The Ames Manor House is home to a very interesting and rare 19th century wallpaper. Known as the Grande Chasse by Francois Delicourt, the 1851 French paper has adorned the walls of Mrs. Ames sitting room since 1902. The recently restored paper is one of only a hand-full of this particular work in existence today, and is the only known example in the Americas. There may be as many as four surviving copies worldwide, one of which is found in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
The paper received considerable acclaim upon its release in 1851. The jury at the World Exposition in 1851 raved that Delicourt’s “… hunt in the forest was justly classed among the most remarkable works at the Universal Exposition. Monsieur Delicourt’s hunt proves that the wallpaper industry is able to elevate itself to the finest artistic effects, and that it has permanently acquired its rank among the most splendid productions approved by good taste.”1 Featuring scenes of hounds in pursuit of prey, the paper’s theme is in keeping with the Ames family’s keen interest in the sport of hunting. Additionally, the presence of this highly acclaimed wallpaper in the Ames Manor would have been in keeping with the sophisticated wall furnishings sought by the financially elite of that era.
The wallpaper was hand printed from wood blocks using pigment in a tempera binder. Four thousand blocks were required in the printing of the paper, with each color requiring its own block. Each blocks portion of the pattern was transferred to the paper using a hand-operated press. The paper was installed in published order, using nearly two full sets of the paper. Each panel measures 88” tall and 32” across.
Wear and tear over the years has taken a toll on the Grande Chasse paper. The walls to which the paper was applied over 100 years ago are a part of the original manor home, making them over 165 years old. The Ames Manor, as homes this age often do, has settled and shifted over time. Cracking and moisture in the plaster underlying the paper resulted in areas of detachment from the wall. Repeated heating and cooling coupled with extended periods of high relative humidity weakened the paper, and resulted in widespread mold damage.
Restoration of the paper involved painstakingly removing it from the walls. Once free, the paper was transferred to a conservation studio in Nashville, Tennessee where a team of conservators began restoration. Each panel was cleaned using a dry cleaning process. The paper was then mended with strips of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. Once mended each panel was then lined overall with a continuous sheet of Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. The room was re-plastered and allowed to cure for several weeks, after which the panels were aligned and hung. Once the paper and adhesive had dried, areas of loss were inpainted using watercolor pigments. The conservation of the wallpaper will insure that it graces the walls of the Ames Manor House for decades to come.
1 Travaux de la commission francaise de l’industrie des nations publies par ordre de l’empereur, Great Exposition of 1851, 26th jury (Paris, 1851) 21-22.