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Rooms with a View:

Landscape & Wallpaper

Cooper-Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution

April 24 - October 14, 2001

Detail of "El Dorado"

Large blow-up on fence of Cooper Museum National Design Museum fence of wallpaper detail of "El Dorado," France, 1849, printed by Zuber et Cie

By Michele Leight

Apart from coveting the unattainable hand-painted Chinese wallpapers glimpsed on lofty walls in graciously proportioned rooms in English and European country houses - elegant bamboo glades filled with exotically plumed birds set against duck-egg blue skies patinated with age - this reporter would qualify as a non-wallpaper person. Walls are meant for paintings and books, or as lacquered, mirrored and sconced backdrops to exquisite furniture and collectibles I told myself as I clambered up the fine old oak staircase of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution that is housed in the formidable former Andrew Carnegie Mansion on Fifth Avenue between 90th and 91st Streets.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to find myself dazzled and beguiled by this exhibition, entitled "Rooms With a View: Landscape and Wallpaper," which is on view from April 24 to October 14, 2001. Most unexpected of all was the discovery that the history of wallpaper is linked to the history of landscape painting and the development of modern technology and machines, and that science and art can and do co-exist in the creation of beauty, whether it is traditional, or innovative, wallpaper for the masses, or painterly, one-of-a-kind murals for the lucky few.

The show was the perfect accompaniment to Spring, with blossoms bursting forth in the museum's beautiful and large garden, featuring prize lavender wisteria, coral and Naples yellow tulips and purple pansies, and Central Park, exploding with blossoms and bright green foliage, beckoning through the elegant, tall, wrought-iron fence which marks the perimeter of the mansion garden. (The garden is one of the most treasured locations in the city, and in early summer the bees fatted on an abundance of nectar are worth a visit on their own. They are much to busy with the flora to bother stinging anyone. The volunteer gardeners work on it tirelessly and with an abundance of TLC. The garden is available to all with the price of admission: $8 for adults, $5 for seniors and students and free for children under 12 and members and free for everyone Tuesdays 5 to 9 PM.) When broiling or frigid weather does not permit the outdoors, the bright indoor café is a peaceful and cheerful haven to sip and read or visit with friends. The café offers cold snacks and warm drinks, which can be taken outdoors to tables and comfortable chairs of cutting-edge aluminum design and light as a feather that complement the concurrent show "Aluminum By Design Jewelry to Jets," on view from March 20 July 15, 2001, well patronized by fascinated young museum-goers sporting jagged haircuts and hipster bellbottom trousers recalling the sixties. The youngsters did, tentatively, venture upstairs to the wallpaper show, and appeared to enjoy it. The juxtaposition of these two related but very different exhibits is another subtle testimonial to the timeless melding of creativity and technology in the pursuit of beauty and innovative design.

Large blow-ups of wallpapers on fence

Large blow-ups of wallpapers on Cooper-Hewitt Museum fence

Many of the most exquisite wallpapers on display at the show would technically be termed "murals," beginning with "Niagara Falls" which greets the visitor at the top of the stairs. It is from the scenic wallpaper set "Vues d'Amerique du Nord," (Views of North America), designed by Jean-Julien Deltil (French, 1791-1863), block-printed by the famous French wallpaper company Zuber et Cie in 1834. A fascinating video of Zuber's painterly production methods, which remain unchanged today, give insight into why these prized papers are so expensive to produce at a cost which must be passed on to the client, placing them at the luxury end of the consumer market.

Zuber originally traveled to North America, adapting for his wallpapers the famous sights and wonders of the new world, which he took back to sell to the wealthy French bourgeoisie, who were fascinated by America. Jacqueline Kennedy selected Zuber's "Views of North America" when she undertook to restore the dilapidated White House to its former glory. They passed muster with the Fine Arts Committee of the White House for their excellent quality - as well as appropriate subject matter - for the most famous building in America. (See The City Review article on the "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years" 2001 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

The exhibit is divided chronologically into the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and explores the origins and history of wallpaper design and its evolution to the modern patterns we associate with our own time. The linking theme through the centuries is landscape, the bringing of nature indoors, and the time-honored desire for armchair tourism for those who could not leave the comforts of home to endure the rigors of hiking the mountain pastures of Switzerland or the Catskill Mountains, or, most daring of all, venture into the unpredictable Orient. Travel was not easy in the old days, which made the "scenic" panoramas" very unique and exciting.

