Xxix

WALL-PAPER.

IF the carpet acts as the background to the furniture of a room, the wallpaper may be said to be its atmosphere, for it is indeed as much so as if it were the medium through which all its objects are 6een, and it performs for the room the same function that the air does for the earth when it becomes the boundary-line of sight where the sky slips over its side.

It is very far from being an affair of small consequence, as many seem to think it is, what the paper may be in a room, since with our cabinets and pictures, and brackets and sconces, and vases and busts, and old china, we can nearly cover it: very far, because, whatever be the furnitures, a large share of the whole temperament of the room will be given by the wall-paper; and it is only now and then that we come across a person with any transmuting power capable of taking an ugly paper that may not be removed, and by means of different ones representing dado and frieze and ' edgings, securing an harmonious and quite satisfactory whole.

The color of the wall-paper is a thing to be decided, of course, only by the furnisher, and will be chosen in relation to the general tone of color of the room. Like the curtains and furniture coverings, it must either be in contrast or in unison with the carpet, although in more delicate tints, subdued meanwhile, and quiet both in hue and pattern. It will always be well for the furnisher, unless possessed of a nice instinct for color, to look into the analogies of colors a little in the beginning, to remember that the primary colors—blue, yellow, and red—have their complements in orange, purple, and green, and that the tertiary colors—the russets, citrines, and olives—have again their own complements; and with these, of late, very line effects have been produced. M. Chevreul, of the Gobelins factory, has made some valuable observations upon the harmonies of the various colors, and he classifies the harmonies resulting from immediate juxtaposition of certain tones, where the pure tint is either dulled or heightened by admixture of black or white, those resulting from pure tint mixed with the least other color, and those where well-contrasted colors seem all to be under the bloom of one of the colors a little stronger than the rest; and he carries the subject out to very close limits, the chief fact eliminated being that colors seen together differentiate themselves to the last degree, these, mutually dulling each other, those heightening and intensifying each other. A little attention to the subject, although not necessarily on a very minute scale, will prevent violent dissonances hurting the eye, and secure agreeable sensations. But those who do not dare to trust to their artistic sense or knowledge in giving the strong colors near neighborhood will usually be safe in using the varying shades of one main body tint, whatever that may be, having in mind, however, the danger to health of the arsenical tints. Yet if one is agitated upon the question of health, a painted wall will always be found to be cleaner and surer than any paper, owing to its washable nature. Still, a painted surface, be it ever so well done and delicately stencilled, is always wanting in that powdery bloom which gives a charm to the paper-hanging. There is not, moreover, any such talent among the frescoers and stencillers of the day as there is among the designers of wall-papers, some of the very best pencils of England and of all Europe being engaged upon these designs.

The choice of design in the paper is an affair of merely secondary difficulty, since the effect of color is omnipresent, but that of design is not always so apparent. A close and small design for the main portion of the wall may be pronounced the best, except in extraordinarily large rooms; but even where large figures are used, the outlines should be so interlaced and mingled, and the colors so subtly blended, that it will not be easy to tell at once where this figure ends and that begins. As a general thing, such papers as these well-blended large patterns are their own decoration, and need no pictures upon them, although they will receive statuary. The diapered and damasked and calendered papers can hardly be rendered out of taste; but if natural imitations are given, they must be more or less conventionalized, and, moreover, given flatly, that is, without shadows of objects or anything that can afford relief to the representations; the spotty effect which is made by the repetition of detached bunches of flowers on any ground is something to be avoided; and the opposite treatment, by-the-way—the attempt to lift the height of a room by stripes—is a poor artifice that meets its own reward. But even the diapered surface is one full of recurrence, and with all the warnings against the use in sleeping-rooms of those patterns where the repeats may be counted, we think it would be almost impossible to have even so much figure there as the mere watery lines of a calendered paper which the fevered eye, weary of vacancy, would not seize upon; the most closely woven curves and angles and the colors of the best conventionalized papers that eye is capable of distorting into monstrous shapes. Papers in plain colors come, such as those already mentioned—oiled papers, as they are called—of the "patent wash able tints," with which one can avoid this difficulty; but if one is obliged to use them, one is debarred from the opportunity of a great deal of delightful effect.

