Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chinese Scenic Paper

As of late, some of the most popular handpainted wallpapers seem to be those bird, flower, and tree prints by de Gournay (see above) and Gracie. Certainly they are lovely, easy to live with, and quite elegant too. And if someone wanted to make a donation of this paper to my home, I would not refuse. However, what I wish to see more of is the colorful, exuberant scenic Chinese paper that once adorned some of America's finest homes.

Of course Winterthur's Chinese Parlor is one of the most famous rooms in America. The Chinese paper was painted between 1775 and 1800 is known as "Pastimes and Leisure Scenes of Chinese Life" because it depicts scenes of Chinese people strolling through gardens and studying. Henry Francis Du Pont obtained the paper from designer Nancy McClelland in 1928. Because the paper panels were 12 feet long, Du Pont had to create a room tall enough to accommodate the paper's length.

A detail of the Chinese Parlor's paper.

Henry Davis Sleeper purchased this scenic paper in the early 20th century for his summer home Beauport. In what is called The China Trade Room, the paper depicts both the rice and the porcelain trades. The paper dates back to late 18th century when it was originally imported from China by the Philadelphia banker Robert Morris, although Morris never used the panels. The paper remained crated until it was discovered in the early 1900s.

Even Billy Baldwin had an appreciation for this paper in this 1950s era room that he designed.

What I've also noticed is that gloriously unrestrained architectural details and valances seem to go hand in hand with this colorful Chinese paper. There is often fretwork molding, pagoda pediments over doorways and windows, and scrolled pelmets that decorate these Chinese themed rooms. Unfortunately, papering an entire room in scenic wallpaper can be rather expensive, and some people might be apprehensive about having that much color and pattern on one's walls. However, what about framing a panel or two to hang on the walls? At the very least, I might be tempted to copy some of those wonderful valances for my windows.

(Image at top courtesy of de Gournay. Chinese Parlor photo #1 from Winterthur's flickr photostream; Chinese Parlor photo #2 from HOUSE AND GARDEN'S NEW COMPLETE GUIDE TO INTERIOR DECORATION: FIFTH EDITION). Beauport photo from their website. Billy Baldwin photo from House & Garden's Complete Guide to Interior Decoration.)


  1. A little birdie has told me that we'll be seeing a chinoiserie wallpaper in the Presidential bedroom at the White House. Sorry to be so coy~but trust me on this one.

  2. Toby- My, oh my, you have me curious. Is it an authentic looking one, or a stylized print??

  3. Great Post! My StepMommy will LOVE this - gotta send her your blog.

  4. Alison and Kathy- I agree, and I wish I had that paper in my house!

  5. Wow so beautiful. I've had chinoiserie wallpaper on the brain non stop for the last two weeks. I want some, but so not in the budget!

    Toby, I'm totally intrigued! I can't wait to see what goes up.

  6. We had the pleasure of having a private tour of Winterthur last month and saw the beautiful Chinoiserie room first hand. The best part of the tour was seeing the vast textile collection compiled by Henry Francis Du Pont filled with glorious silks, damask and crewel-work. Thanks for a wonderful post!

  7. While these wallcoverings are just beautiful, it is too much for my eye. I always think how would I feel being in one of these rooms with a headache or suffering from being out too late the night before. I'm with you, I would love to have 2 or 3 framed panels on the wall and I am crazy for the forms of the valences -- even if they were tone on tone. There is something so free yet controlled about them.

  8. Jennifer-I am weak at the knees. These incredible Chinese papers and Chinoiserie in the Presidential bedroom! I would have a room done in one like these in a heart beat if I could afford it. I also love pagoda valances.

  9. OOooohhhh! Nice, and a little more unique in the the vintage muted color tones.
    Pretty far eastern out there!

  10. I love the valances. I think they are charming. While I love fabric on a wall, I don't think I could live with all of that pattern thing. I think you need seriously overlarge rooms or conversely, a tiny powder room. Billy Baldwin may rise up and haunt me, but that last room made me feel like I had fallen Willy Wonka-like into a gameboard factory!

  11. Hi Jennifer-

    Inspiring and wonderful post!

    "Toby" is on the right track.

