03 October 2011

Les Monuments de Paris

Les Monuments de Paris, detail of hand-painted scenic mural by Lynne Rutter
Recently I completed work on a scenic mural  for a home in San Francisco, in the style of  a papier peint panoramique, an extraordinary wallpaper popular in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Interior Designer Gary Spain commissioned me to paint an entire room mural in grisaille, or more specifically using an eau forte palette, which has a warm gray-brown asphaltum color that would compliment his design for the home.  Our clients asked for something chic and urban, with scenes of Paris, but wanted to avoid anything too romantic or dramatic (many scenic papers depict battles and crowds of people), and that we make a personal view of Paris, rather than just the famous sights.
Dufour's Monuments de Paris, detail in color
Combing through my fabulous book French Scenic Wallpaper 1795-1865 I found the marvelous "Monuments de Paris" by Joseph Dufour et Cie. This paper was last printed in 1820, and there are few surviving examples of it.  Its design  seemed the ideal reference  for this project, all of the monuments are pre-Hausmann era buildings; some easily recognized, and some not; lined up along the banks of the Seine in no particular order (or scale for that matter) while the viewer sits on a lush, peaceful island in the center of the river.   I knew I could easily adapt this to suit the client's taste and site considerations. 
a 3d mock-up of the room helps me determine sightlines so I can fine-tune the composition of the mural

Les Invalides, in progress
In San Francsico, our City Hall has a dome that pays homage to the dome of  les Invalides in Paris.  I chose this building as the center image of the east wall.
Using some digital images of the original paper from the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as some photos of actual structures in Paris,  I began design work, tailoring the mural composition for the room, and creating a custom palette divided into the necessary values.

The original wallpaper was block-printed, so in painting in this style, there can be no blending, and colors must be opaquely painted and repeated. To preserve a flat, regular surface, there could be no touching up, no rubbing out of errors.  Each stroke must be confident and committed. While this appears simple, it's actually far more work than using a "painterly" style. The effect is well worth the effort; the room looks rich, calm, and timeless.
Yes, this is a COLOR photograph!  the ceiling and dado were matched to colors in the mural
Dufour's paper was strangely lacking in bridges, so we designed the Pont Neuf into the mural - its architecture echos the shape of the archway in the room

While the style of the mural is faithful to the Dufour paper, the composition and many elements in it are entirely original.  The entire mural is scaled to the space and composed to work with the architecture of the room.

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