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History of wallpaper
Design culture

History of wallpaper: from the 13th century to today

While wallpaper as we know it today is printed, it was not always so. Originally, wallpaper was painted by hand.
Marco Polo
Mosaic of Marco Polo by Salviati (1867), Palazzo Doria-Tursi in Genoa

From China to Europe

The early history of wallpaper dates back to the 13th century. Marco Polo's The Description of the World describes the wealthy interiors of the Chinese, whose walls were decorated with paper painted by artisans using brushes.
In the 16th century, wallpaper imported from China by Europeans was also hand-painted. At the same time, the profession of decorated paper maker (called dominotier) appeared in France: the masters of this trade produced rectangles made from paper called "dominos", printed using motifs engraved and inked onto a board. The dominos were then coloured by brush or stencil. They decorated chests, books, and eventually walls.

Wallpaper in Europe

Imports of hand-painted wallpaper from China to the United Kingdom and France remained rather expensive, so much so that it became seen as a luxury item and was subjected to tax by the British Crown in 1712.
This encouraged European production, first in England and then France, which required more imagination and paved the way for the industrialisation of wallpaper. Innovations included flocked wallpaper using powdered wool, the oldest example of which was discovered in Worcester (England) in 1680.
Wallpaper manufacturer Jacquemart and Bénard
Manufacturer Jacquemart & Bénard. Repeated motif wallpaper. Repeated Arabesque motif to a path alternating a mythological scene (Artemis accompanied by a dog) and a bird surrounded by fantastical plants. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

Manufactures of wallpaper in France

The history of wallpaper took a deciding turn in France during the Age of Enlightenment. Until 1750, the market was dominated by the United Kingdom. Jean-Baptiste Réveillon was among the instigators of the boom of wallpaper in France by selling luxurious wallpaper with subtle motifs designed by silk and tapestry artists: this was the art of wallpaper with a French twist.
There were no less than forty wallpaper manufacturers in Paris alone. Some manufacturers, such as Jacquemart & Bénard and Arthur & Robert, employed more than a hundred workers. Others flourished in Lyon. While the United Kingdom made the use of wallpaper in Europe more widespread, France gave it is badge of honour.
Under Napoleon III, wallpaper became affordable for bourgeois families and even the working class. The market thrived.
Wallpaper manufacturer Jacquemart & Bénard
Manufacturer Jacquemart & Bénard. Repeated motif wallpaper. Camaïeu panelling. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

The history of wallpaper to the modern era

Growing demand and advancements made in the 19th century mechanised the production of wallpaper. While boards of wallpaper were still assembled by hand into rolls using the splicing method, the Fourdrinier brothers’ invention of a machine that produced long webs of paper made it possible to package the wallpaper directly into rolls.
Techniques became more and more diverse. Manufacturers became more imaginative and created special effects (embossed, gold, etc.) and perfectly imitated various materials, from drape fabrics to lush vegetation. In 1888, Ferdinand Sichel developed the first ready-to-use wallpaper paste.
In the 20th century, wallpaper was the staunchest ally of urbanisation, which was accelerating in Europe. Like a chameleon, it followed fashion without batting an eyelid: Art Deco, all sorts of imitations, Pop Art, pastel shades...
GATSBY non-woven wallpaper
Today, wallpaper seduces designers and couturiers who give it spectacular motifs. It revisits old hits through reprints and reinterpretations, imitates industrial materials, and offers countless print designs that fit into everyone's lifestyle.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the history of wallpaper!


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