papier peint erp has long been a popular alternative to tapestry and panelling. In the 17th century England was a leader in European wallpaper manufacturing. This was partly because of Henry VIII’s split with the Catholic church which made it difficult for English aristocrats to import tapestries from Flanders and Arras. In the 1720s English gentry were largely reliant on wallpaper for their decorative interiors – and by the 18th century there was a growing market for it. The earliest examples of printed wallpaper are known from around 1509. They were painted on fabric that was pasted over walls, and it was common to hang a number of different designs in a room. These early wallpapers were known as chintz-style floral patterns.
By the 18th century, hand-blocked wallpapers with designs of antique architectural structures and exotic landscapes were being produced. Joseph Dufour and Hartmann Risler (later Zuber & Cie) developed the concept of woodblock-printed scenic wallpaper around 1797. They aimed to appeal to the middle class by producing designs which were a bit more sophisticated than the typical chintz-style floral designs, and also to create a wallpaper with a more realistic trompe-l’oeil effect. The most sophisticated of their designs were panoramic, with views of antique cities and countryside.
They also produced a number of more traditional, single-sheet pictorial papers which were designed to imitate the styles and patterns of textile wallhangings. These were called ‘papers de tapisserie’ and included landscape subjects and hunting scenes, for example. They were a precursor of the ‘panoramic’ pictures that appeared around 1800.
In the early 19th century, two French manufacturers began to produce a number of these panoramic scenic wallpapers. Joseph Dufour et Cie and Zuber & Cie both focused on the middle-class market, and soon their designs were in great demand across Europe. The design of Zuber & Cie’s c. 1834 Views of North America still hangs in the Diplomatic Reception Room in Washington, DC.
Unlike modern machine-printed wallpapers, which were widely used by the middle classes and even by upper classes, this sort of artisanal wallpaper was reserved for the most discerning clients. It was a sign of prestige to display this kind of wall-covering, and it is still a hallmark of luxury today. Susan Harter continues the tradition by preparing and printing her own original artworks in this style.
A good example is her 2003 work ‘Moonlight Sonata’, which depicts a meadow of flowers and trees that looks almost like an oil painting on canvas. Another early piece is ‘Shabit (Inspiration)’, which shows the two temporal layers of day and night by using clear delineations of colour.
A similar impression is produced by her 2013 tapestry Tree Metamorphoses, a genuinely monumental work in its form and scale. It consists of several’shots’ of a forest, each coloured in grey-white, green and blue shades that rhyme with the colour of the trees, and the snowy mountains and hills behind them. Each of these’shots’ has subtle chromatic nuances which give the scene depth and life.