Tag Archives: Art

Peeling Back the Layers of Time – WALLPAPER


Binders full of hundreds of plastic-sleeved wallpaper fragments revealed during the restoration can be found in our storage area.

This week’s topic in our “Peeling Back the Layers” series looks at some of the incredible wallpaper that has graced the walls of Campbell House since its construction in 1851.

When the museum began its extensive restoration project in 2000, great care was taken to preserve anything and everything that was found in walls, under floorboards, and under layers of paint and wallpaper.  Everything—from large original doors and windows to the smallest scrap of faded wallpaper was saved and is preserved for future study here at Campbell House.  Our climate-controlled archives room is chock-full of binders and boxes containing all of these fragments.

Over time, wallpaper itself has faded in and out of style and, along with this, lots of different designs saw peaks in popularity.  The first thing a lot of us think of when think of wallpaper might be something like you see to the right.

Random internet picture of terrible wallpaper.

Random internet picture of terrible wallpaper.

Yikes, right?  Have no fear—our wallpaper is way more interesting than Grandma’s dining room.

Like the linoleum we talked about a couple of weeks ago, we found quite a few layers of wallpapering when we began the restoration.

After uncovering all of these nifty scraps, we began the process of recreating wallpapers and interiors that matched the originals, which was an enormous project, read more about that and see some neat pictures of us at work during the restoration after the break—

Here’s a taste of what we have in our wallpaper collection:


Circa 1870 wallpaper from CHM’s 3rd floor sitting room, still attached to plaster.


Wallpaper border remnant from the second floor of the Carriage House.

















Wallpaper samples found in the second floor servants hall with a “felt board” backing, dating from the early 20th century.










Circa 1860 wallpaper border fragment found in the third floor stairwell. The border accented an unusually large patterned Ashlar paper—designed to look like finished brick or stone. See the current iteration of Ashlar paper found today at Campbell House below. 


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Ashlar block wallpaper on the walls at Campbell House today- installed in the early 2000s during our restoration.



















Block floral motif pattern found under the crown molding in the servants hall and outside the second floor bathroom.











Border paper fragment found in Mrs. Kyle’s room behind mantle facade dating from the 1860s- this likely predated the many extensive structural additions and improvements that the Campbells made to their home over time.











Wallpaper fragment found on the west wall of CHM’s library. This was found behind a dividing wall, meaning it dates from before the 1880s and was installed by Robert and Virginia.

















Wallpaper Restoration

After uncovering all of those neat historical pieces of wallpaper, we began the process of re-papering with specially designed spot-on recreations of what originally hung on the Campbells’ walls.  This was quite the process—wallpapering in the 1880s was nothing like what it is today.

Wallpaper had to be recreated through color analysis and photos of the various rooms that were taken in the 1880s, when it arrived it came in rolls like this:


The wallpaper came rolled in 30 inch-wide strips.  However, the design was only on 19 inches of the strip, which meant our installers had to hand cut the edges of the wallpaper and pay extra special attention to make sure edges matched up once the paper was pasted to the walls.



All of the wallpapers used in our restoration were custom-designed to match original wallpapers found in the house during the 19th century by specialty design firms.




The end product: the entire wall of the Campbell’s master bedroom is covered with individual strips that had to be hand-cut and then pasted into place.



So that sounds like quite the project, right?  Well things got even crazier with the complex wallpaper and border design found in Mrs. Kyle’s bedroom.  Like the green lily wallpaper seen above, the Japanese-inspired wallpaper for this project came in small strips that had to be hand-trimmed.


What made this room extra tricky, though, was the border that had to be sliced off the top of the roll, pasted, and reassembled by hand into a complex design on the ceiling and around the tops of the walls.


Red and gold trim along the top of the wallpaper had to be cut off.


Our craftsman delicately pasting the cut-off slivers of wallpaper into a box-design on the ceiling.







The final product.

Check out the pictures below for some more examples of wallpapering that was done during our restoration:


Mrs. Kyle’s second floor bedroom


Dining room


Head housekeeper’s second floor bedroom


Third floor library

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A Copy of a Copy

A trip to the Campbell House Museum guarantees a couple of things:

1.) You’re going to walk up and down a lot of stairs.

