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An Introductory Article

 

In the early part of the nineteenth century certain French wallpaper manufacturers began to produce what came to be known in America (where they became very popular) as "scenic papers".

These consisted of a series of scenes on wallpaper, without repeat. Continuous rolls came later. The leader in this field was Joseph Dufour of Maçon, one of whose early scenic papers portrayed the "Travels of Captain Cook" (sometimes called "The Savages of the South Pacific"). This consisted of twenty separate scenes showing the voyages, principal adventures and, finally, the death of Captain Cook.

A friend in America with museum connections was able to send me photostats of part of a paper written in France in the twenties on the productions of Dufour, Zuber (his closest rival), and others, with illustrations of the magnificent scenes portrayed on the wallpapers.

While in London on a short visit I did some limited research to find out if any of these papers still existed in the UK and, if so, where, with little success beyond the information that some examples did exist, not necessarily of the Captain Cook papers; there is in fact a non-Cook example in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Perhaps some of our US members might take up the search in their museums? I am assured that there are many more examples in the USA.

Many of the scenes in the Captain Cook travels series seem to be concerned with the dancing of native girls, wrestling, village life, etc., making the alternative title "Savages of the South Pacific" understandable.

Other subjects produced by Dufour were "Cupid and Psyche", the Monuments of Paris, El Cid, the Incas, etc. Printing the 12 scenes of "Cupid and Psyche", each consisting of several strips, required 1500 wood blocks.

Jean Collings


Originally published in Cook's Log, page 967, volume 16, number 4 (1993).

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