Paper-hanging is quite a modern invention, after all; that is, in its Western use. In the East wall-papers had been known from time immemorial ; but it was only toward the end of the seventeenth century that they were brought from China, imported into England and Holland along with a multitude of other indiennes and chinoiseries. France took hold of the idea and perfected it, and has hitherto produced the best, while Germany and Belgium have given the cheapest papers; but England has lately come to rival France. There is now a vast variety to choose from everywhere: mounting from the rough kitchen fourpenny paper that, put on wrong side out, when its pattern is but slightly stamped, presents a uniform gray surface like something a great deal more expensive, and, where the pattern is heavily stamped, presents a damascened gray surface, to those elaborate in art and material, whose use in a single room requires an expenditure of a small fortune. There are the common 6atin-faced ones, the more desirable rough - surfaced sort, the gilded, silvered, and bronzed grounds, embossed gilt and mica, imitation of silks and tapestries, cretonnes and chintzes, raised and stamped velvets; there are some like delicate muslins embroidered in chain-stitch and lined with color, at six dollars a roll and upward; others like the dark old embossed Spanish leathers buttoned to the wall, from nine to twelve dollars a roll, according to present prices; there are the thick Japanese papers, where the black ground riots in fantastic assemblage of all rich colors, where a gold ground carries birds and butterflies and fans in charming confusion, and those of lighter, less marked, and less agreeable characteristics at about the same price as the leather papers; others yet more expensive, thick and heavy, a finely glazed porcelain-like representation of tiles of all sorts, for those that will have them in imitation; and, in addition, there are the frescoed papers, and those for ceilings, for dadoes, and for friezes. It would be hard if out of such a variety one could not get up rooms that would be satisfying to the most demanding sense of the beautiful.

There are many papers now issued where the old tints are so exqui-sitely graded and combined that they produce the effect of new ones. Indeed, the new school seems to have caught the secret of the old colorists, especially of the workers in tapestry, although it does not by any means refuse help from the latest chemical invention. The greater number of all these papers are conventionalized in their designs; that is, even where the natural leaf and flower are used, they are so interwoven, melted, and mingled, so changed in inessentials, so refined and so intensified, yet all the time in arrangement corresponding to geometric rule and principle, that they seem like the flowers of some enchanted land rather than those of our own, reminding one of all sorts of weird conditions aud fancies. We recall, in particular, one Morris paper of idealized jasmine flowers and leaves, the design forming its own background, and where the tints were more suggestively and conventionally treated than the shapes, with their pale olivine, fulvous, creamy shades, which in themselves so transformed the flowers that they seemed to be fresh combinations of old lines, and had the virtue of new creations, yet, although so full of color, bridally pure and delicate. Indeed, it is this new creation, this leading-up of beauty into higher reaches by the new combination of the old elements, that makes a part of the merit of conventionalized treatment. " Transformed by grace," said an old nun in explaining it, " nothing on earth perfect till grace illumines it." We presume this condition of conventionalizing would hardly obtain with most artists, who believe rather in the necessities of art than in the mysticisms of religion, and who hold that conventionalism is required in order to prevent an individuality of detail that may turn the mind from broad general effect. Yet it is scarcely more than a searching way of repeating unconsciously Mr. Wor-nurn's assertion that "where the mind views something more than the surface, or where the eyes are auxiliary only to the mind, every natural object may be suggestive of some new essential form, or combination of forms. The lotus, the lily, and the tulip must be something more than flowers to the designer, or his use of them is limited indeed." Merely natural representation also, it may be said, is imitative and weak, but conventional treatment is interpretative and loftier: one is a photograph, the other is a design; one is mere handicraft, the other is art. No ornament, the authority just quoted tells us, " is beautiful because it represents any natural object, but because it has been chosen to illustrate certain symmetries or contrasts by the very nature of vision delightful to the mind, just as harmonies and melodies delight it through another of its senses;" and we are further told that the effect of the whole design should never be hindered by attention to details, as it is in the natural imitations; that where nature groups, it is not the individual, but the group, that is the ornament ; and thus where we make the individual ornamental, as we do in natural imitation again, we conform to nature in a little thing, but outrage her in a great- And the broad fact remains that the natural representation is a picture, and in being a picture it loses, of course, all power of being an ornamental detail of a scheme; but the natural representation, taken and transformed to an "harmonic succession of curves"—that is, conventionalized—has gone through an organic process; it has gone through this organic process in the human brain, and in becoming idealized is as much liner, loftier, and nobler as the living soul is better than dead matter. And all this holds true as much in every other sort of ornamental design as in that of wall-paper. Correggio, indeed, may paint his disputed wall surface of rosy children peeping through trellises, covered with blossoming vines; but only Correggio. The rest of us are wiser to avoid that sort of realism on our walls, for the simple reason, if for no nobler one, that it is absolutely impossible in decency to set the furniture against the picture it makes, or to hang one picture on another. That furnisher, on the whole, will have chosen the best paper who has made it subsidiary to the ornamental scheme of the room—for we presume that if there is any uncommon care in the matter at all, there is an ornamental scheme to be considered—and will have called no more attention to its details and particulars than is called to the details of the soft gray bloom with which some misty mornings suffuse the air.

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