Restorer Adrian McDermott restoring the wallpaper in Gloucestershire. © Harewood House
Rare hand-painted Chinese wallpaper discovered in a carpenter’s loft has been restored and re-hung in a bedroom at Harewood House in Yorkshire together with furniture of the period.
The remarkable discovery was made in 1988, when the carpenter’s workshop on the estate was being cleared. Beneath the rubble were extraordinary rolls of wallpaper made in China in the 18th century, which had travelled across the world to Harewood to be hung in 1769.
239 years later, the paper has been expertly restored by one of the country’s foremost historic wallpaper conservators, Allyson McDermott, who also oversaw its re-hang in the East Bedroom of the historic house, as part of the China at Harewood exhibition.
Wallpaper detail showing an idealised scene in seventeenth century China © Harewood House
“The first time I saw this paper was 20 years ago,” explained Allyson, “and there was this absolutely enormous roll covered in linen and paper. We opened it up and as we cleared away the debris we discovered this extraordinarily beautiful jewel-like paper.”
“One could immediately recognise the paper was Chinese because of the use of these fabulous colours such as azurite and the cochineal reds that were of a richness and brilliance that we had never see in this country nor did we really have access to in that period.”
One of the reasons the colours remained so vibrant is that it was common to hang wallpaper for a period of time and then take it down again and store it away as though it were an antique object.
The restored East Bedrooom. © Harewood House
The wallpaper shows idealised scenes of Chinese life in great detail and in colours that would have been stunning at the time.
“It is possibly one of the best examples of Chinese wallpaper anywhere in the world,” added Allyson. “The colours are wonderful and the quality of painting extraordinary. What Harewood has is something wonderful and unique”.
The paper was made in Canton, China, in the mid-18th century and probably came back on a ship of the East India Company. The original owners of the Harewood estate, the Lascelles family, have a connection with the East India Company.
Edwin Lascelles, who was building Harewood in the 1760s and 1770s, had a younger brother, Henry, who was a captain on one of the East India Company ships and it is possible that it was he who brought the wallpaper back for Edwin.
Wallpaper detail showing five Chinese men in traditional dress © Harewood House
Originally the wallpaper would have been complemented by ‘Japanned’ furniture supplied by Thomas Chippendale. During restoration of the East Bedroom signatures were found when the Chippendale four-poster bed was dismantled for storage. They are thought to be those of Chippendale’s workman who originally constructed it.
A commode has also been restored and can be seen alongside the clothes press and night stands in the East Bedroom. Chippendale’s Chinese Mirror, designed to go with the paper, also hangs in the room and is displayed for the first time.
Together with its restored wallpaper the East Bedroom provides a dazzling centrepiece to an exhibition of Chinoiserie – China at Harewood exhibition.
China at Harewood continues throughout 2008.