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A Description of each panel

 

In August 2000 I visited Historic Deerfield, in Deerfield, Massachusetts USA, a historic village, also the site of the Deerfield Academy. We only had time to tour four of the houses on the organised tours and I was surprised to find The Savages of the South Pacific or better known as The Travels of Captain Cook scenic wallpaper in the entry of the Asa Stebbins House. I should have know better because it was noted as a location in Cook’s Log, page 1150, vol. 18, no. 2 (1995). See also page 967, vol. 16, no. 4 (1993) and page 1459, vol. 20, no. 4 (1997) for articles on the scenic paper.

The Stebbins House was built in 1799 in the provincial colonial style with brick construction. The house was acquired by Henry and Helen Flynt in 1945 and restored to its original condition to the extent possible. In her book Historic Deerfield - A Portrait of Early America, Elizabeth Stillinger writes: “The walls of the lower and upper hallways are covered with a vivid pictorial wallpaper that came originally from the Ruel Williams house in Augusta, Maine. The Flynts knew that such wallpapers had been used in Deerfield during the Federal period - in fact, another French scenic paper remains on the walls of the parlor of the E. H. Williams house - and they felt it would be appropriate in the home of one of Deerfield’s wealthiest citizens. The Stebbins House paper, made in France between 1804 and 1806 by Joseph Dufour, titled Les Voyages du Capitaine Cook and is the earliest of the great scenic papers produced by the Dufour firm. In advertising the Captain Cook paper, Dufour claimed that besides being extremely decorative and introducing buyers to exotic native regions, scenic wallpapers served a didactic purpose in teaching children history, geography, and botany.” The book has a picture of the lower hallway and another over from the balcony at the top of the main stairway where more than half of the wallpaper is in a complete section, including Cook’s ships in Hawaii (panel-8).

I asked Penny Leveritt, the Historic Deerfield photographer and archiver, if I could get pictures of the paper suitable to present in Cook’s Log. After its prior use in Maine and its adaptation to the entryway in the Ada Stebbins House it was difficult to show it all. Penny replied that I should examine the images of this wallpaper in The Image Base of The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum where a complete set of the 20 panels is installed in a circular room. Images of panels 1-10 and 11-20 are on each side. Go to their web site http://search.famsf.org to view the images; click on ‘Go To Thinker’ and enter ‘Charvet’ (the designer) in the ‘Thinker ImageBase’ keywords box at the bottom of the web page.

The scenic paper consists of 20 panels, each 20 pouce (inch) wide, and three 90 cm sheets high, with total height 2.70 m (8 ft 10 in). The scene is loosely based on reports from James Cook, La Pérouse, and other travellers. It was designed and painted by Jean Gabriel Charvet for publisher Joseph Dufour in Macon, France.

Detail from  panels 7 and 8
Detail from panels 7 and 8
The images can be downloaded in different resolutions and I chose a set of 90 images. These were assembled in a graphics program to reproduce the web site images. The panels 1-10 are displayed inverted left to right and that was corrected. With Adobe Photoshop I extracted the image for each of the 20 panels, and used distort and shape tools to correct the perspective to that of a flat wall. The images, presumably from photographs, were dark at the sides and bright in the center because of the difficulty of illuminating the curved display. Brightness correction tools improved these effects. The clone tool masked the break lines between the panels that are individually mounted. The result are shown in the accompanying images.

The numbers 1-20 identify the panels as numbered by Dufour in his descriptive booklet “Savages of the Pacific Ocean” that is translated in Chapter XIII of Historic Wallpapers - From Their Inception to the Introduction of Machinery by Nancy McClelland. Dufour’s source material was mostly from the multi-volume Abridged General History Travels by M. de la Harpe to which the reader was referred for “…a fuller explanation of each of the events represented…”

 

The panels show a combination of many historical events. A summary from the booklet is:

