Category Archives: prints and drawings

prints and drawings

Which is larger: Double Elephant or Grand Eagle?

Size is relative. John James Audubon (1785-1851) liked to include insects and other small animals to put the size of his birds in context, such as this White Heron and red lizard.

 

It is often written that Audubon used the largest paper available for his Bird’s of America but in fact, the “double elephant” was only one of several Imperial size papers made at that time.

Below this plate from Birds is compared to a plate from the Description de l’Égypte and suddenly, it’s not quite so big.

 

It is a tragedy that libraries only measure and record the binding size, with no regard to the paper size (except for a note that the edges have been trimmed). Prints and drawings curators, on the other hand, measure the plate mark, the sheet, and the support (meaning a binding, a mat, or a frame). While many collections around the world regard both Birds and Description as “Double Elephant,” in fact the atlas of Description is closer to the “Grand Eagle” size.

Here are two of the many charts delineating paper sizes:


https://paper-size.com/c/imperial-sizes.html

 

By the way: While both Birds and Description were created in the early 19th century, both were acquired by Princeton in the early 20th century:

Description de l’Égypte, ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’armée française, publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l’empereur Napoléon le Grand (Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1809-22). 8 v. in 9: 41 cm; and atlas of 14 v. (73-110 cm.). Rare Books Oversize EX 1821.358e. The Princeton copy is “… the deluxe printing. Penciled in the margins of several of the astronomical line drawings is the name, comte de Pourtalès. …[I}n 1865 [this copy] was sold. Together with other works on Egypt and the ancient Near East, the set was presented to Princeton University in 1921 by the sons of Ralph E. Prime, Jr., of the Class of 1888, after the latter’s death. He had inherited it from a great-uncle, William Cowper Prime (1824-1905), of the Class of 1843. It was evidently he who acquired [this copy] at the Pourtalès sale or soon afterwards.”– Charles C. Gillispie, Monuments of Egypt (1987), p. 42.

John James Audubon (1785-1851), The Birds of America: from original drawings by John James Audubon ... (London: Pub. by the author, 1827-38). 4 v. CCCCXXXV col. pl. 100 cm. Rare Books Oversize EX 8880.134.11e. The Princeton copy “was presented … in 1927 by Alexander van Rensselaer (Princeton, class of 1871), a charter trustee of the University. It had formerly belonged to Stephen van Rensselaer (Princeton, class of 1808) of Albany, New York, one of the original subscribers to the work. The latter’s name appears as no. 32 in Audubon’s list of subscribers.” — Howard C. Rice, An Aububon Anthology, page 16.

 

Trumpeter Swan

This Swan feeds principally by partially immersing the body and extending the neck under water, in the manner of fresh-water Ducks and some species of Geese, when the feet are often seen working in the air, as if to aid in preserving the balance. Often however it resorts to the land, and then picks at the herbage, not sidewise, as Geese do, but more in the manner of Ducks and poultry. Its food consists of roots of different vegetables, leaves, seeds, various aquatic insects, land snails, small reptiles and quadrupeds. The flesh of a cygnet is pretty good eating, but that of an old bird is dry and tough.

https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/trumpeter-swan

Virginia Zabriskie, 1927-2019

In 1954, Virginia Zabriskie paid one dollar to assume the lease of the gallery space on the second floor of 835 Madison Avenue.

My favorite story about the art dealer Virginia Zabriskie (1927-2019) involves her continuing concern and support for her aging colleague, the American art dealer Charles Daniel (1878-1971), who ran the Daniel Gallery in New York City from 1913 to 1932.

During the 1950s and 1960s few members of the art world even knew that Daniel was still alive, let alone cared how he survived. The exceptions were Zabriskie and the painter Rachael Soyer (1899-1987), who was given his first one-man show at the Daniel Gallery in the 1920s. Working together, Zabriskie and Soyer came up with a plan to quietly provide the impoverished Daniel with a small income.

Every so often, Soyer would invite Daniel to visit him in his Second Avenue apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. After coffee and cigarettes, Soyer would casually hand Daniel a few drawings, “just in case he might know someone who would be interested.”

Daniel would immediately go up to see Zabriskie, who handled Soyer at her Madison Avenue gallery, just ten blocks north of where the Daniel Gallery once displayed his work. She would pretend to barter with Daniel, eventually settling on $25 or $30 for each sheet. Both the artist and the dealer understood the arrangement, kindly allowing Daniel this ritual and much needed financial support.

