Gardens on the Wall 2: The French Connections

detail from Les Jardins Francais, 1821 by Zuber

This is a very belated follow-up to a post about gardens on walls in 18thc England in 2016 which looked at the work of John Baptist Jackson and his contemporaries.  And by “gardens on the wall” I don’t mean “living walls” but wallpaper.

England and France were rivals over many things in the 18thc. Indeed they were at war for large parts of it. Apart from seizing large chunks of the French overseas empire England also took over the role of the world’s leader in gardening, but there is no doubt that the French took the lead in developing gardens on walls.  When, in 1753,  the French ambassador in London sent back some English wallpaper to decorate his home in France  he started a design  revolution nearly 40 years before the more famous one.

detail from Les Jardins Francais, 1821 by Zuber

When that started in 1789 it began more than 20 years of continuous warfare across Europe. This cut Britain off from a lot of continental cultural influences. In France it invigorated design and fashion with bold, clear and simple taking the place of elaborate, ornate and luxurious.  Wallpaper, bizarrely, was one of the best showcases for these dramatic changes in styles. It not only became political propaganda but in the process all manner of gardens and landscapes took to the walls of both public and private spaces in a completely different way to that we saw in 18thc England.

by Jacquemart et Bénard , Paris c. 1794/1797, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris

So read on to find out more…

Wallpaper printed by Reveillon, 1785

Wallpaper printed by Reveillon, 1785

It was, according to  the great Parisian wallpaper manufacturer, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, actually the arrival of the ambassador’s flock wallpaper  that led to  French dominance of the field.  It attracted a great deal of attention and so after it had been hung in 1753 Réveillon starting importing English paper  for sale in his stationers shop. Not long after that, because of the war, he began manufacturing wallpaper on his own account.

His papers, such as this late example with its classical, floral and horticultural overtones was almost instantly popular and unlike Jackson, his English namesake, Reveillon became a triumphant success. He decorated the royal apartments at Versailles and made a fortune. He bought a fabulous house and garden  La Folie Titon, where he lived and also manufactured his paper, and incidentally where the Montgolfier brothers took off on their first balloon flight

Designs for Clandon Park by REveillon, sold by Chrsties 200x

Designs for Clandon Park by Reveillon, sold by Christies 2003

So successful was he that he was able to export his papers back to England.  One complete set of hangings still survives at Moccas Court whilst Clandon Park had a room hung with a beautiful floral flock paper in an arabesque design in 1780. Both featured classically inspired themes such as Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, or the contemporary discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii, as well as the more common stylized vases of flowers etc.

By 1788 Reveillon employed 350 people and The Almanach de Paris for 1788 listed 47 other “papetiers en meubles”.

Of course violent social upheaval was close on the horizon and in the spring of 1789 La Folie Titon became the first casualty of the Revolution, months before the fall of the Bastille. It was sacked by a mob, 25 of whom were then killed by troops sent to quell the riots.  Reveillon fled to England with his fortune where he died in obscurity in 1811.

What came after Reveillon could hardly have been a bigger contrast.

How do we know?  Quite simply between 1799 and 1803  the government obliged  wallpaper manufacturers to send a sample of each design to the national library, so that as result  today it still has  2250 pristine papers from this period.

Anonymous revolutionary wallpaper, Bibliotheque nationale de France

Paper by Duserre &Co, 1789-1799, Bibliotheque nationale de France

What they show is that apart from the usual geometric prints and patterns there was a spate of both garden-inspired designs and political wallpapers, which became a way of people showing their allegiance to the revolutionary movement. Indeed several of the prominent manufacturers were also leading Jacobins and were later executed alongside Robespierre.

Paper by Duserre & Co 1789-99, Bibliotheque nationale de France


Some were fairly conventional – urns and statues, small garden buildings, stylized or sometimes more naturalistic flowers and plants – as one might expect, but others were less so.

Paper by Hartmann Risler & Co, c1800, BnF

Paper by Jacquemart et Bénard, 1799


Hollyhock paper by Legrand, 1799

Paper showing a chateau and its grounds, and an array of gadening tools by Rabée, 1800, BnF

In the years just before the French Revolution



Paper of Trellis with climbing flowers,                               by Bon, 1799, BnF

a new design phenemonon  had begun to emerge in both Britain and France: the panorama  [although the term itself wasn’t invented until 1792].  It was developed independently and in different forms  by two artists, one in each country.

But that in turn was preceded by another equally unusual but beguiling phenomenon….a very early precursor to the cinema.


one section of a transparency roll by Carmontelle

In 1783, Louis de Carrigis, usually known as Carmontelle,  a draughtsman, painter, topographical engineer and garden designer began painting a series of small-scale images on translucent paper that, when cranked through a backlit viewing box gave viewers the experience of journeying through beautiful landscapes. These were mainly for the private amusement of the aristocracy. Apparently only 3 of these survive intact, but to give a sense of the scale and ingenuity involved, the longest roll stretches for 37m.

section of a transparency roll , Christies

detail of the painting below showing Carmontelle handing over the keys of the park to the Duc de Chartres

Before the revolution brought such frivolities to a halt in 1790, Carmontelle is known to have created  at least nine of these productions which were entitled “The French countryside decorated with its picturesque gardens called English Gardens”.  In fact Carmontelle was already a garden designer in his own right before he ventured into these almost theatrical adult toys. And that is probably what gave him the inspiration.

