Here is a quick abstract of an article (which I did not submit in the end!) about my Master's thesis subject, "Gothic Revival Wallpapers (1800 - 1862): History, Creation and Reception". Hope you enjoy this sneak peak!
Gothic Revival wallpapers occupy a fascinating place in the history of wallpapers. The Gothic Revival as an architectural movement has spread in England during the 19th century, building churches and houses across the country. These buildings had to be decorated and wallpaper was chosen to decorate the home. Augustus W.N. Pugin attached a lot of values to this medium, his own literature is packed of references to the notion of true in wallpapers and its good or bad use in educating the masses. So how did wallpaper become a national concern in 19th century England regarding moral and education?
To answer this question this article would like to emphasize two aspects of wallpapers from the Gothic Revival, the notion of ethics and how to educate the population through wallpapers, but we also would like to keep a critical eye and analyse the success or failure of these aspects.
Wallpaper by Augustus W.N. Pugin (designer) & John G Crace (supplier) for Lord Gough, Lough Cutra Castle, mid-19th century, V&A, London.
Wallpapers and Ethics: History, Aesthetic and Philosophy of Life
First, it is the ethics of History and its lesson, the Gothic Revival has to be true to the Gothic roots by emphasizing research on medieval building and ornaments. The idea is to reject the Georgian Gothic by creating a national historic style: the Gothic Revival. Wallpapers have to transmit the national history, for example at the Parliament, and family's histories, for instance at Abney Hall.
The notion of ethics also is defined by strict aesthetic rules against the wrong “modern” iconography. Some theorists tried to promote a certain vision of Gothic design. These new rules were defined by Augustus W.N. Pugin in True Principles (1853) but also promoted by others such as Owen Jones and the Design Reform Movement.
Another aspect of this ethics is the philosophical ideal shared by Pugin (a philosophical and religious ideal for Pugin) and William Morris, in changing the society through art. A new society, closer to their medieval ideal, has to rise and wallpapers can help to built this new society by promoting the values of the Gothic Revival in its design.
Wallpaper by Augustus W.N. Pugin (designer) & John G Crace (supplier) for the Duke of Devonshire, Lismore Castle, mid-19th century, V&A, London.
Education and Wallpapers: the spread of the Gothic Revival from the homes to the museums?
A revolution in taste, thanks to the study of Kenneth Clark, seemed to enter into the homes in England. Gothic Revival theorists understood the power of wallpaper to enter into the homes and change people ideas from within. Educating the public's eye has proven to be the main interest of Gothic Revival theorists, either through their design books, or though their creation.
A powerful tool has to be accessible to the masses, under that idea lies the connection between the Gothic Revival and the wallpaper industry. A study of the National Archives in Kew Gardens lead to understand the impact of the Gothic Revival on the industrial production of wallpapers. This styles prove to be popular along with the other Gothic styles. The industry participates in the education but the principles had to adapted to a modern production and consumption.
Educating was also the role of the new Decorative Art Museum, the South Kensington Museum, newly opened in 1852 by Henry Cole. Museums along with with art theorists and designers created rules of good and bad design to educate artists and the public, the Chambers of Horrors (1852-1853) was born and emphasized the difference between “modern” and “true” Gothic Revival wallpapers.
Wallpaper by Owen Jones (designer) and Townsend, Parker & Co (supplier), circa 1852-1874, V&A, London.
Gothic Revival wallpapers have tried to change the society by enacted rules and engaged with the public through different angles. This approach has mitigated results, it seems that the ideal behind Gothic Revival has been misunderstood by the public but also by artists and designers, explaining the few interests in the area until recently.
ARCHER Michael, "Gothic Wall-papers, An Aspect of the Gothic Revival", Apollo, Vol. 78, 1963, p. 109-116.
CLARK Kenneth, The Gothic Revival: An Essay in the History of Taste, London, J. Murray, 1962.
PUGIN Augustus W.N., Contrasts, Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1969 (1836).
PUGIN Augustus W.N., The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture, London, Henry G. Bohn, 1841.
SAUNDERS Gill, Wallpaper in Interior Decoration, New York, Watson-Guptill Publications, 2002.
WAINWRIGHT Clive, "A.W.N. Pugin and the Progress of Design applied to Manufacture", in A.W.N. Pugin Master of Gothic Revival, exh. cat., New Haven, Yale University Press / The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in Decorative Arts, 1996, p. 160-175.
YASUKO Suga, "Designing the Morality of Consumption: "Chamber of Horrors" at the Museum of Ornament, 1852-53", Design Issue, Vol. 20, n°4, 2004, p. 43-56.