Panoramic wallpaper, The Story of Psyche

Xavier Mader (1789-1830), draftsman and engraver
Louis Lafitte (1770-1828) and Merry-Joseph Blondel (1781-1853), composition designers
After François Gérard (1770-1837) and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823), creators of the model
Joseph Dufour factory, Paris, 1815
Reedited by the Desfossé & Karth factory in 1872
Machine-made paper, hand-brushed gray ground, printed in 26 sheets with 1245 engraved woodcuts
Gift of Leroy, 1882
Inv. HH 2
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance

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The twelve paintings depicting the story of Psyche are based on Jean de La Fontaine’s novel The Loves of Cupid and Psyche (1669), which was itself inspired by the story of The Golden Ass by second-century Roman author Apuleius. This panoramic decoration was designed by Louis Laffitte , who was influenced by the famous neoclassical painters François Gérard and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon; this explains the style of the panels, featuring classical-style furniture modeled on designs by Georges Jacob.

The production of the wallpaper was a technical challenge, as no two panels have elements in common. It took twenty-three different colors to create the grisaille effect, and 1,245 hand-printed wood-blocks to create the whole composition. This considerable achievement won its producer – the Joseph Dufour factoy – a silver medal at the Exhibition of French Industrial Products in 1819. The version exhibited here is a reprint made by the wallpaper manufacturers Desfossé & Karth in 1872, testifying to the long-lasting popularity of this panoramic paper.

Wallpaper – which was less expensive than painted wood paneling – became extraordinarily fashionable in upper-middle-class homes in the early nineteenth century. Mass production cut costs, making beauty affordable to the majority – a democratic argument popular with manufacturers.

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