The 18th Century room displays small treasures like the sample book of famous English landscape designer Humphrey Repton (1752-1818). Entitled "Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening," (London: J. Taylor, 1803, Smithsonian Institution Library), this "sample book" Repton included "flaps" that, when opened, revealed the transformed landscape he envisioned, presenting the more "picturesque" view to the client. Repton advocated improving the natural landscape - and removed trees or slopes or even hills if they did not yield the most idealized "vista." England, as a result, has some of the most sublime parklands in the world, with the legendary Lancelot "Capability" Brown following Humphrey Repton's lead. Both men greatly influenced Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, among others, who were responsible for "landscaping" many notable homes and locations in America, including New York's Central Park.

The concept of the "idealized" landscape was not new, but Humphrey Repton was the first to transfer his ideas into the physical reality of moving earth and planting trees to achieve his creative vision, no ordinary undertaking without bulldozers and cranes. In 1800, Repton laid out the gardens in fashionable Bloomsbury Square in London with its elegant new Georgian terraces, applying his innovative genius to the urban landscape. Many garden squares followed, making London a haven for city dwellers and visitors in need of a break from the frenzied traffic and noise of a major metropolis.

In the accompanying catalog to the show, entitled "Landscape Wallcoverings," by Joanne Kosuda Warner with Elizabeth Johnson, Editor (Scala Publishers in association with Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, $21.95), it is amusing to read Susan Yelavitch's (Assistant Director of Public Programs) observations in the preface: "Gustave Flaubert found the rigors of traveling so exhausting that he claimed he preferred to see the world from a couch while paintings of scenery were unfurled before him." I can think of several family members who would identify completely with Flaubert's "passive tourist" point of view, even in these days of speedy travel. Armchair travelers like Flaubert can travel around the world at this show.

"El Dorado" (France, 1849), a detail of which is the catalogue's cover illustration, designed by Eugene Ehrman, Georges Zipelius, and Josep Fuchs, exquisitely block-printed by Zuber et Cie, is a gorgeously hued panorama representing the four major continents, which took two years to completely from conception to execution. Here the armchair tourist might choose to visit a flower-covered terrace, including a peacock, overlooking a lake representing Europe; architectural ruins, minarets and a pagoda symbolizing Asia; the Nile River, desert plants and Egyptian ruins recalling Africa, and, lushest of all, a small city near Vera Cruz, Mexico, with exotic flora and fauna representing the Americas.

The title of this masterpiece, "El Dorado," (The Golden One), derives from the Spanish legend of a city of great wealth in which everything is made of gold. Sixteenth century explorers believed this kingdom existed, and used the search of El Dorado to explain their exploration and domination of what is now Central South America, Mexico and even the South Western United States. It remained a symbol of wealth, opportunity or abundance to treasure seekers throughout the 19th century, a coveted mythical place anyone would long to have in his or her home albeit a wealthy one. Each of the 24 panels is 99 by 54 centimeters and is in flawless condition. Like most of the items on display, it is from the museum's own collection and this was a gift of Dr. and Mrs. William Collis.

"The Natural Bridge of Virginia and Niagara Falls"

"The Natural Bridge of Virginia and Niagara Falls," two major tourist attractions at the time, Zuber et Cie, Rixheim, France, 1834

While scenic panoramas like "El Dorado," a detail of which is shown at the top of this article, and the entirely American "vista," "The Natural Bridge of Virginia and Niagara Falls," shown above, (Rixheim, France, 1834), also by Zuber et Cie, dominate the show for their sheer magnificence and technical virtuosity, the murals do not come across to the viewer as "wallpaper" in the truest sense of the word. Simpler, repetitious patterns like "Windsor Castle," (England, circa 1920), produced by Arthur Sanderson and Sons, Ltd. a gift to the museum of Arthur Dornsife, featuring roses, trees and a garden spilling over with blossoming shrubs and a faint silhouette of the castle in the background, sold well until 1939. It was made available to the American marketplace in 1952 and sold for 16 years, indicating a strong market for historical and revival landscape wallpapers for much of the 20th century. It is not unlike some of the papers in Sanderson's sample books today, and is more consistent with the majority opinion of what wallpaper should look like.

The impulse or need to bring nature into the home is not new. Roman painters created "trompe l'oeil" landscapes to extend the visual space of rooms. The "pastoral" genre of poetry appeared in Greece and Rome, most significantly in Virgil's "Ecologues," also known as "Bucolica," composed between 42 and 37 BC. They described the idyllic world of Arcadia with shepherds tending their flock and leading simple lives close to nature. This timeless pastoral landscape theme recurs throughout the centuries, both in painting and wallpaper, and is the theme of this show.

