Wallpaper began in ancient China when they glued rice paper onto their walls as early as 200 B.C.
The earliest know fragment of European wallpaper that still exists today was found on the beams of the Lodge of Christ’s College in Cambridge, England and dates from 1509. Jean-Michel Papillon, a French engraver and considered the inventor of wallpaper, started making block designs in matching, continuous patterns in 1675, and wallpaper as we know it today was on its way. Flocked wallpaper was created in approximately 1680.
The manufacturing methods developed by the English are significant, and the products from 18th century London workshops became all the rage. At first, fashion conscious Londoners ordered expensive hand painted papers that imitated architectural details or materials like marble and stucco, but eventually wallpapers won favor on their own merits. Borders resembling a tasselled braid or swag of fabric were often added and flocked papers that looked like cut velvet were immensely popular.
In the Victorian era, rooms paraded print upon print, mostly in garish colors, and the advent of machine-made wallpaper put the cabbage rose and arabesque patterns within the budget range of practically every home. Artisans such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and William Morris and their lyrical interpretations of nature, hand-printed by the wood block method, came to symbolize Art Nouveau. The Victorian Era, as one would expect, was a grand time for wallpaper featuring over embellished designs in sombre colors, but it was in the roaring ’20s that wallpaper really took the spotlight for the first time. Known as the Golden Age of Wallpaper, some 400 million rolls were sold during that period. After World War II, the entire industry was revolutionized with the appearance of plastic resins which offered stain resistance, washability, durability and strength.
Although wallpaper fell out of favour during the 80’s and 90’s, people in the 21st century have rediscovered the romance, design and beauty of patterned walls and some of the old designs are being reproduced for the modern market.
Hand-painted Chinese wallpaper showing a funeral procession, made for the European market, c. 1780. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Artichoke” wallpaper by Morris and Co, designed by J H Dearle. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.