Charles Daniel died in 1971 at the age of 92 years old. Virginia Zabriskie recently passed away two months short of her 92nd year. Perhaps it was their love of art and sincere patronage of the New York art world that kept them both alive so long.

See also: https://www.nysun.com/arts/handmaiden-of-the-arts/10389/

Italy: a Poem


The Graphic Arts Collection holds 25 engravers’ proofs for: Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), Italy: a Poem (London: Cadell, Jennings and Chaplin, Moxon, 1830). Graphic Arts Collection 2006-0971N; Rare Books PR5234 .I7 1830; RHT 19th-398.

The steel engravings are equal in size (plate mark: 259 x 141 mm; paper: 295 x 185 mm) and description to the set of proofs in the British Museum, some finished with engraved captions, some without. The scenes were designed by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and Thomas Stothard (1755–1834); and engraved by Edward Goodall (1795–1870), Robert William Wallis (1794–1878), W. R. Smith (active 1826–1852), Henry LeKeux (1787–1868), William Bernard Cooke (1778–1855), and John Pye (1782–1874). Book pages were printed by Thomas Davison.

 

 


“Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) first achieved fame with the publication in 1792 of “The Pleasures of Memory.” After Italian travels, during which he met Shelley and Byron in Pisa, Rogers produced a first version of “Italy” in 1822 and issued a sequel in 1826, both of which sold poorly.

He destroyed the unsold copies, revised the poems, and published them at his own expense in the present edition of 1830 embellished this time by illustrations.

These were the work of two artists with very different propensities–Stothard (1755-1834), who did demure figure scenes, and Turner (1775-1851), who provided landscape vignettes.”

 

 

IF thou shouldst ever come by choice or chance
To Modena, where still religiously
Among her ancient trophies is preserved
Bologna’s bucket (in its chain it hangs
Within that reverend tower, the Guirlandina),
Stop at a palace near the Reggio gate,
Dwelt in of old by one of the Orsini.
Its noble gardens, terrace above terrace,
And rich in fountains, statues, cypresses,
Will long detain thee; through their archèd walks,
Dim at noonday, discovering many a glimpse
Of knights and dames, such as in old romance,
And lovers, such as in heroic song,
Perhaps the two, for groves were their delight,
That in the springtime, as alone they sat,
Venturing together on a tale of love,
Read only part that day.—A summer sun
Sets ere one half is seen; but ere thou go,
Enter the house—prythee, forget it not—
And look awhile upon a picture there.

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044011790979;view=thumb;seq=11

Race, Gender, and Anatomy

Most early anatomies focused their attention on the white male body, with female dissection included only to illustrate the stages of childbirth. Non-white cadavers might have been less expensive but were not considered proper models for published medical atlases.

When the practice of hands‐on anatomical dissection became popular in United States medical education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, demand for cadavers exceeded the supply. Slave bodies and thefts by grave robbers met this demand. Members of the public were aware that graves were being robbed and countered with various protective measures. …Slave owners sold the bodies of their deceased chattel to medical schools for anatomic dissection. Stories of the “night doctors” buying and stealing bodies became part of African American folklore traditions. The physical and documentary evidence demonstrates the disproportionate use of the bodies of the poor, the Black, and the marginalized in furthering the medical education of white elites.

–Halperin EC. “The Poor, the Black, and the Marginalized as the Source of Cadavers in United States Anatomical Education,” Clin Anat. 2007; 20:489–495.

 

One significant except was Joseph Maclise’s Surgical Anatomy, first published in 1851 with 35 partially colored lithographic plates, followed by a revised and enlarged second edition in 1856, containing 52 plates. The lithographs were printed by M. & N. Hanhart lithographers, founded by Michael Hanhart, and the volume published by John Churchill, a medical bookseller in Soho.

Two plates [above] feature an adult African Englishman, “Two heads of men, showing dissection of muscles and blood-vessels of the subclavian region of the chest” and “Dissection of the trunk of a seated black man, showing major blood-vessels.” Although female models are illustrated, their faces are always obscured.

 

The Irish artist, Joseph Maclise (ca.1815-1880) was a younger brother of the painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), with whom he sometimes shared a house in Bloomsbury and Chelsea when they were both in London. Joseph was both a professional surgeon and artist, illustrating a number of medical texts.

