Wallpaper, using the printmaking technique of woodcut, gained popularity in Renaissance Europe amongst the emerging gentry. The elite of society were accustomed to hanging large tapestries on the walls of their homes, a tradition from the Middle Ages. These tapestries added colour to the room as well as providing an insulating layer between the stone walls and the room, thus retaining heat in the room. However, tapestries were extremely expensive and so only the very rich could afford them. Less well-off members of the elite, unable to buy tapestries due either to prices or wars preventing international trade, turned to wallpaper to brighten up their rooms.
Early wallpaper featured scenes similar to those depicted on tapestries, and large sheets of the paper were sometimes hung loose on the walls, in the style of tapestries, and sometimes pasted as today. Prints were very often pasted to walls, instead of being framed and hung, and the largest sizes of prints, which came in several sheets, were probably mainly intended to be pasted to walls. Some important artists made such pieces, notably Albrecht Dürer, who worked on both large picture prints and also ornament prints intended for wall-hanging. The largest picture print was The Triumphal Arch commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and completed in 1515. This measured a colossal 3.57 by 2.95 metres, made up of 192 sheets, and was printed in a first edition of 700 copies, intended to be hung in palaces and, in particular, town halls, after hand-colouring.
Very few samples of the earliest repeating pattern wallpapers survive, but there are a large number of old master prints, often in engraving of repeating or repeatable decorative patterns. These are called ornament prints and were intended as models for wallpaper makers, among other uses.
England and France were leaders in European wallpaper manufacturing. Among the earliest known samples is one found on a wall comes from England and is printed on the back of a London proclamation of 1509. It became very popular in England following Henry VIII's excommunication from the Catholic Church - English aristocrats had always imported tapestries from Flanders and Arras, but Henry VIII's split with the Catholic Church had resulted in a fall in trade with Europe. Without any tapestry manufacturers in England, English gentry and aristocracy alike turned to wallpaper.
In 1748 the English ambassador to Paris decorated his salon with blue flock wallpaper, which then became very fashionable there. In the 1760s the French manufacturer Jean-Baptiste Réveillon hired designers working in silk and tapestry to produce some of the most subtle and luxurious wallpaper ever made. His sky blue wallpaper with fleurs-de-lys was used in 1783 on the first balloons by the Montgolfier brothers. The landscape painter Jean-Baptiste Pillement discovered in 1763 a method to use fast colours. Towards the end of the century the fashion for scenic wallpaper revived in both England and France, leading to some enormous panoramas, like the 1804 20 strip wide Panorama, designed by the artist Jean-Gabriel Charvetfor the french Manufacture Dufour et Cie showing the Voyages of Captain Cook. One of this famous so called Papier paints wall paper is still in situ in Ham House, Peabody Massachusetts. Beside Dufour et Cie other French manufacturers of panoramic scenic and trompe l'œil wallpapers, Zuber et Cie and Arthur et Robert exported their product across Europe and North America. Zuber et Cie's c. 1834 design Views of North America is installed in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. Like most of eighteenth century wallpapers, this was designed to be hung above a dado.
Hand-blocking wall papers like these are manufactured by using a centuries old method in which wallpaper is hand-printed from hand-carved blocks on paper.
Hand-blocked wallpaper depicted scenes include, panoramic views of antique architecture, exotic landscapes and pastoral subjects, as well as repeating patterns of stylized flowers, people and animals. The 1797 founded french company Zuber et Cie in Rixheim France is the only company in the world which still manufactures wood blocked wall paper.
During the Napoleonic Wars , trade between Europe and Britain evaporated, resulting in the gradual decline of the wallpaper industry in Britain. However, the end of the war saw a massive demand in Europe for British goods which had been inaccessible during the wars, including cheap, colourful wallpaper.
The development of steam-powered printing presses in Britain in 1813 allowed manufacturers to mass-produce wallpaper, reducing its price and so making it affordable to working-class people. Wallpaper enjoyed a huge boom in popularity in the nineteenth century, seen as a cheap and very effective way of brightening up cramped and dark rooms in working-class areas. By the early twentieth century, wallpaper had established itself as one of the most popular household items across the Western world.