In the Middle Ages landscape was a background motif and rarely the subject of a painting. By the 16th century landscape painting was reborn particularly in the Netherlands and Italy in the heroic work of Giorgione and the pastoral landscapes of Titian, both Venetian masters. Simultaneously; Dutch painters were becoming increasingly interested in the realistic representation of landscape, as seen in the work of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, who inverted the balance between nature and man in his painting "The Return of the Hunters" in 1565, where, for the first time, nature and not man, dominates the canvas.

By the mid-seventeenth century, Claude Lorraine (French, 1600-1682) began to paint an entirely new kind of landscape; his naturalism and attention to the effects of natural light raised the "ideal landscape" genre to a new level. As a Frenchman working in Rome, Claude's paintings of the 1630s and 1640s represented a new pastoral ideal, generally a utopian view framed by trees with a defined middle ground and blurry bridges and towns in the distance, a classical formula used effectively to this day. A fascinating object in the 18th Century section of the exhibit, called a "Claude Glass" or landscape mirror (late 19th Century, England) was used by landscape painters to scrutinize subjects in miniature; the tinted, convex mirror reduces colors to tonal contrasts, reminiscent of the paintings of Claude Lorraine, and was also used by English "landscape tourists" who sketched in picturesque spots in the 19th Century.

These "artistic effects" transferred themselves well to wallpaper, creating a new breed of "landscape wallpaper" with a direct historical link to the rise of tourism. The invention of the steamboat and railroad in the 19th century meant that travel was no longer the preserve of the upper classes. New wealth brought with it a desire to visit exotic places and return with souvenirs for some, like Flaubert, a scenic wallpaper could serve to quell the longing for an exhausting journey, while for those on a budget, the more affordable patterned papers showing alpine meadows and Adirondack lakes brought equal pleasure and a chance to dream of visiting bucolic resorts or famous sights some day if they had not already done so. From room-sized panoramas to small repetitious motifs of cowboys, camels crossing desert dunes, cows amidst idyllic pastures and contemporary interpretations of the wonders of nature, this exhibit explores the fascination with landscape "themes" and how they transferred from paintings to wallpaper for both the luxury and everyday wall-coverings consumer market.

"For hundreds of years, European homeowners had decorated their walls with various textiles for both warmth and aesthetics. They hung linens, brocades, damasks, and tapestries. The heavy, woven tapestries, which originated in the thirteenth century, often depicted narrative scenes. It was these textiles that first brought landscapes indoors in the modern period, and they would later be drawn upon as a source of inspiration for paper wallcoverings. In fact, in the late eighteenth century, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, one of France's most important wallpaper manufacturers, employed designers from the Gobelins tapestry factory," noted the exhibition catalogue's introduction.

While the exhibit spans 18th, 19th and 20th century wallpapers, it is the 19th century which is the focus of the show, when public and consumer interest in landscape and landscape study coincided with the ability of manufacturers to mass-produce wallpaper due to industrial advances, thereby removing the limitations of what was a labor-intensive craft, most often affordable only to the wealthy. The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian institution, houses the largest collection of wallpaper in the United States, including most of the magnificent examples on view at the present show.

The origins of wallpaper date back to 1650, when paper became less expensive and Europeans began to paste papers painted with decorative motifs directly onto their walls. One paper decorated with a textile design was discovered on a beam in Cambridge, England, dating back to 1509. Across the English Channel, French craftsmen produced single sheets of decorated papers, called "dominos," for the middle-class market throughout the first half of the 16th century. The English fashion for "Print Room Paper," of which there is a wonderful example in the 18th Century room - titled "Print Room Paper," (1750-1800) - is block-printed on handmade paper, accompanied by the following wall-text: "In 1753 Horace Walpole noted that he had cut up some prints and glued them to his wall and framed them 'in the new manner' invented by Lord Cardigan; that is with black and white borders printed. This fashion was taken up by paper stainers, who made trompe l'oeil wall paper versions with framed views of temples, ruins and landscapes."

In the 18th century, the most intricate and stunning wallpapers in Europe and the American colonies came from China. "Chinoiserie" objects were in fashion and very much sought after; the British East India Company was founded in 1599, and the Chinese had been trading with the British since that time, described in history books as the "China Trade." Other European companies set up their own trading companies, and brought home the first Chinese papers in the early part of the 1690s. Interestingly, Chinese homes were completely devoid of patterned or painted wallpapers; scholars are of the opinion that sets of painted wallpaper were specially created by Chinese merchants to give as gifts to finalize deals with their European trading partners. These "prized" painted papers, like the ones alluded to in English country houses at the beginning of this article, were of such a high standard compared with their European counterparts, that scholars credit their quality as the impetus for improved quality in the European industry. A little competition never hurts.