Panel 1 Inhabitants of Nootka (Canada). Visited in March 1778 [by Cook].
Panel 2 Inhabitants of Uliétéa (Raiatea, French Polynesia), one of the Friendly Isles [should be Society Is]. Chief Oreo met Captain Cook 1777.
Panel 3 Inhabitants of Happaée (Ha’apai, Friendly Is, Tonga). Man, woman, and girl behind plum trees taking part in feast of the Arroey (seen in panel-2).
Panels 4, 5, and 6 Inhabitants of Otahïti (Tahiti, French Polynesia). O-too, King of Otahïti, in panel-6, on throne beneath banana tree between two coconut trees, with daughter and sister, in 1773. Scene is a héava, a kind of dramatic dance accompanied by flutes, drums and a chorus of singing and clapping girls.
Panel 7 Inhabitants of Tanna (New Hebrides, Vanuatu) visited by Cook, July 1774. Three islanders in foreground. Double war canoe in background launched during Cook’s stay in Oparee (Pare, Tahiti).
Panels 8 and 9 Inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) described by Cook in January 1779. Chief Kaneena is in the foreground of panel-9 and behind him, another chief watches the battle death of Cook) in the middle distance near Resolution and Discovery. The volcano in the background is based on Tanna, New Hebrides. [With scene elements mixed from many events the detail above shows one of the more accurate depictions.]
Panels 10 and 11 Inhabitants of New Zealand, discovered by Tasman. In panel-10 chief Kaoora, who killed a detachment of Captain Furneaux’s crew, sits on a rock under two grisgris trees. In panel-11 a New Zealand woman and child with warriors on a trail to the rear.
Panel 12 Inhabitants of the Straits of Prince William, 1778 (Sandwich Sound, Alaska). They resemble natives of Nootka, whose neighbours they are.
Panel 13 Inhabitants of Annaamoka (Nomuka, Tasman’s Rotterdam 1643). Vessel filled with islanders during Cook’s visit 1777.
Panel 14 Inhabitants of New Caledonia visited by Cook, 1773. Natives picking bananas, resemble natives of Tanna, their nearest island.
Panels 15 and 16 Inhabitants of Tongatabo (Tongatapu, Tonga), the most important of the Friendly Islands. Cook anchored in June 1777 accompanied by Omaï and Chief Féenou (Finau) and received by King Poulaho (Fatafehi Paulaho) at a great feast. The King stands beneath the banana tree with a favourite wife. In the background of panel-16 are Féenou and Omaï standing under tamarind trees watching wrestlers.
Panel 17 Inhabitants of St. Christine, Marquise (Marquesas) Islands. King Honoo and Queen of St. Christine watch the Tongatabo fête with other inhabitants in the background under the tamarind trees.
Panel 18 Inhabitants of Marquise (Marquesas) Islands, discovered by Minda (Mendanas) 1595, visited by Cook 1773. Man and two women seated beneath palm tree. People in middle distance of panels-18 and -19 are of Cape Diemen, New Holland, and Admiralty Islands. M. De la Billardière visited the later in 1791-94 while searching for M. de la Pérouze.
Panel 19 Inhabitants of Easter Is. Discovered by Davis, 1686 and visited by Cook, 1773. Two people in foreground are of Easter Is.
Panel 20 Inhabitants of Pelow (Palau). Captain Wilson on the Antelope was shipwrecked in August 1783. In foreground are King Aba-Thule and a wife Ludee who returned to Europe with Wilson on a boat built in Pelow.

 

References:

  • Joseph Dufour and Company, Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, Press of Moiroux, Macon, France, Year XIII (1804-1805) (descriptive booklet on the scenic paper).
  • Lynn, C., Wallpaper in America - From the Seventeenth Century to World War I, The Barra Foundation, W.W. Norton & Co, Inc. New York, 1980
  • McClelland, N., Historic Wallpapers - From their Interception to the Introduction of Machinery, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London, 1924
  • Stillinger E., Historic Deerfield - A Portrait of Early America, Dutton Studio Books, New York, 1992.

Brian Sandford


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1827, volume 24, number 2 (2001).

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