Greenwood Gardens

15 September 2023

No Comments

Home Notes from the Garden

If These Walls Could Talk!

If These Walls Could Talk!

West/southwest wall of the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House. 
Public domain photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Visitors to Greenwood’s 1950s Main House are always struck by the impressive panoramic mural lining the walls of the entry hall and arching staircase.  In place since the 1950s when the last owners, Peter and Adelaide Blanchard, included it in their new home, this scenic wallpaper, entitled Les Vues de Suisse, features famous tourist attractions in Switzerland. Designed in 1804 by Pierre-Antoine Mongin (1761–1827), it was the first print offered by Zuber et Cie., a French company famous for high-end woodblock-printed wallpapers since 1797.

Though popular in France for centuries, American interest in Zuber wallpapers peaked between 1804-1865, waxing and waning ever since. Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is largely credited with the wallpapers’ resurgence in 1962 when she installed the Les Vues d’Amérique du Nord, printed in 1843, in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.

Jean Zuber founded the company in Alsace, France in 1797 in response to demand for the custom-printed scenes from bourgeois and aristocratic households. At the time, there were several competitors, but today, Zuber is the sole remaining company from that time period. It continues to produce high-quality custom panoramic wallpapers printed using the same woodblocks and methods that made the company’s products famous.

The wallpapers spend months in production, beginning with the application of hand-painted, graduated background color to the paper panels in a process that can take six months to complete. Once the background is established, the design is painstakingly applied, color by color, using a woodblock printing method. The panels must dry for 24 hours in between paint applications which leads to an extended production schedule, depending on the number of colors utilized in a piece. This labor-intensive process is partially responsible for the high value of Zuber wallpaper. Imagine how long Greenwood’s Les Vue de Suisse took to complete, considering it contains 159 colors that were applied with 1,924 different woodblocks!

length n°9 Les Vues d’Amérique du Nord (Views of North America). © Zuber 

The Main House at Greenwood is generally not open to the public, however, tours and events are occasionally offered, and custom tours can be scheduled privately, during which visitors can take in the first floor, including the iconic Zuber wallpaper. With such a rich history, there is plenty to learn about this work of art including the names of the locations and stories behind why they are featured in the print.