by Robert M. Kelly., September 2013. 190p.ill. ISBN 9780985656102(cl.), $29.95.

Reviewed May 2014
Barbara Opar, Architecture Librarian, Syracuse University Libraries,

The literature of wall hangings and wallpaper is specialized and, as such, more limited than other aspects of interior décor. However, there are important titles that address this topic very well. The Victoria and Albert Museum has produced several scholarly publications on wall decoration.  Other important works include The Papered Wall: The History, Patterns and Techniques of Wallpaper, edited by Lesley Hoskins (Thames & Hudson, 2005). Books by Francoise Teynac and Genevieve Brunet have been translated into English. Each of these books traces the history of this type of wall covering and most importantly includes color reproductions. Robert Kelly’s The Backstory of Wallpaper: Paper-Hangings 1650-1750 contains only black and white illustrations, a factor which detracts from what otherwise is a welcome addition to the literature of the field.

At the same time, Robert Kelly’s book is aptly named. Despite the lack of colorful reproductions, Kelly brings the topic to life. Kelly has worked as a paper hanger, and as such, is able to discuss the making, hanging, and trade of wallpaper very clearly. The text is quite engaging and contains quotes from archival sources and historic texts which help the reader to understand the cultural milieu and development of this “portable decoration” (3). The book contains sixteen chapters, each of which helps to further the story.  Organized by function, the chapters trace the various types of wallpaper, the important designers such as Papillon, production techniques, installation, and the actual trade. A clear presentation of the technology and its advances enables the reader to understand when and why certain kinds of wall papers were used. When describing the hanging process, Kelly provides specifics about wall structure, the conventions followed, and relevant period details about real rooms. Wallpaper’s commercial development is traced via information about costs and examples of actual bills. Clear end notes, a glossary, and an extensive bibliography serve the serious wallpaper scholar well.  It is this documentation and Kelly’s writing style which makes the title a worthwhile addition to the literature of the field.

©2014 ARLIS/NA