New Book Release: The Design, Production and Reception of Eighteenth-century Wallpaper in Britain

Updated: May 15

Dr Clare Taylors new book The Design, Production and Reception of Eighteenth-century Wallpaper in Britain is the first academic study of eighteenth-century wallpaper. Much has been written on ceramics, textiles, furniture and even lacquer but wallpaper has been hitherto ignored as a component of the eighteenth-century interior. However this book shows it was a key new decorative material. It looks at the material from the perspective of those who made, hung and chose paper, examining archives, wallpapers and houses to trace the journey of this newly fashionable material, hung by everyone from the Royal family, to Earls, Countesses and to prosperous professionals-such as lawyers, bankers and apothecaries (the doctors of today) on their way up. It covers London houses as well as those in the country, since in London, with grand houses having no family portraits to hang, or rented houses in need of a quick fix, wallpaper rapidly gained ground. The book opens up the subject to those interested in their own homes, to designers and to scholars by showing how wallpaper imitated other materials, by explaining how the trade worked and by allowing readers to discover eighteenth-century wallpapers for themselves- from flocks to stucco paper, to Chinese, French arabesques and ‘mock India’ papers.

The wallpapers produced by leading London firms of the eighteenth-century are explored in this new book which shows how they found their way not only onto the walls of houses in London and in the country but across the globe- to the Eastern seaboard of America, to Quebec City and to Oslo where an a Anglophile timber exporter hung English wallpapers imitating French designs in his manor house While eighteenth-century wallpaper makers railed against skilled block cutters poached to work in France, complained about how much journeymen paper hangers could charge during a dry English summer, and valued their newly invented engines to grind colours as much as their designs, they also balanced an interest in the past with innovation, reworking decorative finishes from textile and leather hangings to create new ‘paper hangings’.

This book finally gives eighteenth-century wallpaper a place, bringing it from the background to the foreground so a light can be shone on this aspect of decoration within the material culture of the home, an aspect so admired in its own time that by the end of the century even in France it was claimed tapestries were abandoned in favour of English wallpaper.

Clare Taylor has tracked down bills, accounts and of course the wallpapers themselves to tell the story of the rise of this newly fashionable material, visiting archives, private houses, National Trust properties and museums up and down the country.

Published in the Histories of Material Culture and Collecting series with Taylor & Francis, the book ends not in the eighteenth century but in the twentieth, with an Epilogue considering how the schemes explored were collected, rediscovered and reinterpreted. The book’s publication also, of course, reflects the revival of interest in the role of wallpaper in the decoration of the home, an interest shared by eighteenth-century consumers.

The book launched on Tuesday evening (26th June 2018) at the spectacular De Gournay showroom, 112 Old Church Street, London SW3, where guests enjoyed superb canapés and champagne. The Wallpaper History Society was represented by Rowena Beighton-Dykes (Treasurer) and Pauline Birdsall (Membership Secretary). Dr Taylor greeted us warmly, and was kind enough to thank the Society in her speech for its support of the book.