Conserving the Chinese Wallpaper

These dazzling works of art, printed and painted by hand in remarkable detail, are now in urgent need of repair and conservation.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Orient offered a taste of the exotic, a perceived glimpse of an alternative, almost magical culture, known only through the romantic writings of occasional intrepid travellers such as Marco Polo. Chinese wallpapers had an important role to play in this 18th century fashion for Oriental interiors, providing a rich and colourful setting for prized collections of Oriental porcelain, silks, lacquer and other export wares brought over by the East India Companies.

At Belvoir Castle, Mary Isabella Manners, the 4th Duchess, took an active interest in designing wallpapers for four of the state bedrooms. These gorgeous papers were both printed and painted by hand, using precious pigments such as malachite, azurine and the deep rich crimson of carmine. They must have shone like jewels in vibrant explosions of colour and today we look on them in wonder at their extraordinary detail.

Over the centuries, light, water damage and the passage of time have taken their toll on these exquisite works of art and we must take immediate action to conserve and restore them. To do this, we have already engaged Allyson McDermott, who is widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on conserving, restoring and hanging historic wallpapers. Her report advises completely removing the papers so they can be repaired and restored in her studio before rehanging.

We have wondered how to thank and how to commemorate our Founder Patrons for their support. One thought is to incorporate a message on the reverse side of one painted panel of wallpaper in each room, to include their names and signatures along with our message of thanks, to be discovered in centuries to come. For anyone wishing to help with the cost of restoring an entire bedroom, the room will subsequently carry their name and they will have the right to commission Allyson McDermott to produce the same wallpaper for their own home.