Compte de Choiseul-Gouffier (1752-1817) and the 'Voyage Pittoresque de la Grèce:
The panels illustrate the voyage which the comte de Choisel-Gouffier made into the Aegean Sea and along the Turkish coast frim Izmir (Smyma) to Rhodes in 1776. In 1782, upon his return to Paris, the comte de Choiseul-Gouffier (1752-1817), published, 'Voyage Pittoresque de la Grèce'. The engravings contained therein, are based upon drawings by the talented artist J.B. Hilair, which he made in situ when he accompanied Choisel-Gouffier on his travels. The engravings give exact but inverted topographical views of landscapes and of antique ruins, and present a perfect combination of geographical interest with the harking back to antiquity and satisfying the 'armchair travellers' appetite for both 'exoticism and realism'. There is a clear reference of each scene to a 'planche' in the compte de Choisel-Gouffier's book.
Compte De Choissel (Marie-Gabriel-Auguste-Florent, (1752-1817):
He was born in Paris in 1752 and his early years became interested in the arts and in Antiquity. At the age of nineteen he married and his wife was "I'heritiere de la maison de Gouffier". He added her name to his name was now a man of substance and the possibility of realising his dreams of travelling to Ancient Greece became a reality. In his plans he was guided by famous Abbe J.B. Barthelemy who at this time was writing his book 9on the same subject which he called "Voyag de jeune Anarchasis en Grece". The compte gathered together artists and engineers to accompany him on his voyage. At the tender age of twenty-four, he embarked on his journey on board the "Atlanta". The ship was under command of marquis de Chabert, captaine des vaisseaux du roi>>, who was in charge of collecting date for a new map if the Mediterranean. Compte Choiseul-Gouffier managed to make an agreement with the marquis to take him and his party to various places of Ancient Greece. It was the land of Homer and Herodot that the young Count was longing for. He wanted to see what remained of these ancient cities, temples and the Greek population. For almost one year the "Atlanta" served comte Choiseul-Gouffier for his explorations.
Once back in Paris in 1782, the first volume of his "Voyage pittoresque de la Grece" was published. It was a monumental and luxurious book, large folio, 204 pages with 126 fine and mostly large engravings. The frontispiece shows an engraving of an allegorical figure, a young woman as Ancient Greece in chains among tombstones of Greek heroes. Behind her a ruined wall bears the inscription "Exoriare aliquis", a call for Greek freedom, a very early call, more than forty years before Lord Byron's landing at Missolonghi. A few hundred copies of the book were printed and the aroused great interest.
The author was elected a member of the "Academie Francaise". In 1874, he was appointed the King's ambassador to Constantinople. Comte Choiseul-Gouffier stayed in office until 1792. It was not until 1802, that he could return to Paris, but he found that his wealth had been dissipated and part of his collection from his first voyage was dispersed. Nevertheless he set out to publish a second volume of his "Voyage pittoresque" in 1809. In 1815 Gouffier was made "minister de l'etat" and "Pair de France" and it was the same time that his earlier work (Vol. I) met with new interest and that the wallpaper manufacturer Dufou8r in Paris set out to print a wallpaper panorama after some of the charming and decorative engravings of Volume I. This must have taken considerable time and money because about one thousand woodcuts had to be made to transform and enlarge the engravings to be printed on wallpaper. It was offered both, 'en grisaille' and 'en sepia'.
The popularity of wall decoration in the form of scenic wallpaper in bourgeois salons and dining rooms, according to Yvonne Brunhammer, (see Le monde du papier peint, Paris, 1981), corresponds to a profound need in the individual, "the interior is not just the universe but also the étui of the private individual".
Furthermore, according to the German writer Walter Benjamin, (1892-1940), in his seminal essay on Paris in the 19th century, '..The private individual who in his office has to deal with reality. Needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions...The interior brings together the far away and the long ago. His living room is a box in the theatre of the world'. He also wrote that for 19th century collectors, scenic wallpapers enabled him them 'to dream (their) way not only into a distant or bygone world but also into a better one'.
The 19th century bourgeoisie were fascinated by scenic wallpaper which depicted panoramic wallpapers over a whole series of lengths. 'From a modest boarding house (described by Balzac) to the Goncourt's dining room', these papier peints could be found. They were mainly hung in salons or dining rooms and less commonly in bedrooms The walls became a place of escape and the art of papier peint emerged in the late 18th century and its origins are shrouded in mystery. Sebqastien Le Normand wrote that first article on wallpaper in 1822 and concluded that 'the true reason that it has been omitted from general descriptions of the arts is due to secrecy that the artists have consistently maintained concerning their methods and to the difficulty in entering their workshops encountered by anyone who might have described them'.
From the early days of scenic wallpaper, the panoramic view was intended to come full circle. In most cases the last length could be connected to the first, the idea that the circumference of the room would correspond to the total breadth of the landscape, although buyers were entitled to purchase part of a group. The start or end of a composition was not obvious except for the narrative episodes in the case of the figured landscapes.
Odile Nouvel-Kammerer. French Scenic Wallpaper, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris 1990 cat. 70 p. 304-305, p. 140, 142, 143, illustrated Josed Leiss, Bildrtapeten, Hamburg, 1961, p. 69, plates 19,21 illustrated.
Saatliche Sclosser, Burgen und Garten Sachsen (ed) Dresden, Miuchael Sandstein Verlag 2005, p. 135-137, illustrated.
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