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A very brief history of wallpaper

Wall art

Wallpaper patterns and murals are works of art in their own right. Looking into mankind’s fascination with images and writing on the wall, history shows that this may have come about ritualistically as well as a means to depict or communicate.

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Pettakere cave, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

As seen in the above image, hand stencilling used in random repeat dates to at least 37,900 BCE. Of course, it’s impossible to attempt to understand the intention behind this artwork – but boy, it sure looks like it was a lot of fun to produce!

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The Chavet Cave, Ardeche, France.

The above art is said to have been drawn around 30,000 to 28,000 B.C. While there’s truth to conjuring up images of caveman art as stick figure-ish, the representation of lions and mammoths shown above is one of the oldest examples of figurative drawing.

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Interior walls of an ancient Egyptian temple in Dendera
(Credit: Kokhanchikov/Shutterstock).

Composed as a written language and using what we now know as graphic ‘grid’ conventions, we jump many millennia forward, to where hieroglyphics were first used in Ancient Egypt as early as 3000 B.C.

China – The Invention of Paper

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(Source: The Invention of True Paper by Ts’ai Lun).

Around 105 A.D, Ts’ai Lun a Chinese court official is credited with inventing paper created out of a mix of rags, fishing nets and natural fibres such as tree-bark.

Worldwide paper spread

The further refinement and production of paper spread from Asia to the Middle East and by 1100’s paper-making was all throughout Europe. Over the next couple of centuries, some of the greatest artists, architects and musicians ever known to man would be born.

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Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Perhaps the most famous of all ceiling and wall artwork is Michaelangelo’s paintings featured in the Sistine Chapel that commenced in 1508 and was completed around 1512. Capturing the beauty and allure of the arts would eventually be realised in wallpaper murals and intricate motifs.

France

Jean Papillon, a wood-engraver, is said to have created wallpaper with repeat pattern in the 1600s while it wasn’t until 1785 where Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf was responsible for inventing the first wallpaper printing machine (later modified and redesigned by Louis Robert to create a machine using continuous lengths of paper).

England

The English played a significant role in the advancement and manufacturing of wallpaper by developing firstly 4 colour, then 8, then 20 colour printing machines.

By the 18th century, wealthy Londoners decorated their homes with expensive bespoke wallpaper prints that mimicked architectural features and marble as well as flock. During the Victorian era, the rise of mass produced wallpaper meant that most people could afford to decorate their homes with high-quality garish print in every room. Wallpaper in New Zealand was rare and featured in homes of some of the colonists.

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Flocking illustration (Scientific American, November 26, 1881).

In England, wallpapered interiors became part of the fabric of society and widely celebrated. With further advancements in technology in the 1900s, and following the war, plastic resins were introduced that made wallpaper more durable and washable.

Perfect match (1968).

Wallpaper, England (1963).

Today

In the 21st century, technology has advanced whereby you can have any digital image created into wallpaper and wall mural of your choice.

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Also, gone are the arduous days of removing wallpaper as with paste-the-wall papers, wallpaper comes off in two to three whole strips.

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