The only regrettable omission at this show is an example of Chinese wallpaper, but perhaps they are too fragile to move. Their luminous quality was masterfully achieved with many hues and layers of water-based gouache or tempera, applied by hand, not printed. The most treasured papers from China still closed to Westerners throughout the 18th century depicted Chinese people going about their business in landscape settings. For those who have seen these exquisite papers in famous country houses in Britain and France, they leave a lasting impression for their incredible beauty, enhanced by the quality of furniture, paintings and interior decoration deemed worthy accompaniments to them. What a spectacle it must have been in the days of candlelight and fine evening dress, with exquisite painted wallpapers as the backdrop.

Illustrations of examples of homes with Chinese wallpapers may be found in "The Papered Wall: The History, Patterns and Techniques of Wallpaper," edited by Leslie Hoskins, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1994. The wonderful book gives a fine global view of the history of wallpaper, as well as memorable images of the finest wallpapers ever produced "in situ" in the most beautiful and functional homes, castles and palazzi in the world, including Hampton Court Palace, Brighton Pavilion, the Chinese Drawing Room at Saltram, the hunting lodge in Stupinigi, Piedmont, a worker's flat decorated with a modest Art Nouveau paper in Paris photographed by Eugene Atget in 1910 and a hauntingly beautiful mural called "Envol" ("Taking Flight") first hand-screen-printed by Zuber of France.

The Great Exhibition, or the Crystal Palace Exhibition, of 1851 in London became a landmark international or world fair in which the nations of the world offered the cream of their arts and manufactured goods to the public. Fifty wallpaper manufacturers exhibited at the Crystal Palace, with the most notable entries hailing from French and English companies. By mid-century, wallpaper companies in those two countries were the chief source of almost all the Western world's wallpaper, each country printing 2 million rolls of wallpaper per year.

Alpine Scene with Chalet"

"Alpine Scene with Chalet," France, 1835-1850, gilt-stampled, block-printed lithograph

The French manufacturers, like Zuber, created the most luxurious papers for the wealthy market, while the English focused on technological innovations and perfecting mass-production. A technically awesome example is Eleanor and Sara Hewitt's gift to the museum titled "Alpine Scene with Chalet," (France, 1835-50), shown above, a gilt-stamped, block-printed lithograph, a soothing daydream in soft tones, which is part exclusive and part mass market: lithography allowed for faster printing compared with the labor-intensive requirements of block printing, which took much longer. In contrast, "Le Soir," (France circa 1858, a gift to the museum of Germaine Little) is a block-printed paper in rich exotic tones, featuring a glowing pink eastern sunset, palm trees, minaret and camels, guaranteed to blow away the misty chill winters of Europe in a well-to-do parlor. Its one-of-a-kind beauty derives from the painterly quality of pigments pressed by hand with varying degrees of pressure on a carefully prepared ("brushed") background. The Zuber video explains and shows the entire process, which in many ways is far more exacting than an artist painting a canvas.

Artists and artistic movements continually influenced wallpaper designers, and the firm of Defosse and Keith (the company was founded by Defosse in 1851) produced a design called "Décor Pastoral" (France, 1863-65, Block-printed, Purchase, Friends of the Museum, 1955) which took its inspiration from the Barbizon School of painters, including Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) and Jean-Baptiste Corot (1796-1875), who were heavily influenced by the 17th century Dutch landscape painters. The naturalistic depictions of the Barbizon School paved the way for the Impressionists a few years later, and their style was in marked contrast to the idealized version of nature found in the traditional landscape paintings of Claude Lorraine and Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665). The rivalry between naturalism and idealism continued throughout the second half of the 19th century in France.

The first wallpaper-printing machine was patented by the British textile printers Potters and Ross in 1839. Each color required a separate roller, and synthetic pigments like ultramarine blue and chrome yellow were used on rolls of continuous paper made from wood pulp instead of cotton-on-linen-rag fiber, greatly reducing the manufacturing costs. The scale of the design was also affected by machine printing, as the circumference of the new rollers was relatively small, so the size of each repeat was reduced.

