers and borders – it’s a very different aesthetic from the way we use wallpaper today, don’t you think?

It would be too much to share every single paper (fragment) I found in the mysterious castle. But I hope you enjoyed this selection I made of some 19th century designs. Which do you think is prettiest? Would you want to have one of these papers in your home?

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