Vue des jardins de Monceau, , (Musée Carnavalet, Paris)

Between 1773 and 1778 he created the landscape setting covering 20 hectares [about 50 acres] around the  folie de Chartres, a two story octagonal villa built in the then suburbs of Paris a few years earlier for the Duc de Chartres.  It was to be a complete fantasy, and completely unlike the more natural English landscape gardens.  The grounds were filled with a vast range of  fabriques, or architectural structures from almost every conceivable style, from the pyramids and antique classical  to the exoticism of the east, rustic huts and windmills.  A few of these structures still survive in what remains of the grounds which are now the Parc Monceau.

by Arthur & Grenard, Paris, vers 1786 © Musee Arts Décoratifs.

It seems as if Carmontelle’s ideas were being picked up by wallpaper manufacturers just as the revolution unfurled.  For example the paper above seems to owe a lot to the transparency rolls, although it’s also possible it could have developed from contemporary trompe l’oeil mural paintings which of course had a very long history in their own right.

Meanwhile in Britain Robert Barker, a self taught painter, received a patent in 1787 for what he originally called La Nature a Coup d’Oeil [Nature in a glance]. He had been walking on Calton Hill in Edinburgh and had the idea of trying to portray the whole landscape in one 360 degree image.  He exhibited a small scale one of Edinburgh in his own house, then drew a larger one of London from the roof of Albion Mills overlooking Blackfriars Bridge on the south bank of the Thames.

These were definitely for a mass market, and was exhibited in the first purpose-built Rotunda in 1792.  Sir Joshua Reynolds was astounded declaring that “Nature can be represented so much better there than in a painting restricted by the normal format.”

Large scale Panoramas were being displayed in Paris by 1799 and by By 1801 the city had its first  Rotunda. It meant in the words of wallpaper historian Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz [Wallpapers:A Short History of Styles and Trends, Paris 2009)  that “now the wall, a surface that enveloped a real limited space, could be made to vanish and was turned into a decor for illusion…”


detail of The Palais Royal paper, c1805-10, Musée du Papier Peint, Rixheim, France

After Reveillon fled there was just a temporary hiatus in wallpaper manufacturing, and quickly the gap was filled by a large number of other companies. His immediate successors Jacquemart and Bénard, are the most famous and best-documented, but by 1795 the firm of Robert & Cie, which is virtually unknown, was bigger still and employed 400 people.

 It wasn’t just in Paris: Joseph Dufour, set up business in Lyon in 1797 and the same year Jean Zuber established his company – which still survives – at Rixheim in Alsace. Both began to produce panoramic wallpapers.

The first known showed the Gardens of the Palais Royal in Paris  – printed in shades of grey and white on blue. 

Palais Royal paper on a screen, Musee de Papier Peint, Rixheim

These wallpapers are an extraordinary technical achievement. Unlike Carmontelle’s rolls or Barker’s panoramas, they were not hand-painted but printed, one colour at a time, from  hundreds or even thousands of wooden blocks onto small sheets of paper joined to make a roll (usually approximately 60cm wide and about  250 cm long) although of course they could cut to fit the height of the room.  As can be seen in these two examples these rolls  could also be adapted for use on screens and room dividers. Luckily these are more likely to survive intact than those used to decorate rooms.

Screen using sections of the design “Fêtes publiques parisiennes”, manufactured by Velay, Paris, c.1815 © Musée du Papier Peint, Rixheim.

But perhaps it was the drive to represent the vast landscapes of contemporary global travel and exploration that led to the success of panoramic papers. They quickly developed into more and more exotic and brightly coloured scenes, included the likes of Joseph Dufour’s 1804 20 roll design based on Captain Cook’s South Seas expeditions.  It manages to combine scenes from many of Cook’s landing points into one continuous scene 2.5m high and  more than 10m long.

Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, By Joseph Dufour 1804/5, National Gallery of Australia

For example: Section 1 shows Nootka Sound, nr Vancouver, 2 is the Society Islands , 3 is Tonga, 8&9 show Hawaii and 10 and 11 New Zealand and 18 & 19 Australia. Dufour himself wrote: ‘The purpose of the enterprise is to please the eye and to excite the imagination’.

Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, By Joseph Dufour 1804/5, National Gallery of Australia

Such papers were immensely popular with over a hundred different designs  produced, mainly between 1800 and 1855, by a range of manufacturers in Paris, Lyon and Rixheim. Their popularity then spread globally, particularly to the United States, although surprisingly perhaps they never really caught on in Britain.

Les Vues de Suisse, By Zuber 1804

Given their immense size its difficult to show them on a blog post!  Zuber’s  Les Vues de Suisse (1804) which used over 1000 separate hand-carved blocks was almost 11m long and  L’Hindoustan (1807) which required over 1200, over 13m.

Hindoustan by Zuber 1807




What we see is the outdoors moving indoors.  Some panoramas were  ‘pure’ landscape but others were nominally historical narratives or mythological stories translated and retold in linear form around a room. The larger ones covered every inch of  the available space leaving only the windows and doors uncovered, and often the ends of the scene joined so that there was no beginning and end to the picture or story being told. But what is noticeable is that even in these retellings the people are secondary or ornamental and  it is nature and landscape, both real and man-made that dominate.  

More on gardens and landscapes on the wall when I have time….

Paysage de Télémaque dans l’île de Calypso, Dufour 1818





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