French manufacturers continued to specialize in hand-printed papers, while American and English manufacturers took advantage of new technology. Large, non-repeating papers such as Zuber's were too large, too extravagant and expensive for the average home. However, reproductions of "The Horse Fair," a famous painting at the time (painted in 1853, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Rosa Bonheur (1822-99), was machine-printed in a repeating pattern by an English company (1855-1875), intended for the mass-market. The manufacturer is not known, because it was not until the late 19th century that manufacturers of machine printed papers put their names on the selvage, or uncut, edge.

The second half of the 19th century witnessed the rise of another industry in Europe and America: in the United States 700 magazines were published in 1865. By 1885 the number had escalated to 3,300 due to technological advances and a more literate public. Magazines like Scientific American, Scribner's, Harper's and Leslie's were crammed with travel articles, literature, current events and fashion. Electrotyping, a process that created a facsimile of type or an engraving, revolutionized the printing of pictures. Books like William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America" (New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1872-74) fired the public's imagination and increased an interest in American scenes in the late 19th century.

Framed Canadian Scenes

"Framed Canadian Scenes (La Chine Rapids, Montmorency Falls, The Thousand Islands, Victoria Bridge," United States or England, circa 1870, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

Wallpaper manufacturers and buyers responded to popular literature and contemporary scenes; in the United States, papers with titles like "Framed Canadian scenes (La Chine Rapids, Montmorency Falls, The Thousand Islands, Victoria Bridge," shown above, and "Framed scenes with figures on horseback," (U.S., or England, circa 1870) featured American cowboys herding cattle across the frontier. The bucolic pastures, shepherds and herds of sheep of the idealized landscapes were replaced by the American version of the European "pastoral" landscape - the cowboys exuding freedom, self-reliance and ruggedness of life in the new world.

Current events became commonplace images on wallpapers, depicting subjects as diverse as the Prince of Wales' visit to India, scenes from Daniel Defoe's (1660-1731) novel "Robinson Crusoe" and the Turkish town of Gallipolli that was under siege during the Crimean War (1835-56). These wallpapers reflected the tastes of the new middle-class market, which increased with the affordability of machine printed papers.

The East continued to influence and fascinate the "movers and shakers" of the late 19th century like William Morris, Owen Jones and Christopher Dresser. Morris (1834-1896) spearheaded Britain's Arts and Crafts Movement, favoring a return to a pre-industrial past. His wallpapers portrayed stylized plant forms incorporating cleverly concealed repeats which are popular and still in production today. Jones (1809-1874) was drawn to flat pattern and geometric ornament, eschewing recognizable scenes. Dresser (1834-1904) was smitten with Japan and interested in designing for the machine with the belief that it would make better design available to the masses.

Japan had been inaccessible to Western traders for hundreds of years, until the signing of a trade agreement between the United States and the Emperor of Japan in 1854. Europeans were dazzled, for the first time, by examples of Japanese ceramics, bronzes, prints and textiles with ornament based on stylized natural forms on view at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. Once again, artists like Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and James Abbott McNeil Whistler began incorporating these innovative design elements in their work and wallpaper designers followed their lead. By the 1880s pattern books were awash with bamboo, cherry blossoms, cranes, fans and oriental style vases.

Japonaiserie-style paper with views of Brooklyn Bridge and Niagara Falls

"Japonaiserie-style paper with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Niagara Falls, United States, 1883-85, machine-printed, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, gift of Grace Lincoln Temple

Wallpaper manufactures responded to the public's mania for things Anglo-Japanese by combining familiar images of lighthouses, boats and boys building sandcastles with cherry blossoms and flat, abstract design elements. Some even combined famous sights like the Brooklyn Bridge and Coney Island with Japanese vases and bamboo leaves, as in "Japonaiserie-style paper with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Niagara Falls, (United States, 1883-85, machine-printed, gift of Grace Lincoln Temple), shown above.

In the United States a return to tradition ran parallel with the sprouting of hundreds of new millionaires, eager to emulate the fine tapestries, gilded leathers and painted ornament of their European counterparts. In the 1890s American architects who studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris were eager to show copies of French chateaux, Classical villas and fine furniture to their wealthy American patrons back home who were furiously commissioning properties on Fifth Avenue in New York and in their summer "cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island.

Wallpaper followed the "sumptuous" design trend, and sought to imitate the gilded leathers and tapestries of fine and extremely expensive craftsmanship: "flocking," a new technology which imitated velvety textures became fashionable, as did simulated tapestry and gilded leather. In the last quarter of the 19th century, wallpaper moved away from being relegated to the ceiling where it had hitherto been utilized to becoming a total design element. As the exhibit is small and therefore limited in range, it is useful to find in "The Papered Wall," fine examples of these wallpapers which were used in grand American and European homes, including a fragment of Lincrusta-Walton paper installed in John D. Rockefeller House in New York in the 1880s.