 


Joseph Maclise (ca.1815-1880), Surgical Anatomy (London: Churchill, 1856). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2019- in process

Mikhail Kotsov’s “Chudak”


Chudak = The Oddball or Poor Guy (Moscow: Ogonek, 1928-1929). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2019 in process. No. 1 (1928), nos. 2-50 (1929); 23.0 x 30.0 cm; each issue pp. 16.

Together with Thomas Keenan, Slavic East European and Eurasian Studies Librarian, the Graphic Arts collection recently acquired 50 of 56 rare issues of the satirical Soviet magazine Chudak (The Oddball), including the banned and retracted issue no. 36. No other library has these physical volumes, with the exception of two issues at Cambridge University. Issue no. 36 is not held at either the Russian State Library or the Russian National Library.

Given the lack of information on this ephemeral publication, our dealer’s note is quoted at length:

“During its brief and troubled, yet brilliant existence, Chudak brought together the Soviet Union’s sharpest satirical talents, both writers and caricaturists. Its literary staff and contributors included the team Ilf and Petrov, Kataev, Mayakovsky, Zoshchenko, Demyan Bedny, Gorky, Olesha, Svetlov, Arkhangelsky, Volbin, Zabolotsky, Ryklyin, Tvardovsky, and Utkin. Among its illustrators were Deni, Efimov, Bodraty, Kozlinsky, Ratov, Radlov, Malyutin, Deyneka, and the Kukryniksy.

This eminent ensemble was led by editor-in-chief Mikhail Koltsov, one of the foremost Soviet journalists of the 1930s and the inspiration for the character Karkov in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Like its Leningrad-based contemporary Revizor, Chudak was born of the Central Committee’s April 1927 decree “On Satirical and Humorous Magazines,” which aimed to rein in rogue publications by replacing staff, merging enterprises, or shutting down papers outright.

As a consequence of this campaign, Koltsov inherited editorship of the satirical magazine Smekhach (February 1924–December 1928), which had seen its staff and readership gutted. Together with Ilf and Petrov, Vasily Reginin, Grigory Rylkin, and the others, Koltsov envisioned a complete rebranding of the magazine. He described this new publication in a letter to Maxim Gorky, who would pledge his support and contribute to the first issue:

“We have gathered a good group of writers and artists, and we have decided–whatever it takes–to give our magazine a new identity, completely breaking with faded satirical traditions. We are convinced that, contrary to all the yammering about ’the official seal’, a good satirical journal can exist in the USSR, excoriating bureaucratism, sycophancy, philistinism, duplicity, and active and passive sabotage.

The title Chudak did not come about by accident. We picked up this word as if it were the gauntlet that the average man bewilderedly and aloofly throws when he sees a deviation from himself, from the safe path: “He believes in Socialist Construction? There’s an Oddball!” “He’s subscribed to a bond drive? That’s an Oddball” “He thinks nothing of a good salary? What an Oddball!” We paint this disparaging name in romantic and vivacious colors. Chudak is no voice of acrimonious satire; it is sanguine, healthy, and happy. Neither is Chudak a high-toned abuser; to the contrary, it scrappily defends the many unjustly abused and willingly turns its bristling quill against the juries of skeptics and whiners.

Issue no. 36

Chudak was considered bolder and more literary than its competitors, corresponding with caliber of its contributors. However, it rode the line of political acceptability and eventually overstepped its bounds. The 36th issue (September 1929) incited the Party’s wrath by lampooning the “Leningrad Carousel” of officials in charge of an anti-Trotskyist campaign. This triggered the Central Committee decree of September 20, 1929, “On the Magazine Chudak,” which decried the “blatantly anti-Soviet character” of the material and removed Koltsov from his post. It further “charge[d] the OGPU to urgently investigate the matter of the insertion of these materials into the magazine Chudak and take measures to retract issue No. 36 of the magazine.

Koltsov was forced to issue a groveling apology (not without finger-pointing; he alleged that he had succumbed to hysteria propagated by the general press). While he was reinstated a month later due to the intervention of Kliment Voroshilov and Lazar Kaganovich, this was too little too late. The rival, state sponsored satirical magazine Krokodil had used the intervening time to organize a hostile takeover. Chudak was forcibly merged with Krokodil in February 1930.

