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Interior Wall Coverings

The type of interior wall coverings changed during the William and Mary period to incorporate the use of fabric wall coverings due to an influx of French immigrants, among other things.

French Influence

For a clue to the inspiration of English work in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, not only in the William and Mary period but also that of Charles II, it is advisable to look on at the artistic and political actions of France. The Great Louis XIV was on the throne, and the great Le Brun was the leader in the decorative art of the day.

One of the most disastrous mistakes of Louis XIV was the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, that law which had protected from persecution so large a number of Protestant workers in the liberal and decorative arts. Among these people were tapestry weavers, silk weavers, glass workers, wood carvers, members of all the crafts that contribute to the beauty of the home. Eventually they came to England for safe haven and enriched immeasurably the art of furniture and interior design.

It is impossible to over-estimate the benefit to England in an aesthetic way of the arrival of all these skilled workers, men whose equal were to be found in no other country. Louis XIV had made a royal hobby of exquisite furnishings. He had placed their manufacture among the royal pleasures and also among the state duties. He had glorified the art of furnishing as it had never before been done, by the magnificent institution of the Gobelins factory. Here men learned their craft an infinite variety of crafts and achieved perfection. All at once many of these workers were forced to flee or meet death under the new dictum of the King. And thus England received the outcasts to her own enrichment.

Silk Tapestry & Fabrics

One of the industries in which England was behind the Continent was the manufacture of silk fabrics. The French refugees were soon established in London at Spitalfields, reproducing the magic weaves they had formerly made for the imperious pleasure of the royal favourites in France. Satins, brocades, taffetas of wondrous dye and lustre, flowed from the looms of the able weavers who perhaps drowned their nostalgia for the lost motherland by devoting themselves even more intensely to a loved and familiar occupation.

Tapestry Woven with Wool and Silk
Tapestry Woven with Wool and Silk, 1700.
There was great variety in the late 17th century in the types of interior wall coverings available to wealthy customers, but tapestry-woven hangings such as this nearly always had pride of place in both private and state apartments, particularly in bedchambers. Sometimes their use was seasonal, for example at Ham House in Surrey, where tapestries covered the walls in winter and woven silk hangings were used in summer.

One result of this mass of beautiful material being thrown to a delighted public, was the change made in the fashion of interior wall treatment and covering. The beautiful oak panelling of other days gave way to the bright sheen of silk tapestry. By Queen Anne's time the panels grew larger, then became a wainscot and sank to the height of a man's bewigged head; then lowered to a chair's height for the Georgian era. And above flowed the gracious lines of silken fabrics and tapestries concealing all the walls, made in Spitalfields by the French refugees and their new apprentices.

Whole rooms were hung with silk and with wondrous tapestries and drapery from France, though England made both silks and tapestries. Beds of the day retained the high posts and tester or canopy, heavily draped, and the bed was similarly covered. The bed was carved, even to the tester, again in French inspiration.

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