Lincrusta had a relief pattern machine-embossed on the surface by engraved iron or steel rollers and was a technological marvel at the time for its hygienic properties (it was easy to clean), but more importantly it was considered artistically perfect when compared with the much criticized "sanitary" wallpapers like linoleum, which was similar in composition. Both wallpapers were invented by Frederick Walton in 1877, but Lincrusta was chosen by such avant garde designers as Hector Guimard for his extreme Art Nouveau designs in the famous Castel Beranger in Paris (1896), and Christopher Dresser was known to have supplied some of the first designs to Walton's London showrooms, at least one of them in the Anglo-Japanese style which he advocated.

It was an era of exciting new developments and rapid change: the electric light was designed by Thomas Edison in 1880, changing the domestic scene forever; Henry Ford built the first mass-produced car and the motion picture was invented by the Lumières in 1895. In the midst of all these technological wonders, the public reverted to the comfort and reassurance of traditional wallpaper design, and the consumer market was flooded with Barbizon School style "natural" designs featuring old watermills, sheaves of corn and romantic landscapes. A block printed and flocked paper entitled "Ceiling corner block with water mill," (1875-1900, United States) is accompanied by the following wall text: "Flocking, gilt, a colorful palette and trompe l'oeil elements create a rich painterly effect in the ceiling decoration. The representation of nature, marsh plants and pre-industrial water power are consistent with Arts and Crafts ideals." "By placing traditional landscape imagery within a modern compositional device, this wallpaper anticipates the two approaches to landscape wallpaper that dominate the twentieth century: a revival of romantic subject matter and modern abstraction," observed Joanne Kosuda Warner in the exhibition catalogue.

The 20th Century, with many new and exciting forces at work, witnessed a move away from rural areas to cities and suburbs, and farmland and forests began to disappear. Machines speeded up the pace of life and provided more consumer goods and a population that was increasingly able to afford private housing. The Arts and Crafts Movement that had begun decades earlier in England gained popularity in the United States. Furniture like Gustav Stickley's "Mission" style pieces became less ornate, with interior design elements like window treatments and wallpaper following suit.

Wallpaper manufacturers soon emulated the Arts and Crafts style with unfussy views of nature evoking a pre-industrial landscape as well as the aesthetic style and methods of production of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The frieze was the preferred wall treatment of the Arts and Crafts Style, a wooden wainscot or plain paper on the lower section of the wall, crowned by a pictorial or patterned frieze. Many of the friezes at the show reveal the influence of Japanese art, which continued to influence artists and designers. In wallpaper design, it took the form of cropped objects in the foreground, a flattened rendering of perspective, and asymmetry.

"Frieze" by Hobbs, Benton & Heath

"Frieze," machine printed and produced by Hobbs, Benton & Heath, United States, circa 1900, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, gift of Paul F. Francis

Stunning examples like "Frieze," (circa 1900, United States), machine printed and produced by Hobbs, Benton and Heath, have far more kinship with paintings or Japanese screens than repetitive motif style wallpaper. Walter Crane's tranquil "The May Tree," (England, 1896) is a block printed, abstracted frieze that was as expensive to produce as any Zuber design, and which appealed to worldly and cultured customers who understood Japanese design and modern art.

The invention of photography in the 19th Century undermined the painters or illustrators need to create realistic images. Early 20th century designers began to interpret rather than imitate nature, once again emulating modern artists like Henri Matisse, Wassilly Kandinsky and Juan Miro, who abstracted nature and rural life and landscapes. All three artists were hugely influenced by the natural landscape around them, expressing them abstractly on canvas. Wallpaper designers also left literal realism behind.

This trend to interpret rather than copy nature was popularized by the influential teacher Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) through his book "Composition: A Series of Exercises Selected from a New System of Art Education," (1899) and his teaching posts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and Columbia University. All of the examples in the 20th century section of the show bear the mark of his teachings.

Following William Morris's concern for the preservation of historic monuments and buildings he founded the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings in the 1870s. The nostalgia for a vanishing way of life resulted in interest in colonial revival in the United States, which had its roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876 awakened interest in the nations early history, which included buildings and their decoration and furniture. Wallace Nutting (1861-1941) reproduced colonial furniture and sold millions of his own nostalgic photographs of rural homes, country lanes and a disappearing agrarian lifestyle. There is a wonderful hand-tinted photograph by Wallace Nutting in the exhibition titled "At the Fender," (1904), showing a staged parlor scene of a lady in appropriate colonial attire knitting peacefully by the fire; on the walls surrounding her is Dufour's magnificent wallpaper, "Views of Italy," (Paris, circa 1825) on display in the 19th century section of the show.

