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The close association of fashionable English society with the culture of the continent had an outstanding effect on every form of art in the eighteenth century Georgian interiors. Not least of this effect was architectural, and the various arts that were employed to alter the aspect of the home are too numerous to illustrate. Several styles or fashions in interior design do, however, predominate. The classic, natural outcome of the `Grand Tour' which included visiting the wonders of Italy, was interpreted freely and individually and included the various types of decoration which appealed most forcibly to the individual concerned. Such personal appreciation might be concentrated on a fine columned room with marble floor and imitation marble walls with niches to hold a piece of sculpture rescued or filched from its original ruin. Or it might merely take the form of a collection of `prints' taken from paintings of famous Italian landscape artists. It was to this audience of interested converts to Classicism that William Kent and his patron, the Earl of Burlington, published the works of Inigo Jones in 1727 and within a very short space of time the illustration appeared in reality carried out in detail in various houses throughout the country.
This period was, to a considerable extent, one of grandeur and wealth but though we are not concerning ourselves with the already famous Palladian mansions, the general effect and ideas are noticeable even in the smaller house due no doubt to published books and illustrations that could be used by local craftsmen as working drawings.
One of the peculiarities of the age was a potent desire for imitation; not only did such imitation include the obvious methods of following fashion but it was extended in all possible directions. Should a grand scheme of decoration appeal in style to the owner of a small house with limited funds, he did his best to carry out such a scheme with paper, paint and stucco or any other means at his disposal.
If he were unable to afford fine frames for pictures, or marble statues he had them painted on the wall. Many of the smaller rooms were hung with silk or damask-or papered. Wallpaper was just beginning to come into use, for although patents had been taken out as early as Charles II's reign for the manufacture of wall-papers they were both expensive and probably tiresome to use, being printed in small squares about 12 to 16 inches in size. During the reign of Queen Anne a tax was levied on the manufacture of this new form of wall decoration at the rate of 1d. a yard and a few years later 11/2 d.
When William Kent decorated Kensington Palace for George I the great Drawing-Room was papered, so obviously a wallpaper was not too insignificant to be considered a suitable decoration for a palace.
The earliest known wallpapers have been found decorating Tudor houses, but these fragments, interesting as they are, cannot be considered as a typical form of decoration at that early period, for paper itself was too scarce and difficult to manufacture to make it a reasonable commercial proposition. In fact the only paper made in England was brown paper. When the Huguenots fled to England after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 they brought with them the art of papermaking and the composition of such paper at that time was as interesting as the plaster used by the Italians 150 years earlier. Rags, oatmeal hemp and ground bread all pounded together and pressed between folds of woollen materials produced larger sheets of paper than had previously been seen in this country. The earliest designs of wall-paper were printed by wood blocks or stencilled, and if colour was introduced thiswas applied by hand. A great many papers were all hand painted but in their earliest form the general idea was to imitate fabric or copy some Chinese design. In order to make the illusion of fabric more realistic we fined a very great percentage of wall-paper was `flocked'.