The French scenic wallpaper "Les Sauvages de le Mar Pacifique", which I have seen only once, is indeed a beautiful wallpaper [see page 967]. Its memory lingers on in the colour photographs and slides I have of it. Recorded examples are few throughout the world. To give one an idea of this, a set was sold at auction in 1989 for a reputed quarter of a million dollars.
Between 1804-1805 Joseph Dufour printed his first scenic (panoramic) wallpaper "Le Sauvages" in Macon, composed loosely on the discoveries made by the Captains Cook and de la Perouse and other voyages of the Pacific. The designer was Jean Gabriel Charvet. Prior to going into production, Dufour promoted his wallpaper by publishing a brochure describing in great detail each panel. In her book "Historic Wall-papers" Nancy McCleland gives a detailed translation of the brochure. Dufour claiming educational motives for this undertaking, and what an undertaking!
The complete set of "Les Sauvages" comprised twenty lengths, each length being part of a separate scene, and each scene in turn being part of the overall panorama. A length was made up of jointed sheets of handmade paper (continuous machine made paper was not available until about 1820). Each length is numbered from 1-20.
Dufour takes us on a voyage of discovery of his own, showing the inhabitants of various places visited by Cook and fellow travellers. The characters who are placed in each panel of this decoration are curious not only through their costume; they are more interesting because of their industry and sometimes pleasant in their customs. These were all developed from the information available at the time.
We start our pictorial voyage with the inhabitants of Nootka Sound in cold Canada, then on to the Islands of Ulietea and Happaee, two of the Friendly Islands. Next we travel to Otahiti, then on to Tanna, one of the New Hebrides. We then move on to what for us as members of the CCSU must be the most important scenes in the whole panorama. It shows the inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands occupied in watching a battle that is taking place in the background. To quote Nancy McClelland's translation of Dufour's booklet "We have endeavoured to give in these two strips (lengths VIII and IX) the scene of the death of Captain Cook on the Island of Owhyhee on February 14th 1779. The battle in which Captain Cook was killed has been painted entirely in the middle distance: it was impossible to bring the design nearer because the proportions of the two frigates, the Resolution and the Discovery, which took part in the action." This action is based very much on John Webber's engraving "The Death of Captain James Cook at Kealekekua Bay, Hawaii". From what I have read, the volcano that one sees in the distance is based on the description of the one which exists on Tanna, one of the New Hebrides.
The next panels feature the Maoris of New Zealand; the inhabitants of the Straits of Prince William; Annaamoka, one of the Friendly Isles; New Caledonia; Island of St Christine. The inhabitants of Easter Island and Pelow [Palau] Island conclude this unique Tablow.
Words cannot fully describe this unique and beautiful wallpaper. It must be seen to be appreciated. Where can it be seen? Many examples are in private collections, but the list I give at the end is of examples I have managed to trace in Museums and historic buildings throughout the world - regrettably through correspondence only. Finally, a while ago I managed to obtain an article on the example of this wallpaper at "The Philadelphia Museum of Art". The article in The Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin, published in October 1921, states the following "It came to the Museum through the generosity of Dr Anna Mitchell McAllister; her grandmother, wife of John McAllister the well known engraver and optician, long a notable figure in Philadelphia, was Captain Cook's sister-inlaw. Mrs Cook presented her sister with these rolls, doubtless made with special care, as a remembrance of her association with the Captain, so the pedigree of this gift is in itself interesting". Can anyone throw any further light on this interesting statement?
If anyone can help me with any information on this wallpaper or on the whereabouts of other examples please let me know. Likewise, if anyone shares my interest and I can help in any way, please contact me.
Musee Municipal de Urumines, Macon.
The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania.
Museum of Fine Art, St Petersburg, Florida.
Honolulu Academy of the Arts, Hawaii.
Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Australian National Gallery, Canberra.
Australian Art Gallery of New South Wales.
West Sussex, England. Private Collection.
Ulster Museum, Belfast.
One that once hung in Laxton Hall, Northamptonshire.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1150, volume 18, number 2 (1995).
your email address will not be published