For the first time, the homes of American heroes were restored and opened to the public as museums, which generated a demand for "revival" wallpapers of the quality of those produced between 1830 and 1850. The Paul Revere Memorial Association (founded 1905) asked Thomas Strahan & Company, Chelsea, Massachusetts to reproduce the paper originally used in the house, and other museums and societies followed. Birge and Sons, in Buffalo, New York created a revival wallpaper called "Roosevelt," (c.1924) to be used for the nursery of the boyhood home of President Theodore Roosevelt, a gift to the museum of the Women's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1946.

Wallpaper was not considered a serious subject for study till quite recently, and the interior designer Nancy McLelland (1877-1959) was one of the most important promoters of historical wallpapers in the United States. She was also an author and founded her decoration and antique business in New York in 1922. She sold antique scenic panoramas and produced her own line of block-printed reproduction papers that were printed in France. She published "Historical Wallpapers from their Inception to the Introduction of Machinery in 1924." It remained the chief source of wallpapers for many years. Large and small-scale scenic landscape papers can be found mainly in historic house museums and restored private homes in the United States today.

As before, the consumer market looked forward as well as backward, and "modernism" took root in the wallpaper industry, just as it did on famous canvases in the 1910s and 1920s: with production limitations out of the way, manufacturers scrambled to provide a wide range of exciting designs for the new avant-garde sensibility. Simple forms and bright colors abounded. A machine-printed paper called "Mariza," (Vienna, Austria, 1926, produced by Flammersheim and Steinmann), designed by Maria Likarz (1893-1971) for the influential Wiener Werkstatte (Arts and Crafts Workshop in Vienna) depicts an abstract landscape of overlapping forms that echoes Cubism, the elegance of Viennese decorative arts and the strong colors of the Ballets Russes.

Continuing in the Arts and Crafts tradition of printing by hand, Edward Bawden, an English painter, printer and illustrator created "Tree and Cow," (England, 1927), a charming and highly sophisticated lithograph from linocut, printed by hand on single sheets: it is a modern interpretation of a timeless agrarian scene, which has not "dated" and would look new in any room today; it is amazing to think that it was created over 70 years ago.

The Birches by Charles Burchfield

"The Birches, (Buffalo, New York, 1921)" designed by Charles Burchfield, produced by M. H. Birge & Sons Co., machine printed, Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

"The Birches," (Buffalo, New York, 1921), shown above, designed by the artist Charles Burchfield, (1893-1967), an American artist well known for his lyrical watercolor landscapes, depicts leafless trees against mounds of snow and rocks, produced by M.H. Birge and Sons Company. For those as yet unwilling to embrace such modern interpretations of nature, manufacturers also produced "pastiches" of traditional and modern subject matter. The Great Depression and World War II created not only economic hardships but also a cautious attitude to new design an attitude.

In peacetime, however, the booming economy of post-war America led to many new designs to meet the unprecedented number of new homeowners who were eager to decorate and traditional and modern landscape papers continued to compete with each other. In a romantic "fete galante" wallpaper, "Shepherdess with sheep," (England, 1945), produced by Crown Wallcoverings, couples portrayed together in the bucolic countryside recall the paintings of Watteau and Fragonard, and the popular wallpaper of the 18th century. This escapism is the aftermath of a Europe devastated by war, with cities and rural towns reduced to rubble and ruins. Many post-war European papers were designed for export as a means of generating income. The American firm the Eisenhart Wallpaper Company designed a similarly idealized and peaceful though unpeopled landscape in the naturalistic style called "Tree-framed scene," (Hanover, Pennsylvania, 1945-58). Post-war American designers and builders offered papers like this as a way of bringing nature indoors, adding patios and windows as well as imitative natural textures like real grass cloth to "tract" suburban homes. A new innovation was to hang wallpaper on only one wall of a room, creating the illusion of a view where there was none.

Simplified modern abstracted landscapes glorified a rapidly disappearing agricultural lifestyle in the United States as cities grew and suburbs flourished: "Gray landscape with red buildings" (possibly United States 1955-59) captures the California lifestyle, which represented "the good life" for many Americans, with its emphasis on the outdoors and informality. It shows houses alongside mountains and near the ocean a domestic lifestyle completely integrated with nature.

