The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

Set of four wall papers framed, featured in Château of Madame de Maintenon

Friday 19 August 2016, by Barbara Cogollos

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The use of the paper as wall decoration really earns its recognition in the XVIIIth century in all Europe, with import of "Chinese paper", which are also called "papers of India": hand-painting papers, produced in Canton and marketed by the East India Companies.

The specialized Chinese workshops produce them in small series for Europe: it is exclusively an export production. If the Chinese also paint for their own use, they use as decoration only one roller suspended on the wall. For Europe, they pick up in the traditional academic production some precise themes, handled in a panoramic way on a set of rollers that European customers stick one after the other on the wall. These rollers consist of stuck paper sheets at the end of the others, so as to obtain a dimension from 0,80 to 1,20 m of width and from 3,50 to 4 m of height. These rollers form sets from 22 to 43 rollers, so as to realize the decoration of several rooms.
The surface of this paper is most of the time white, but can also be colored in green, in blue or in pink. The motives are painted with watercolor or gouache.

The Chinese motives knew an unprecedented success thanks to a new esthetic conception which breaks with the western system of perspective. Some motives return regularly: scenes of the Chinese rural everyday life, in particular the production of the rice, the tea, the silk or the porcelain; compositions of flowery trees planted on rocks; bamboo, birds, insects, butterflies who flutter from branch to branch; and geometrical constructions of bamboo framing medallions representing vases or flowerpots. These motives allow "to "eliminate" the wall and to introduce the visitor into a dream and imaginary space.

In Europe, between 1667 and 1669, we find the track of the first imports of wallpapers from China in the archives of the "Garde-meuble de Paris ". In 1686, the ambassadors of the king of Siam offers to Louis XIV rolls of painted paper: "two big paper sheets everything in perspective; in one are all the sorts of birds of China, in the other one flowers". In the years 1680-1690s, the English and Dutch archives reveal comparable imports.

At the beginning of the XVIIIth century, given the high demand, the English and French East India Companies sell big quantities of it on the market, thanks to the maritime development between the East and the West.

Throughout the century, but also during the first half of the XVIIIth century, thousands of rollers reach Europe. British country houses, German and Piedmontese palaces also have numerous sets.

All the European courts are seduced: the craze also appears in Germany, such as the prince Max Emmanuel de Bavière, who decorates with these papers his "House of India", near Munich, in 1722.

In France, we find several testimonies of this fashion, as in the traders’ books of that time who document every sales. However the most noteworthy testimonies are the painted papers themselves, as those in the castle of Talcy or in the castle of Maintenon, the one from where our wallpaper is. Madam of Maintenon, favorite of the king Louis XIV certainly received presents from the king to fit out her castle.

The wallpaper we propose is a very beautiful example of the design called "the Tree of life" created in China for the East India Company which sold it to great European houses. Painted in 1800 in the region of Canton, it was chosen to decorate the castle of Maintenon.

This wall paper is a good example of Chinese artists’ favorite themes, such as the glorification of nature through the representation of an exotic landscape: birds fluttering between the branches of trees, butterflies and insects moving from flower to flower, rocks of eccentric forms and several varieties of plants. As a result, this wallpaper depicts a really peaceful landscape, pictorially and historically rich.

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