Wallpaper, using the printmaking technique of woodcut, gained popularity in Renaissance Europe amongst the emerging gentry. The elite of society were accustomed to hanging large tapestries on the walls of their homes, a tradition from the Middle Ages. These tapestries added color to the room as well as providing an insulating layer between the stone walls and the room, thus retaining heat in the room. However, tapestries were extremely expensive and so only the very rich could afford them. Less well-off members of the elite, unable to buy tapestries due either to prices or wars preventing international trade, turned to wallpaper to brighten up their rooms.
Early wallpaper featured scenes similar to those depicted on tapestries, and large sheets of the paper were sometimes hung loose on the walls, in the style of tapestries, and sometimes pasted as today. Prints were very often pasted to walls, instead of being framed and hung, and the largest sizes of prints, which came in several sheets, were probably mainly intended to be pasted to walls. Some important artists made such pieces, notably Albrecht Drer, who worked on both large picture prints and also ornament prints intended for wall-hanging. The largest picture print was The Triumphal Arch commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and completed in 1515. This measured a colossal 3.57 by 2.95 metres, made up of 192 sheets, and was printed in a first edition of 700 copies, intended to be hung in palaces and, in particular, town halls, after hand-coloring.
Very few samples of the earliest repeating pattern wallpapers survive, but there are a large number of old master prints, often in engraving of repeating or repeatable decorative patterns. These are called ornament prints and were intended as models for wallpaper makers, among other uses.
England and France were leaders in European wallpaper manufacturing. Among the earliest known samples is one found on a wall from England and is printed on the back of a London proclamation of 1509. It became very popular in England following Henry VIII’s excommunication from the Catholic Church – English aristocrats had always imported tapestries from Flanders and Arras, but Henry VIII’s split with the Catholic Church had resulted in a fall in trade with Europe. Without any tapestry manufacturers in England, English gentry and aristocracy alike turned to wallpaper.
During the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, the manufacture of wallpaper, seen as a frivolous item by the Puritan government, was halted. Following the Restoration of Charles II, wealthy people across England began demanding wallpaper again – Cromwell’s regime had imposed a boring culture on people, and following his death, wealthy people began purchasing comfortable domestic items which had been banned under the Puritan state. By the mid-eighteenth century, Britain was the leading wallpaper manufacturer in Europe, exporting vast quantities to Europe in addition to selling on the middle-class British market. However this trade was seriously disrupted in 1755 by the Seven Years War and later the Napoleonic Wars, and by a heavy level of duty on imports to France.
In 1748 the English ambassador to Paris decorated his salon with blue flock wallpaper, which then became very fashionable there. In the 1760s the French manufacturer Jean-Baptiste Rveillon hired designers working in silk and tapestry to produce some of the most subtle and luxurious wallpaper ever made. His sky blue wallpaper with fleurs-de-lys was used in 1783 on the first balloons by the Montgolfier brothers. The landscape painter Jean-Baptiste Pillement discovered in 1763 a method to use fast colours. Towards the end of the century the fashion for scenic wallpaper revived in both England and France, leading to some enormous panoramas, like the 1804 20 strip wide Panorama, designed by the artist Jean-Gabriel Charvetfor the french Manufacture Dufour et Cie showing the Voyages of Captain Cook. One of this famous so called Papier paints wallpaper is still in situ in Ham House, Peabody Massachusetts. Beside Dufour et Cie other French manufacturers of panoramic scenic and trompe l’il wallpapers, Zuber et Cie and Arthur et Robert exported their product across Europe and North America. Zuber et Cie’s c. 1834 design Views of North America is installed in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. Like most of eighteenth century wallpapers, this was designed to be hung above a dado.
Hand-blocking wallpapers like these are manufactured by using a centuries old method in which wallpaper is hand-printed from hand-carved blocks on paper. Hand-blocked wallpaper depicted scenes include, panoramic views of antique architecture, exotic landscapes and pastoral subjects, as well as repeating patterns of stylized flowers, people and animals. The 1797 founded French company Zuber et Cie in Rixheim, France is the only company in the world which still manufactures woodblocked wallpaper.
