Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Decoupage (Japanning, Bikes and Mary Delany)

At the age of 15 Mr John Marston was sent to Wolverhampton to be apprenticed to Richard Perry, Son & Co. Richard Perry were tinsmiths and japanners. Japanning, which was big in mid-19th century, was a technique the Europeans invented in a bid to imitate Asian lacquerwork. It involved gluing paper cut-outs on different surfaces (wood, metal, glass, ceramic) and varnishing them over to achieve a lacquered effect. It became popular in 18th-century England at the court of King George III with Mary Delany, darling of Queen Charlotte’s court, becoming a Mistress decoupeur creating botanically accurate depictions of plants out of tissue paper – her famous “Paper Mosaicks.”

In 1762 the publication of The Ladies Amusement or the Whole Art of Japanning Made Easy by Robert Sayer reflected the growing popularity of DIY lacquering. Wealthy families would pay for their daughters to be familiarised with the art which was considered a social accomplishment.

By 1866 there were 2000 people employed in the japanning industries in Wolverhampton and Bilston and japanned ware would be seen in every respectable middle-class home. But towards the end of the 19th century, japanning – the “new and elegant fashion” in the 1780s – fell out of fashion. John Marston, who had by this time taken over Richard Perry’s japanning company, began making bicycles.

Japanning emerged much later in the 20th century as decoupage from the French decouper ~ to cut out. And John Marston would be remembered for his Sunbeam bicycles, motorbikes and cars.

The work of Mary Delany can be seen in the Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum.

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