Huge reproduction photographs called photomurals appeared on the market, some in monograph and others in full color. They were designed to fill one wall, creating the illusion of a picture window with a vista beyond of the Teton or Rocky Mountain range and similar American wonderlands. The concept had been introduced in the 1930s by the American photographers Margaret Bourke White, Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams, but did not become successful till the 1950s. They allowed the viewer to sit in a suburban living room and look out upon an exotic or fantastic landscape paradise perfect for Flaubert and other armchair tourists. Sample books often complemented such views with new furniture design and interiors, like an Eames chair or sofa, first produced in 1946.

Artist/designers were not to be outdone by the new technology and designed large-scale, non-repeating landscape papers that alluded to the tradition of heroic landscapes - modern versions of Virgil's "Bucolica" - or pastoral, which dates from 37 BC. Ilonka Karaz's mettzotint print "Arches," manufactured by the New York firm of Katzenback and Warren, with its architectural structures amidst trees, plants and animals has more kinship with a 19th century mural than wallpaper because the repeat is almost impossible to define. The romantic "pastoral," non-repeating landscape murals would be overshadowed by abstraction in the 60s, but they have endured the test of time.

Consumer culture flourished globally in the post war years, especially in Europe and the United States, and the earliest wave of baby-boomers reached adolescence in the 1960s. Youth culture, as it had never been known before, was born. Magazines, T.V., and film exploded on the scene, exposing the latest trends, and people became more "style conscious," defining themselves by the products they consumed, the clothes they wore and the way they decorated their homes. The wallpaper industry complied by embracing abstract pattern, bright colors and new materials.

For the first time many designers emerged from formal university design programs advocating the Bauhaus philosophy of flat and simple pattern and that form should follow function. Modernist artists, architects and educators emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s; Walter Gropius became professor at Harvard, Mies Van der Rohe lead the architecture department at IIT (The Illinois Institute of Technology) and Joseph Albers, the great color theorist, established a design course at Black Mountain College.

The gap between fine and commercial art narrowed as each field borrowed from the other: Andy Warhol glorified Campbell soup cans and Yves St. Laurent designed a dress like a painting by Piet Mondrian. Visual culture was freely appropriated by artists and designers and then rendered as purely graphic elements including landscapes. "Groves" by Ben Rose (1960-67) reduces landscape to pure pattern, (Chicago, Illinois, screen-printed on vinyl, Gift of Ben Rose).

The Cliffs by Alain Le Foll

"Les Falaises (The Cliffs)," detail, designed by Alain Le Foll for Zuber et Cie, 1976

In contrast a wallpaper mural "On the Scene" by James Seaman (1971) reduces a mountain range to pure form and color, reminiscent of the paintings of Joseph Albers. This non-repeating paper would have filled one wall, but the Zuber et Cie, not to be outdone or outmoded, created new panoramas that would fill an entire room like "Les Falaises (The Cliffs)," Rixheim, France, 1976, designed by Alain Le Foll (1934-81). The four panels resurrect the masterful form of Zuber's awesome 19th century creations, catapulting them into the 20th century. It works simultaneously as a landscape and a pattern of subtly colored rock strata.

The most recent wallpaper at the show draws attention to the landscape in a different way. "Acorn Paper," (2000, United States), designed and digitally printed by Francesco Simeti (Italian b.1968), created for the Glyndor Gallery, Wave Hill, New York, is accompanied by wall text which explains the artist's intention: "set in the 18th century format of print room wallpaper, 'Acorn Paper' comments on the toxic use of environment with images from contemporary newspapers. Using wallpaper as background, Francesco Simeti illustrates that our bucolic image of the landscape may be in jeopardy." This powerful visual image of masked human beings dealing with a polluted environment filled with toxic waste and landfills harboring poisons as yet undiscovered, is an indictment of a society governed by consumption, with side effects that are threatening the land and all natural existence, including human.

Recently, the French government classified the Zuber and Company woodblocks as national monuments, because there is no longer anyone alive able to produce them. The words of the master printer in the Zuber video in the 19th century room, (directed by Jean-Marc Robert), echo in the viewer's mind when confronted by the ominous digitally printed "Acorn Paper": "Young people do not want to be printers. They say the blocks are too heavy" Today there are five men working as printers at Zuber and Company, none of them young. Hand crafted, hand-generated work may become as precious a commodity in the 21st century as the landscape itself.

"Harvest of Innocence," a book on coping with risky behavior by Michele Leight, is at and at


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