In 1785 Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf had invented the first machine for printing coloured tints on sheets of wallpaper. In 1799 Louis-Nicolas Robert patented a machine to produce continuous lengths of paper, the forerunner of the Fourdrinier machine. This ability to produce continuous lengths of wallpaper now offered the prospect of novel designs and nice tints being widely displayed in drawing rooms across Europe.
During the Napoleonic Wars , trade between Europe and Britain evaporated, resulting in the gradual decline of the wallpaper industry in Britain. However, the end of the war saw a massive demand in Europe for British goods which had been inaccessible during the wars, including cheap, colourful wallpaper. The development of steam-powered printing presses in Britain in 1813 allowed manufacturers to mass-produce wallpaper, reducing its price and so making it affordable to working-class people. Wallpaper enjoyed a huge boom in popularity in the nineteenth century, seen as a cheap and very effective way of brightening up cramped and dark rooms in working-class areas. By the early twentieth century, wallpaper had established itself as one of the most popular household items across the Western world. During the late 1980s though, wallpaper began to fall out of fashion in lieu of Faux Painting which can be more easily removed by simply re-painting.
Types and sizes
Modern wallcoverings are diverse. Two of the most common factory trimmed sizes of wallpaper are referred to as “American” and “European” rolled goods. American rolled good are 27 inches by 27 feet in length. European rolled goods are 21.5 inches wide by 33 feet in length. Approx. 60 square feet. Most wallpaper borders are sold by linear foot and with a wide range of widths therefore square footage is not applicable. Although some may require trimming.
The most common wall covering for residential use and generally the most economical is prepasted vinyl coated paper, commonly called “strippable” which can be misleading. Clothed backed vinyl is fairly common and durable. Lighter vinyls are easier to handle and hang. Paper backed vinyls are generally more expensive, significantly more difficult to hang, and can be found wider untrimmed widths. Foil wallpaper generally has paper backing and can (exceptionally) be up to 36 inches wide, and be very difficult to handle and hang. Textile wallpapers include silks, linens, grass cloths, strings, rattan, and actual impressed leaves. There are acoustical wall carpets to reduce sound. Customized wallcoverings are available at high prices and most often have minimum roll orders.
Solid vinyl with a cloth backing is most common commercial wallcovering and comes from the factory as untrimmed at 54 inches approximately, to be overlapped and double cut by the installer. This same type can be pre-trimmed at the factory to 27 inches approx.
Like paint, wallpaper requires proper surface preparation before application. Additionally, wallpaper is not suitable for all areas. For example, bathroom wallpaper may deteriorate rapidly due to excessive steam. Proper preparation includes the repair of any defects in the drywall or plaster and the removal of loose material or old adhesives. Accurate room measurements (length, width, and height) along with number of window and door openings is essential for ordering wallpaper. Large drops, or repeats, in a pattern can be cut and hung more economically by working from alternating rolls of paper. Paper is sold (with very few exceptions) in double rolls.
Most wallpaper adhesive are starch or methylcellulose based.
The simplest removal option is to brush the paper with water. Water soaks through the paper and saturates the glue, allowing the paper to be peeled off.
This does not work well with nonpeelable vinyls, as vinyl is not porous. Nevertheless it is still effective on many modern papers.
Chemical wallpaper stripper
Chemical wallpaper stripper can be purchased at most paint or home improvement stores. It is mixed with warm water or a mixture of warm water and vinegar, then sprayed onto wall surfaces. Several applications may be required to saturate the existing wallpaper. Perforation can aid in the absorption of the mixture and lead to faster removal. After the mixture has dissolved the wallpaper paste, the wallpaper can be removed easily by pulling at the edges and with the aid of a putty or drywall knife.
Another method of removal is to apply steam to wallpaper in order to dissolve the wallpaper paste. A wallpaper steamer consists of a reservoir of water, an electric heating element, and a hose to direct the steam at the wallpaper. The steam dissolves the wallpaper paste, allowing the wallpaper to be peeled off. However, care must be taken to prevent damage to the drywall underneath. Sometimes steaming can lead to the crumbling of underlying drywall or plaster, leaving an uneven surface to be repaired.
^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, Nicolas Robert
A Hyatt Mayor; Prints and People; Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971 (reprints Princeton).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Wallpaper
“wall-coverings”. Encyclopdia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
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