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THE V&A began collecting wallpapers from its foundation in 1856 and today has one of the finest collections in the world from which to draw. This book tells the story of this wallpaper from a consumer’s viewpoint, albeit with a writing style which occasionally leans to the drone-like, “wallpaper itself may point to the function of a room and will often reflect the age, status or gender of its inhabitants or habitual occupants...” – Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen absolutely fizzed with enthusiasm about wallpaper on a recent interiors programme.

Long considered the poor relation of the decorative arts; fragile, ephemeral and easy to replace, wallpaper has entered the literature of Hardy and Mrs Gaskell who both “articulated a view of wallpaper as being advocated by those who are shallow and false, incomers with no attachment to the past” and any sense of the moral superiority enjoyed by the wallpaper-less.

The author is a deputy curator in the department of prints, drawings and paintings at the V&A and sets out to show how, why and when people used wallpaper, what they chose, where they bought it, how they selected it, how much it cost, where they hung it, what they thought of it, and how we now regard it.

The wallpaper story starts here around 1700 in the town houses of the merchant class and soon became a wildly fashionable luxury in the 18th century with handpainted papers being imported at vast expense from China; in the middle of the 19th century what had been a largely bland design and manufacturing process was alighted upon by Morris, Voysey and Pugin – in the 20th century Corbusier and Andy Warhol were producing one-off editions.

The author also looks at computer-generated patterns and other new approaches including Young British Artist Sarah Lucas and her could-send-you-over-edge Tits in Space design. Beautifully illustrated, the 15 chapters include Chinese wallpapers and chinoiserie styles, wallpapers architectural, scenic, flock and for children; textile influences on wallpaper, print rooms and one glorious chapter on paperhanging, the best way to have DIY hysterics one can think of... and getting a man in can be just as tantrum-inducing.... as one of Chippendale’s customers complained: “As to the Man who putt up & coloured the Green paper he was not above two days at work and did it extreamly bad.” Good source book for decorators and a piece of social history.