“West Point, New York” is one scene from the scenic wallpaper “Views of North America” first produced by the French firm Zuber et Cie in 1834. This scenic contains 32 panels and shows some of the natural wonders of the continent: New York Bay, Boston Harbor, West Point, & the natural bridge of Virginia. Scenic wallpapers were introduced around 1804 and remained popular with new designs being introduced until 1865. Scenic wallpaper allowed the viewer to visually access an historical moment during the July Monarchy (July 1830- 1848) in which America was idealized as the future of France.
“Vues d’Amérique du Nord” offers an idealized view of Jacksonian America as conceived by its designer, Jean-Julien Deltil, who may never have visited the United States and based hiswork on the designs of Jacques-Géard Milbert, and designed the paper for Jean Zuber et Cie in 1834. Zuber crafted the paper using 1,700 hand-carved blocks and 223 different colors. The Frenchman’s scenes of free blacks engaged in trade, dressed in finery, and residing happily alongside their white counterparts presented an idealized (bordering on utopian) view of the newly born country, which may have been intended as a slight to the English as much as it was a glorification of the Americans’ nascent democratic nation.
In 1852, Jean Zuber took advantage of a nationalist wave in the US and republished “Views of North America”, as “The War of American Independence”. He substituted foreground figures so the Boston Harbor became the Boston Tea Party. Peaceful scenes became battlefields.
Between 1804 and 1860, Zuber Manufacture de Papiers Peints produced more than 25 of these panoramas wallpapers. The process is labor-intensive, requiring hundreds of hand-carved pearwood blocks. Unfortunately, the method of carving the blocks is virtually a lost art, a set for one panorama took up to 20 engravers a full year to complete. For some panels, 70 to 80 different woodblocks might be required, applied one by one in an exacting order. To create the horizon, four people work simultaneously using a complex hand-brushing technique, producing a velvety matte. The papers are then refined by hand and dried on huge racks. Zuber et Cie’s wallpapers are astonishing in their scale and painterly attention to coloration, shading, and detail.
It was reported that Zuber’s wallpapers were so renowned that King Louis Philippe honored him with the Legion of Honor in 1834, the year that ‘Scenic America’ was printed. The Zuber blocks were recently deemed an historic monument by the French government.
The White House.
Jacqueline Kennedy was so taken by the beauty and historical significance of these wallpaper block print panels that she had one installed in the White House in the 1960’s
The Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House is one of three oval rooms in the White House. It was refurbished in 1960 during the Dwight Eisenhower administration in the style of the Federal period with antiques selected by New York interior designer Michael Greer. In 1962, with advice from American antiques expert Henry Francis du Pont, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the room papered with antique French scenic wallpaper produced by Jean Zuber et Cie in Rixheim (Alsace), France c. 1834. The Zuber wallpaper, titled Scenes of North America, and features scenes of Boston Harbor, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, West Point, New York, Niagara Falls, and New York Harbor.
The sweeping panorama on the elliptical walls provide a sense of space negating the lack of windows. Additional Federal-era furniture was acquired, and upholsteries and the carpet furthered a soft gold and blue decor.
~ [Source: Author: Paulus Swaen]
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Further readings and sources:
- Lisa Farmer Designs
- “Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier”, Sept 2012
- “Favorite Wallpaper: Zuber’s Decor Chinois”, Downeast Dilettante blog, December 2009
- “ZUBER, J. – 2 Papier peints: ‘West Point in New York” and ”Boston Harbor’; Paulus Swaen ©2015
- Diplomatic Reception Room (White House), Wikipedia
- Imagining America in 1834: Zuber’s Scenic Wallpaper “Vues d’Amérique du Nord”, University of Chicago Press, Robert P. Emlen Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 32, No. 2/3 (Summer – Autumn, 1997)
- PDF: A Republican Mirage:
Zuber et Cie’s Vues d’Amérique du Nord Joanna M. Gohmann, Chapel Hill, 2010
- Zuber Wall Paper Panels, circa 1852, Mounted as a Screen, Garden Court Antiques