Quinsai, the origins of wallpaper

Marco Polo

When Marco Polo, who left in 1271 from Venice, arrived six years later in the city of Quinsai – present Hángzhōu a hundred kilometers from Shanghai – he was struck by the tingling of this immense port. The city, which he does not hesitate to sack «most important and most beautiful city in the world »*. Marco Polo entered the short list of privileged received by the Grand Khan, the fifth more accurately, Kubilai, and he spent nearly 17 years serving the Khan in China and neighboring territories.

Quinsai, the "City of Heaven", has the most beautiful palaces and castles in the region, nestled on the heights facing the sea. There, more than elsewhere in China, the lavish holidays are the success of the gold and silver-streaking fairy evenings, a shimmering crowd crosses in the midst of timestimetime settings. The royal palace, in the center of the city, is crouling under the gilding and luxurious papers covered in motifs. Marco Polo’s eyes marvel at the view of entirely green palaces, vast scenes of battles adorning the walls all around him.


Did he stop touching the precious papers on which these frescoes had been painted? Probably not. For the refinement of Chinese decorations and the use of paper, both as ornament and as currency, are perhaps the most tenacious memories reported by the traveller of those twenty years past on silk roads. Upon his return to Europe, Marco Polo tells how wallpaper catches the eye and dresses an interior, and so it is partly thanks to him that these wall settings will experience growing popularity in the West. When he discovered Chinese papers, they had long been in control of the technique.

In 1712, when England introduced a tax on the import of Chinese papers, the manufacture was industrialised in France... A particularly gifted craftsman, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, developed luxurious mixtures of silk and paper, and worked on patterns of lily flowers and tropical birds.

Baroque, rococo or neoclassical spirits influence patterns in turn, before the fashion of the eye-trumps and panoramas prevails. Large lush frescoes are then printed on ever more luxurious papers: parrots, exotic fruits, wild vegetations are amoncelled on ever-white pans of paper.

It is that wallpaper has always reflected, by its patterns or design, the most beautiful artistic ambitions of its time. It was the playground of the Bahaus, de l’Art Nouveau, or from theUnion of Decorative Arts. Didn't Cézanne, Degas and Matisse draw on his rich motifs to compose their canvases? Georges Braque worked their stuff even in his collages. As for Picasso, he pushed the audacity to conceive of his famous canvas of The Woman in the Wheel (1937) only with wallpaper.

Thus, these mysterious papers that made Quinsai’s wealth, a thousand times transformed over time, continue to live and inspire creators. In each of them, you can nest an explorer, ready to share your dreams of travel, your far-flung and fairy sights and reinvent our daily lives.

* The World's Evision by Marco Polo - 1298