|   | 

Designers are embracing 'decoupage' decoration which nods to the past

  • 'Decoupage' or the art of cut-outs was a popular past time for such notable figures as Marie Antoinette 
  • Artists like Matisse became famous for cut-outs
  • Now it's back in fashion and you can have it on your walls thanks to a new range by John Derian for Designers Guild 

The art of decoupage has been around for centuries. Taking its name from the French verb 'découper', meaning to cut, it's thought to originate from Eastern Siberia where Nomadic tribes used cut felts to decorate tombs.

Shimmering shells: John Derian's design on wallpaper and bedding for Designers Guild

Shimmering shells: John Derian's design on wallpaper and bedding for Designers Guild

Today, designers are popularising the technique again and you can even decorate your home with decoupage-inspired wallpaper.

The practice migrated to China and by the 12th century vivid cut-out paper was being used to embellish lanterns, windows and boxes. 

By the late 17th century, oriental lacquer work furniture from the Far East became fashionable in Europe, and Venetian cabinet-makers began to employ the technique using cut-out and pasted motifs covered in varnish to produce fakes.

Boasting many notable enthusiasts and practitioners including Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour, Lord Byron and Beau Brummell, decoupage was also used by artists Pablo Picasso and, perhaps most famously of all, Henri Matisse.

By the late Forties, Matisse turned almost exclusively to cut paper as his primary medium, with his most famous decoupage work being Blue Nude II. 

Abstract art: Icarus, a cut-out by Henri Matisse, who used the technique to dazzling effect

Abstract art: Icarus, a cut-out by Henri Matisse, who used the technique to dazzling effect

Another celebrated 'decouper' was Mary Delany (1700-1788), an artist and bluestocking who lived in England. A confidante of King George III and Queen Charlotte, and a much loved member of their court, she was also renowned for her 'papermosaicks', which she began making at the age of 71. 

These exquisite and botanically accurate reproductions of plants and flowers were made by cutting fine tissue paper, which she hand-coloured herself.

She produced an incredible 985 works before her eyesight failed at the age of 88. Some of them can still be seen in the British Museum. 

Like Mary Delany, many gentlewomen became adept with scissors and the skill of cutting and lacquering was known in England as Japanning.

Later, during the Victorian era, colouring and intricate cutting was replaced by a more flamboyant collage-style, which coincided with the introduction of Valentine cards and decorative and embossed papers. 

Picture perfect: Part of the eclectic John Derian collection for Designers Guild

Picture perfect: Part of the eclectic John Derian collection for Designers Guild

One of the most wellknown contemporary decoupage artists is John Derian, who along with his small team creates handmade platters, paperweights, coasters and bowls from his studio in New York. 

Derian first mastered the art in 1989.

'I had been drawn to paper ephemera since the early Eighties after finding some antique prints. I was surprised how vivid the colours were for something so old,' he says.

'A fellow artisan came into the shop where I was working and said, “I don't have time to do anything with these plates but people are gluing images underneath”, so I took them to my studio and that's where it began.' 

He has teamed up with iconic British interiors brand, Designers Guild, to produce an exclusive range of fabrics, wallpapers and accessories. 

Called Picture Book, it draws on Derian's extensive archive of vintage decoupage prints, and features botanical illustrations and shells, as well as a range of floral motifs.

'It's exciting to see some of my favourite images used in bold new ways,' he says. Fabric starts at £65 per metre and wallpaper at £65 per roll, designersguild.com. 

Vase with class: An intricate decoupage piece by the artist Jill Barnes-Dacey 

Vase with class: An intricate decoupage piece by the artist Jill Barnes-Dacey 

Jill Barnes-Dacey is another artist who has been making both paper and glass decoupage for 25 years. A former art dealer, she was taught how to decoupage on to glass by Danish artist Dorthe Dencker, and is now a master of the technique.

'I use antique books, vintage auction catalogues, anatomy books, botanical drawings — an archive of imagery to make pieces that are one-off,' she says. 'My work is collaged on both sides. I love it because the sky's the limit.' Work starts at £400. She also takes commissions and runs masterclasses — the next UK-based one is in April (jillbarnesdacey.com).

Less expensive examples of glass decoupage can be found at Pentreath & Hall which stocks a range of home accessories by John Derian and Bridie Hall, from £45, pentreath-hall.com.

Plate up! John Derian's work, like this butterfly plate, is also available at Pentreath & Hall

Plate up! John Derian's work, like this butterfly plate, is also available at Pentreath & Hall

For larger, contemporary furniture, try Etsy. 

Among the items listed are pieces by South-East London based upcycler Zoe Pocock of Muck N Brass, who uses modern wallpapers and varnish to transform unwanted vintage items.

'Decoupage can change old brown furniture into a real statement piece,' she says. Zoe also runs upcycling workshops, mucknbrass.com.

 

Tags Property

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

related articles

Celebrity News