Faire le mur. Quatre siècles de papiers peints

from 21 January to 12 June 2016

Revealing the wealth of the Wallpaper Department’s exceptional collection, it will feature three hundred emblematic pieces selected from the reserve collection of more than 400,000 items. The exhibition juxtaposes and compares wallpapers from different periods and origins to illustrate the broad range of styles and skills in use from the 18th century to the present day. It shows wallpaper’s major role in the history of the decorative arts, whilst highlighting some of the jewels of the largest wallpaper collection in the world.

The exhibition’s title, “Faire le mur,” – “Setting up a wall” – refers to the different uses wallpaper has in the construction and decoration of a wall surface. To illustrate the range of themes explored in the six rooms of the Study Gallery, different techniques and periods are juxtaposed. Ancient wallpapers are compared with contemporary creations to illustrate production methods, typologies and forms that have changed and evolved with art history. Wallpaper is much more than just a wall covering. It creates new worlds, sensations and ambiances requiring complex fabrication processes. Its patterns and chromatic and luminous effects transform our perception of space, even inducing fictitious architectures and trompe-l’oeil effects. These different types of wallpaper bear testimony to great creative inventiveness, but they are above all iconic actors in the history of styles and tendencies, reflecting the tastes, customs and mentality of a period.

The evocative title of the first room “Ennobling the wall,” refers to an expression used by specialists, for whom “ennoblement” is a procedure for embellishing fabrics. In the context of the exhibition, this term is applied to wallpaper to highlight its capacity to adorn mural surfaces. These ornamental attributes are illustrated by key works such as the 18th-century arabesque wallpapers produced by the famous Réveillon manufactory and the contemporary creations of Studio Job and Timorous Beasties. In its respect for established aesthetic norms, wallpaper is not just a decorative object but more generally a reflection of a culture and an art of living. The Second room, “Imagining the wall,” focuses on the artistic genres invented and reinterpreted down the centuries, featuring wallpapers by André Groult, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, André Mare, René Fumeron and Léonor Fini. These works evoke certain traditional skills but also innovative approaches breathing new life into interior decoration.

Whilst catering to the tastes and aesthetic criteria of a period, wallpaper also has the capacity to solicit the imagination, and even alter our spatial impression of an interior. The “Disguising the wall” room pays tribute to the 18th and 19th-century creations produced by the Desfossé & Karth and Dufour & Leroy manufactories. Painted laces and draperies create the illusion of textures and volumes that transform the wall’s flatness. In the same vein, the “Telling the wall” room features wallpapers reflecting various stylistic tendencies in art history. Etruscan, Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic and Orientalism were essential references for renowned manufacturers such as Délicourt, Desfossé & Karth, Lapeyre, Sanderson and Zuber. These painted ornaments and architectural structures create optical effects by transforming walls into wonderful yet fake vistas. These innovations also go hand in hand with experimentations with materials and textures. The two last rooms, “Inspiring the wall” and “Playing with the wall,” ‒ focus on creations in which paper has been replaced by other materials. Cardboard, leather and metallised materials free the wall from classical forms and methods. Those participating in this renewal include the publishers of Piero Fornasetti, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Christian Lacroix. Wallpaper is not just decoration, it is a mural installation and even a work of art in its own right.

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