    Refer to 'Michael S. Smith Elements of Style' that I wrote with Michael--and you will see the designer's extreme fondness for handpainted Chinese or other scenic and antique wallpaper, and walls handpainted with a moody antique effect. Michael works with many talented artists--and is an expert at find superb antique wallpapers--so his walls are never ordinary. The Obamas are very fortunate to be working with him. He has my full admiration. Chinese wallpaper in a bedroom--dreamy idea.
    Thanks for an inspiring post, Jennifer.

  12. Don't forget the gorgeous chinese wallpaper at Winfield House, the US Ambassador's residence in Paris. I do happen to have featured it in a post about Winfield House.

  13. W has a spread on Persian families in Beverly Hills (the issue with Bruce Willis and wife on the cover), and one of the photos features a family posing in a room papered with what looks like the very same pattern in the top photo.

  14. they are all beautifully classic- just what I love and very period. An offspring of that is the Thomas Jayne room in NOla you have posted on, I include that in a post today. maybe it is the lack of extreme formality fallen by the wayside-but I love all the rooms you show here, and of course, if you get an offer for the Chinese panels- and change your mind- I will take them. la

  15. Hmm. I thought I had commented here? Maybe I missed the word box. I wanted to say that I would love to see these Chinoiserie papers in a minimalistic modern house.

  16. I was just ogling the Beauport House a few weeks ago. I think the thing about both the de Gournay and the Chinoiserie wallpaper is that they are large scale, but not repressive in their repetition, and so work more like a fresco or wall painting and less like a print. They open a space up, rather than close it in.

    I'd take any of the ones you've posted happily. And the yellow curtains. That room could have just been done, its amazing.

  17. I have just discovered your blog and I think it is fantastic. In fact, I have spent just a little too long looking at it! I especially love your emphasis on chinoiserie and classic Hollywood as they are definitely two of my passions too.

  18. Mary Margaret8:39 AM

    Great post. The Billy Baldwin room reminds me a little of Meg Braff's dining room in Newport, featured in House Beautiful magazine in June 2007. She used Scalamandre's Shanghai wallpaper.

  19. I hope it's true about chinoiserie wallpaper in the White House - Nancy Reagan used it in the Presidential bedroom, to wonderful effect.

  20. Drop dead gorgeous!

  21. Mirrored furniture7:45 PM

    Where does Toby Worthington get all this information from?
    He must know somebody close to the White House!

  22. Great post. I wish I have those gorgeous Chinese Wallpaper at home.


  23. I am lucky enough to have visited the Peabody Essex Museum while a friend was photographing their archives of their collection of Chinese Wallpapers. At that time I was growing my own wallpaper collection and to see the artistry involved, was simply amazing. Great post.

  24. i have been in love with this look for years and never tire of it! and you are right, great elaborate valances *do* seem to work well with this wall treatment. one room i did had a quilted silk "pagoda" valence (pic here)

  25. Here's a story and a piece of advice!
    Our daughter lives in Marblehead, Mass. I am a 40 year decorator.......(not 40 years old....40 years working as)

    I fell in love the first time I ever saw hand=painted Chinese wallpaper. In Pasadena, California ....I was 10!

    (I was a decorating geek!)

    When I first went to Beauport.....the docents......(all volunteers) had to keep coming back to get me.

    I just bought another ticket. I bought 8 tickets the first day!

    These people thought I was nuts.....I think you guys will get it. There is so much to see in that "House museum; I have done that 4 times. And I could and will do it 14 more times!

    Henry Davis Sleeper was our predecessor......A genius far beyond. I just showed the dining room to a new client in Santa barbara! We are using elements!

    MAGIC!!!!! I pray for the master bedroom of the White House....

    If Reagan had it in the master bedroom...... what the hell happened to it? Do not even tell me that some idiot decorator painted over it.....or threw it away! It is removable....and can be reused...and has been for centuries!

    Winfield House. That room ; done by Billy Haines, for Ambassador Annenberg is so beautiful (fortunately our friend; and my husband's tennis playing friend was the last Ambassador) so I was invited to a party.

    I walked into that room; I thought I would have a heart-attack it is so beautiful! Pictures do not do it justice. Maria; the Ambassador's wife published her very first book; Winfield House. the only book every detailing this magnificent house our country owns in the middle of London!

    That wallpaper, in Winfield House, Billy Haines of Los Angeles; bought from an 18th century Irish castle. Removed, restored , and rehung!

    What the heck happened to the Reagan/White house bedroom?
    Anyone know??

    OH DEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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