Chudak’s literary legacy includes poems by Mayakovsky (“Govoriat” in No. 3, “Mrachnoe o iumoristakh” in No. 5, “Chto takoe” in No. 9, and others) and more than 70 pieces by Ilf and Petrov under their own names or a variety of pseudonyms, such as “F. Tolstoyevsky.” Many unsigned works have also been attributed to the duo.

However, their most important writings were the unfinished, serialized novellas Neobyknovennye istorii iz zhizni goroda Kolokolamska (Unusual Tales from the Life of the City Kolokalamsk) and Tysiacha i odin den’, ili Novaia Shakherezada (A Thousand and One Days, or the New Scheherazade), both of which foreshadowed their classic book Zolotoi telionok (The Little Golden Calf).

See additional information on Koltsov: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2008/10/16/a-call-to-arms

Wood engraving via woodpeckers

Carl Browne. Massillon Museum collection

On January 15, 1890, the Los Angeles Herald printed an article on local artist Carl Browne (1849-1914), in the hope that charges of blackmail would be dropped (which they were). The author goes on to describe Browne’s creative wood engraving technique of coating a block design with aromatic herbs and leaving it in a tree, tempting woodpeckers to cut the image with their beaks.

It is hoped [that] the charge of blackmailing against Carl Browne, the illustrious artist, will not be pressed. He may be guilty as charged in the indictment, but a man who has already done as much for art ought not to be required to go to the penitentiary too. Mr. Browne adorns everything that he touches, particularly if it is white; he leaves nothing as he finds it, unless it is very heavy indeed. Before his time art knew nettling of the reversible landscape, the five-legged cow, the stream which runs up hill and the house which has had its haircut.

It was he, too, who invented (under Providence) the new method of wood engraving heretofore described in this paper. The block is smeared with worm oil and the design drawn upon it with ink of [asafoetida]. When the picture is complete the block is hung up in a tree and the woodpeckers, attacking the light parts, leave the dark ones in high relief ready to print them.

Mr. Browne’s perspective has been highly extolled by Professor Davidson, one of the closest observers of earthquake phenomena that we have among us. but it is in his coloring that he comes out really strong. Nothing could be finer than the subtle harmonies which he produces with an arsenic-green sky brooding upon a carmine forest, beyond which a yellow sea rises steeply to the horizon, bearing two or three blue ships—a favorite subject which he has now the skill to paint with his eyes shut. Professor Holden of the Lick observatory said of one of Mr. Browne’s nocturnes, in which a noble range of black-and-tan mountains serves as a background to a constellation of liver-and-white stars, that he never saw anything so strange.

But this artist’s greatest work is doubtless his panorama of “Hamlet’s Soliloquy,” in which the spectator stands in the middle of Hamlet and sees the soliloquy retiring by the country roads toward all the points of the compass, thoroughly beaten and subdued. This painting was at one time exhibited as “The Battle of Gettysburg, ” and was highly commended in art circles in Calistoga. Afterward it was shown as “Penelope at Her Loom,” and is now, I believe, attracting considerable attention in the East as “The Petrified Forest.”

–Morning Press, Volume XXVI, Number 156, 16 January 1890 and Los Angeles Herald, Volume 33, Number 95, 15 January 1890

Although Browne’s various newspapers and lithographs have survived, none of the panoramas are known to exist. If you hear of one, please write.

A Treatise on Female Ruin

The Ladies Petition for Two Husbands, January 1, 1784. Engraving. Published by John Sharpe. British Museum

In 1784, John Sharpe published this satirical print making fun of Martin Madan (1726-1790) and his recent book: Thelyphthora: or, A Treatise on Female Ruin, in its Causes, Effects, Consequences, Prevention, and Remedy: Considered on the Basis of the Divine Law under the Following Heads, viz. Marriage, Whoredom, and Fornication, Adultery, Polygamy, Divorce … (London: Printed for J. Dodsley, 1780-1781). RBSC Miriam Y. Holden Collection HQ19 .M26 [https://books.google.com/books?id=frLUfEa4YXsC&printsec=titlepage#v=onepage&q&f=false]

Dr. Madan, sitting on the right, accepts each woman’s petition for a second husband, “For One alone Cannot our want’s supply. Nor Half our Wishes Gratify.” Madan’s advocacy for polygamy caused such protest that he was forced to resign his chaplaincy of the Lock Hospital.

A number of other satirical prints followed, although Sharpe’s was the only instance of a woman with two husbands, rather than a man with multiple wives.

