Sunday, 21 February 2016

Going Green at the Whitworth Art Gallery

Earlier this year, the Whitworth Art Gallery re-opened after its renovation and the addition of a building, improving its display capacity. This project was a success and the museum was awarded "Best Museum of the Year" at the end 2015.

It has re-opened with a new perspective: Going Green. The museum itself is now surrounded by vegetation, thanks to the architecture and the open-view windows. However, I was particularly interested in their Green display, which comes with a leaflet created by a local school. The colour green itself has a fascinating story and has been some kind of a mystery for a long time. First, it is really hard to dye fabric in green, which makes the display of a particularly vibrant Egyptian tunic, buried in sand 2000 years ago, even more astonishing.

Christopher Dresser's Fabrics
Christopher Dresser's  Fabrics 

Displays have been well-thought out and you find yourself contemplating Christopher Dresser's wallpapers along with Lucienne Day's fabric, all coming together thanks to their colourful similarities. Some may argue that it is an easy option to gather artworks mainly based on their colour. However, these items have several similarities and not just their colour, they are part of the same museum's collection and are all decorative art artefacts. Also, green is not an easy colour, creating green pigments has been a struggle for centuries. Furthermore, green is the colour of Nature, and its relationship with Art has always been complex. Some theorists have argued for the superiority of Nature over Art and others seeing Art as greater than Nature. John Constable is the best exemple of the complexity of colour green, especially with its painting Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) (1816-17) at Tate Britain.

John Constable, Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River') (1816-17) Tate Britain (London)

At the Whitworth, decorative arts, including textiles, are at the heart of the display and in this new "green" art. Sustainability is now at the heart of the fashion world, and the display exhibits a few designers such as Free People who care about the future of our planet and workers’ rights.
Fashion Display // Photo Courtesy of Field Trip

Nowadays, Green is not only a colour but also an idea and an ideal for most. The display does not hide this dimension and promotes the idea of sustainability by promoting and exhibiting "green" fashion and explaining to kids "who made your clothes?". Green as an idea is really powerful and the Whitworth engages with children, mixing art anecdotes and contemporary issues around ecology. A special mention should be made to the quilt by Michelle Walker, Retread 1 (1995), made of bin plastic bags which is an exquisite quilt as well as a powerful statement. 

Michelle Walker, Retread 1 (1995) Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery

Friday, 12 February 2016

Introduction to Wallpapers Studies

Wallpapers studies, a neologism, have been developing for the last twenty years, more and more scholars are now interested in wallpapers, an enthusiasm shared in all decorative arts. 

Wallpapers studies gather several aspects, you can be interested in the technical side, with the history of paper and history of techniques along with the history of industry. Another aspect is the history of taste, and how and why people chose a type of wallpapers to cover their homes. Historian of economy and trade are also involved with their knowledge of the trade industry and its development. Art historian are heavily involved in these research, looking for motifs or stories of artists and designers who worked for manufacturer.  

This article aims to be a first step towards discovering the fascinating world of wallpapers, compiling books and references to browse and enjoy. This is not an exhaustive list and revolves primarily around 19th century European wallpapers. It is also recommended to look at the bibliography given by the Wallpaper History Society. 


A Decorative Art : 19th Century Wallpapers, exhibition catalogue, Manchester, Manchester University Press/Whitworth Gallery, 1985.

BENHAM Joanna, Papiers Peints, Paris, CELIV, 1990. 

Bibliothèque Forney, Papiers peints 1800-1875, Paris, Société des Amis de la Bibliothèque Forney, 1980.

CERMAN Jérémie, Le Papier Peint Art Nouveau, Création, Production, Diffusion, Paris, Editions Mare & Martin, 2012.
ENTWISLE E.A., The Book of Wallpaper A History and An Appreciation, London, Arthur Barker, 1954.

ENTWISLE Eric A., A Literary History of Wallpaper, London, B.T. Batsford LTD, 1960. 

GREYSMITH Brenda, Wallpaper, London, Studio Vista, 1976. 

Historic Wallpapers in the Whitworth Art Gallery, exhibition catalogue., Manchester, The Whitworth Art Gallery 1972, Manchester, University of Manchester, 1972.

HOSKINS Lesley (dir.), The Papered Wall. The History Patterns and Techniques of Wallpapers, New and Expanded Edition, London, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2005. 

JACQUE Bernard, NOUVEL-KAMMERER Odile, Le Papier-Peint: Un Décor d'Illusion, Paris, Editions Jean-Pierre Gyss, 1987.

Le Bon Motif. Papiers peints et tissus. Les trésors de la bibliothèque Forney, exhibition catalogue., 21 septembre – 31 décembre 2004, Paris, Paris Bibliothèques, 2004.

LYNN Catherine, Wallpaper in America, From the Seventeenth Century to World War I, New York, Cooper-Hewitt Museum Book, 1980.

OLIVER HAPGOOD Marilyn, Papiers peints d'artistes de Dürer à Warhol, Paris, Editions Abbeville, 1992.

OMAN C.C., Catalogue of Wall-papers, London, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1929. 

SAUNDERS Gill, Wallpaper in Interior Decoration, New York, Watson-Guptill Publications, 2002.

SUDGEN A.V., EDMONDSON E.A., A History of English Wallpapers 1509-1914, London, 1926. 

TEYNAC Françoise (dir.), Le Monde du Papier Peint, Berger-Levrault, Paris, 1981. 

VELUT Christine, Décors de Papier : Production, Commerce et Usages des Papiers Peints à Paris, 1750-1820, Paris, Monument, Edition du Patrimoine, 2001.


V&A (London) 

Whitworth Gallery (Manchester)

Musée du Papier-Peint (Rixheim)