Chinese Wallpaper Case Study: Concluding Remarks: Afterlife

Concluding Remarks: Afterlife


Figure 9. Oval Chinese picture, with paper border, on a chimney board, in the Yellow Taffeta Bedroom, Osterley Park and House (National Trust). © Stuart Howat Photography.

Chinese wallpaper illustrates the myriad ways in which East India Company trade, employment and politics pervaded British social and cultural life, shaping the domestic interior in fundamental ways.  Although the papers themselves were (and are) conspicuous in their colouring, patterns and design, their pivotal roles in globalising the British home have received little systematic attention to date.  The impact of Chinese wallpaper was not restricted to those who had houses decorated with it, or had access to these houses as visitors and servants.  Despite the success of British-made wallpapers, the allure of Chinese wallpaper continued into and beyond the nineteenth century. Its high value ensured that this exotic and fashionable luxury item lived on beyond the walls on which it was initially placed in British homes. Offcuts and scraps were framed as pictures, used to decorate chimney boards (at Osterley a Chinese print was used with an applied border), or deployed to back embroidered pole screens and craft work like that on the reverse of a cut-paper picture of c.1800. Chinese wallpaper was used to cover boxes, and larger sections were turned into screens.[1]  The fascination with Chinese wallpaper continues in the twenty-first century, as a recent advertisement in the Financial Times reveals. Even today, in a globalized world of commerce, tourism and manufacture, Chinese wallpaper is ‘a picture that transports you somewhere. It isn’t cheap, but if you’d happily spend thousands of pounds on a piece of art to fill that wall, you will spend £300 on a wallpaper mural where the effect is the same. In many cases you’re the only person who is going to have it.[2]

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[1] Pair of framed Chinese wallpaper fragments, 56 x 49 cms, Christie’s 10-11/1/202, sale 2530 Lot 295; Box covered with Chinese wallpaper, 19th c., 28 x 65.5 x 42 cms, sold Christie’s 21 October 2003, lot 229; For example 6-fold screen, c.1790s, sold Sotheby’s 24 October 2008, lot 174.

[2] Financial Times, ‘How to Spend It’, 3 August 2013. p.6.