Edward Williams (1755-1797?) after Thomas Rowlandson (born 1756 or 1757, died 1827), Polygamy, July 1, 1802. Stipple engraving. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2014.00818. Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.

Note, the wife is the well-dressed woman on the right and the mistress (or second wife) is on the left with the child.

 

George Moutard Woodward (ca. 1760-1809), Five Wives at a Time or an Irishman Taken In! June 7, 1808. Etching. Bound in Caricature Magazine, volume 1. Graphic Arts Collection Rowlandson 1807.51F. Gift of Dickson W. brown, Class of 1895.

“Why Jack you terrible Turk I could not believe it if I had not seen it – Five Wives at once – why you will get yourself into a pretty scrape! What could induce you to commit such a rash action.”

“Why you must know Uncle, out of so many I was in hopes to have met with a Good one – but by St. Patrick, I have been taken in –!!”

Note: wife number five is reading this book: Mrs. Thomson (active 1788), Excessive Sensibility or, the History of Lady St. Laurence. A novel (London: printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1787).

A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors (1899) lists four novels by Mrs. Thomson: The Labryrinths of Life, Novel, 12mo. 2. Excessive Sensibility; a Novel, 12mo. 3. Fatal Follies; a Novel, 12mo. 4. The Pride of Ancestry, 1804, 4 vols. 12mo.

 

See also: Théodore De Bèze, Tractatio de Polygamia in Qva et Ochini Apostatæ Pro Polygamia, et Montanistarvm ac Aliorum Aduersus Repetitas Nuptias Argumenta Refutantur: Addito Veterum Canonum & Quarundam Ciuilium Legum ad Normam Verbi Diuini Examine (Genevæ, 1591). 2 vols.

Document URL: <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/MLFP?af=RN&ae=GN2904384203&srchtp=a&ste=14&locID=prin77918>

A hypochondriac’s choices

Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827) after James Dunthorne II (ca. 1758–ca. 1792/93), The Hypochondriac, March 1, 1788. Hand-colored etching and aquatint. Graphic Arts collection GA 2014.00796. Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.

This aquatint of a man suffering from hypochondria, depicts various demons and ghosts flying about his head offering the choice of death by stabbing, shooting, poison, slitting your throat, or a serpent’s bite, among others. Given the complicated lineage of the British artist Dunthorne, this print is often attributed solely to Rowlandson although it clearly lists Dunthorne as the designer.
James Dunthorne I (British painter, 1730-1815)
James Dunthorne II (English portraitist and caricaturist, born ca. 1758, died 1792 or 1793)
John Dunthorne I (British painter, active 2nd half of the 18th century)
John Dunthorne II (British painter, active 1783-1794)
John Dunthorne III (British painter, 1770-1844)
John Dunthorne IV (English painter, 1798-1832)

We agree with the Metropolitan Museum of Art that the artist who collaborated with Rowlandson here was James Dunthorne II, also known as the Colchester Hogarth. Judy Crosby Ivy, writing for the DNB explains:

Two other artists named Dunthorne (mistakenly identified in the Dictionary of National Biography and in the standard references as John) lived and worked in Colchester and may have been distantly related to the East Bergholt Dunthornes. James Dunthorne (c. 1730–1815), portrait and miniature painter and map-maker, was apprenticed to Joshua Kirby in 1745 for £25. He was also possibly the topographer responsible for several drawings of historic Essex buildings and tessellated pavements reproduced in various antiquarian publications in the 1760s and 1770s. James Dunthorne had nonconformist and whig connections and may have been related to John Dunthorne, a dissenting pastor in Colchester. He and his wife Elizabeth had nine children, the eldest of whom, James Dunthorne (c. 1758–c. 1794), painter and surveyor, was known as the Colchester Hogarth and exhibited several genre scenes at the Royal Academy between 1783 and 1792. Works by both father and son are in the Colchester and Essex Museum and in the British Museum, department of prints and drawings. —https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-8297

See also https://suffolkartists.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=203

Perhaps it was Dunthorne who wrote:
The mind disemper’d – say, what potent charm,
Can Fancy’s spectre-brooding rage disarm?
Physics prescriptive, art assails in vain,
The dreadful phantoms floating cross the brain!
Until with Esculapian skill, the sage M.D.
Finds out at length by self-taught palmistry,
The hopeless case – in the reluctant fee,
Then, not in torture such a wretch to keep
One pitying bolus lays him sound asleep.’

