People during my classes often ask me what is decoupage (and what it is not), what is the history of decoupage, etc.
So I decided to gather in one place, short history of decoupage and paper craft.

Source: Decoupage by Dee Davis
Internet search and my own

                   A Brief History of decoupage and paper craft

Paper- cutting

Paper-cutting has been a tradition for many centuries, with wide-ranging styles, techniques, subject matter and skill.
After paper was introduced to Europe in 12th and 13th centuries, each country produced its own ethnic paper decorations.
In Switzerland and Germany, every schoolgirl was expected to be proficient in the craft of Scherenschnitte, in which they snipped their own designs of birds, animals, children, and trees with small sewing scissors.

This technique is still very popular all over the world.

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Polish wycinanki Å‚owickie were cut with large, unwieldy shears that shepherds used for sheep-shearing. Family members cut intricate geometric, stylized designs, which pasted on cradles, chests, boxes, and ceiling beams.

Motives of Lowicz cut-outs are still very popular in the modern decoupage.

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The Industrial Revolution, toward the end of 18th century, made paper and scissors much more  available. A growing group of professional artists cut "portraits in shadow" (profiles of figures). These very popular "silhouettes" were named after Etienne de Silhouette, Louis XV's Minister of Finance.

Large silhouette by Samuel Metford, 1845

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The decorative arts

The advent of etching and engraving, new methods of duplicating prints, provided the wealth of material that inspired the glorious 17th- century decoupage. After the invention of the Gutenberg press (c. 1450), the popularity of prints created a new European industry of print publishing. There were hundreds of master printers in 16th-century Venice; the Remondini of Bassano published a variety of designs on fine paper made specifically for decorating furniture. There was a remarkable selection of styles and subject, classic and oriental, pastoral and worldly; all manner of botanical flora and fauna, both real and imaginary. Flowers and fruit were consistently used, arranged in bouquets or large cornucopias, hung in garlands and strewn in ribbons. Scenes of romance, music, and dance combined architectural gardens inhabited by large and small animals, domestic and fanciful birds, and butterflies in flight. The fantasy word of mythology, allegory, heroics, and grotesque art were combined with heraldic signs and symbols. Printmarkers in Nuremberg and Augsburg made many series of prints for the popular German decoupage. 

The East India Company's opening of trade routes with China, Korea, Siam and Japan developed a flourishing import business. Early 17th-century Europe was captivated and demand for magnificent lacquered objets de Chine far exceeded supply. To fill a demand and fatten their own purses, the European Guilds began imitating oriental lacquer furniture and decorative objects.
A Treatise of Japanning and  Varnishing by John Stalker and George Parker (Oxford 1688) become the practical guide for imitating the oriental lacquer, and described how to make, use, polish shellac to a high luster. Later the Japanese produced a finer lacquer of superior luster and patina. A mixture of shellac and alcohol, sandracca, became the European substitute for lacquer, which was unavailable.
This protected the decorated furniture, screens, trays, tables and boxes. The name "lacquerware" was a synonym for both shellac and varnish finishes. The term of "japanning" originally referred to the imitation of oriental lacquer, later was applied generally to the art of decorating surfaces.

English, circa 1690  , 17th century William and Mary black japanned bureau bookcase


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early 18th century Venetian arte povera bureau bookcase.

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18th century Italian lacca povera semaniers

In 18th-century England the popularity of decoupage grew steadily, becoming a favourite pastime. Aristocratic guests at the great country houses spent many leisure hours displaying their skills at "japanning". The book The Ladies Amusement; or, Whole Art of Japanning Made Easy, by Robert Sayer (1760) was a large volume reproduced some 1500 designs with detailed instruction and "receipt" for colouring, cutting, composing and varnishing.

The development of lithographic printing in the 1800s produced chromolithographs (later called "scraps.") The pictures had remarkable colour, tone, and texture. Massive quantities of German Scrap, die-cuts and embossed, were exported to England for decorating trunks, boxes, Biedermaier furniture, and leather and wood screens. Lord Byron chose boxers and prizefighting scenes for one side of his four panel screen.

Lord Byron's screen

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Mass-produced scraps was a huge commercial success. Queen Victoria had a scrapbook collections, and so did almost everyone else. Victorian ephemera collections were all the rage both for decorating and for scrapbooks. Victorian decoupage became the vogue, with popular designs of hearts and flowers, children, animals, cherubs - all sentimentally and romantically stylized.

Antique Victorian decoupage screen circa 1880

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A Victorian Decoupage Trunk

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Victorian decoupage screen

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Modern Victorian decoupage style trunk

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In both England and Ireland there arose one of the most charming and innovative trends in interior decoration. Picture galleries, called "print room" were embellished with engravings, some original and other reproductions. The subject and style were chosen according to the tastes and interests of the owner of the house. Composition range from simple elegance to crowded abundance. Architectural compositions of black-and-white engravings were glued on the wall , "framed" with assorted paper borders and "hung" with paper ribbons, bows, rings, and classical ornament. Grouping were linked with garlands and swags of flowers and fruits, cording and tassels, also of paper. Symmetrical groups of engravings were carefully balanced according to the architectural details in the room. The most imaginative rooms were done with the greatest selection of print sizes and shapes. Rectangles, squares, octagons, circles and ovals were hung in vertical and horizontal arrangements on walls of buff or pale pastels.

Lady Louisa Conolly's print room at Castletown

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Modern print room inspired decoupage

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To be continued...



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