2.) You’re going to get a great, engaging tour from one of our awesome docents or interns.

3.) You’re going to see some incredible examples of Victorian interior design and beautiful works of art.

This post focuses on the last point—the outstanding collection of art accumulated over the years by Robert and Virginia Campbell and their sons—and we have our recently departed Spring intern Amy to thank for the great research that went into what you’re about to read.

Painting of James Campbell by Jules Lefebvre, 1899 © Campbell House Foundation 2013

Painting of James Campbell by Jules Lefebvre, painted in Paris in 1895.

While Campbell House does boast some beautiful original works of art, like the portrait of the dashing James Campbell hanging in the library painted by renowned artist Jules Lefebvre, many of the artworks that you see on a trip to the museum are copies of original works, some going back to antiquity.

What’s pretty interesting though is that, upon further examination, resourceful intern Amy unraveled the story of one of our sculptures and revealed that it’s actually a copy of a copy… of a copy.

A hugely popular trend for wealthy families like the Campbells in the 19th century was to display works by well known artists in their homes.  However, displaying original sculptures by legendary artists would have been impractical and often financially impossible—even for wealthy families like the Campbells.  On top of that, most of the originals were incredibly heavy—made out of marble, so buying plaster copies of the originals made them easier to ship and were much more practical to display in a residential setting.

Bust of "Venus Italica" by Antonio Canova © Campbell House Foundation 2013

Bust of “Venus Italica” by Antonio Canova in the Campbell House Morning Room.

One artist for which the Campbells seem to have had a particular affinity was Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, whose work dates from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The most detailed of his works on display here at Campbell House can be found in the Morning Room—a bust of his Venus Italica.

Canova's original "Venus Italica"

Canova’s original “Venus Italica”

Ok, so you’re probably assuming that this isn’t the original sculpture by Canova.  And you’re right.  In fact, the original is significantly larger, and a bit…exposed.  Not necessarily something Virginia Campbell would have wanted greeting guests as they walked through her home.

What’s interesting is that, in reality, Canova’s original Venus Italica isn’t actually all that original.  In fact, it’s a copy of a much older piece called the Medici Venus that Canova was commissioned to recreate and onto which he put his own unique spin by adding clothes and repositioning Venus’ hand.  The Medici Venus dates all the way back to the first century BCE, nearly 2,000 years before the Campbells decided that Venus’ head would look nice on display in their sitting room.

Medici Venus

The “Medici Venus”, dating from the first century BCE

But wait!  There’s more!  Not only is the Campbells’ bust of Venus a copy of Antonio Canova’s Venus Italica, which is a copy of the Medici Venus, but the Medici Venus actually has its beginnings as a copy of an even OLDER sculpture- the Venus of Knidos crafted in ancient Greece.  Though the original is no longer in existence, we do still have (you guessed it!) copies of what the original is thought to have looked like…. and it’s missing a couple of key features.

Venus Knidos

A copy of the “Venus Knidos”, which dates back to Greek antiquity

So there you have it.  The Campbells’ bust of Venus is actually a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.  Is your head spinning yet?

This practice of reproducing classical sculptures for display in the home became increasingly popular during the 19th century and artists began more and more to use classic works as inspirations for new pieces.  This movement, known as neoclassicism, posed a pretty big problem for scholars and critics at the time—was this art new? Or was it just a copy?  The answer that’s generally been agreed upon is, quite simply, both.  We can see how much change that the original Venus underwent before its later incarnation ended up in the Campbell House, with differences added slowly over time and making the figure more naturalistic.  Though these changes and the commercialization of famous works made art more accessible to the common man, it has been argued this neoclassical movement actually marks beginning of art’s decline, throwing artistic innovation and identities out the window in favor of cheap reproductions.

Venus (center left) in the Morning Room of the Campbell House, ca. 1885 © Campbell House Foundation 2013

Venus (center left) in the Morning Room of the Campbell House, circa 1885
© Campbell House Foundation 2013

Regardless of the position you take, it can’t be denied that even these neoclassical pieces spared no lack of attention to detail and, when push comes to shove, we’re pretty pleased that our copy of Canova’s Venus has kept watch from the corner here at Campbell House for the last 150 years.  Even if it is a copy of a copy…of a copy.

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