See also: Resumé by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

The Hanging of Gregory V in Constantinople

When in 1821, the Greeks rose in violent revolution against the rule of the Ottoman Turks, thousands of Greek Christians were raped, murdered, and hanged. In William St. Clair’s history, That Greece Might Still be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence (Firestone DF807 .S25 1972), he chronicles the many Turkish and Greek campaigns:

 

“The Ottoman Government in Constantinople, faced with violent revolutions in different parts of the Empire, decided to answer terror with terror. A policy of exterminating all Greeks in the Ottoman Empire seems to have been seriously considered, as it had been at earlier periods of Turkish history, but when the Sultan remembered how great a proportion of the imperial revenues was derived from his Christian subjects, he decided upon a more selective policy.

The Patriarch of Constantinople occupied a special place in the administration of the Empire. He was regarded as their leader by all the Greek Orthodox community, but at the same time he was a high Ottoman official responsible to the Government for a wide range of administrative, legal, and educational subjects. . .

On Easter Sunday, the reigning Patriarch, Gregorios, was formally accused of being implicated in the Greek rebellion and was summarily hanged. His body remained for three days suspended form the gate of the Patriarchate, and was then dragged through the streets and thrown into the sea.”

 


Thanks to a gift of the Program in Hellenic Studies with the support of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund, the Graphic Arts Collection has a tightly trimmed German print depicting the massacre in Constantinople in April 1821. Ours is a variant of the Greek print in the Athens Gennadios Library, seen on Wikipedia and elsewhere on the internet with the English and Greek title:

“Attrocities committed by Ottoman religious fanatics and Janisaries in Constantinople/Istanbul in the Greek quarter, April 1821” = “Ελληνικά: Βιαιότητες των Τούρκων εναντίον των Ελλήνων στην Κωνσταντινούπολη, μετά την κύρηξη της Επανάστασης του 1821, Απρίλιος 1821”. [A closer translation might be: “Violent acts of the Turks against the Greeks in Constantinople (Istanbul) after the Declaration of the Greek War of Independence (also known as the Greek Revolution) of 1821, April 1821”].

 

There is no title on our print, only a description in German of the massacre, crediting the German engraver Johann Koch for the scene.

 

Architectural ‘papier peint’ or wallpaper

One section approximately five feet in length.


Chiaroscuro woodblock printed wallpaper, four sheets of paper pasted together and printed in seven colors, ca. 1830, 570 x 1570 mm. Numbered on verso 481 (or 184 if the 4 is upsidedown). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2019- in process

A fine large piece of architectural ‘papier peint’ or wallpaper with a block printed design featuring a Neo-classical arcade made up of columns leading into a landscape. It is assumed to be French, probably meant as a frieze or border around a room. This ‘impression â la planche’ used seven separate color blocks, requiring tremendous labor and skill in registration.

‘The design was engraved onto the surface of a rectangular wooden block. Then the block was inked with paint and placed face down on the paper for printing. Polychrome patterns required the use of several blocks – one for every color. Each color was printed separately along the length of the roll, which was then hung up to dry before the next color could be applied. ‘Pitch’ pins on the corners of the blocks helped the printer to line up the design. The process was laborious and required considerable skill’ (V & A website, History of wallpaper https://www.vam.ac.uk/event/omWR1Paz/the-history-of-wallpaper).

Our sample bears a striking resemblance to another held at the Cooper Hewitt Museum: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18319417/

Their “Frieze (France),” is dated 1835–45 and was acquired it in 1931. Its medium is block-printed and stenciled on machine-made paper. It is a part of the “Wallcoverings” department.

This deep perspective is rather unusual for a frieze paper and this effect was usually reserved for scenic wallpapers until landscape friezes were popularized in the very late 19th century. This strong perspective draws your eyes into the distance, visually opening up the room and making the space appear larger. The view looks dead on into a colonnaded courtyard or cloister, opening in the distance to a growth of trees. This opens up to a sky that is beautifully shaded from a light terra cotta to a crisp blue. The courtyard is filled with a cast of characters dressed in brightly colored Shakespearean costume as well as a single monk or friar. This is woodblock printed in about 15 colors, not including the sky. Interesting to note is that the large expanses of white and the blue filling the arches have been over painted with brush and stencil.