Decoupage: Lacquered Art

Have you ever seen a piece of furniture that looks like pictures have been glued onto it? Most likely you were looking at an item that had been decoupaged. The word decoupage stems from a French word decouper (which means to cut out). Decoupage is a creative art form where paper cutouts are arranged and glued onto various objects that are to be decorated.

The final step in the process is varnishing the cutouts. If you enjoy cutting pictures out and gluing, you would like decoupage.

The history of decoupage can be found in a variety of styles from many different countries. Marie Antoinette, Lord Byron and even Matisse and Picasso were all decoupeurs.

Twelfth to Seventeenth Century

The creation of brightly colored paper cutouts by Chinese peasants were used to decorate items such as gift boxes and windows during the twelfth century. This practice was believed to have been derived from Eastern Siberia where the tombs of Siberian nomads were decorated with felt designs and figures, prior to the first century A.D. Polish and German artisans have also used paper cutouts to decorate for numerous centuries. Polish women and children were known to be very skilled at folding colored papers and cutting them into a variety of shapes such as animals, flowers and stylized birds.

Seventeenth to Eighteenth Centuries

Today`s decoupage is most closely associated with Far East lacquer work which was mainly done on furniture. Oriental lacquered objects became very trendy and were in great demand. Due to a lack of quality products to fill the demand, Venetian lacquerers referred to as depentore started making fake lacquer (lacca contrafatta). Artisans also began to employ apprentices to perform the tasks of hand-coloring well-known artists` engravings and prints. They then cut out the items and glued them to object surfaces that were being decorated.

Finally they lacquered the items many times. The objects and furniture that the artisans produced were meant to closely resemble the fascinating work that traders were selling from Japan and China. At the same time that this was occurring, wealthy people were hiring master painters to decorate the furniture, ceilings and walls in their homes.

Most people could not afford to hire master painters so the poor man`s arts (l`arte del povero) was discovered. Instead of hiring an actual artist people merely cut out famous artists` drawings, glued them onto the surface they were decorating and applied coats of lacquer to the top. They ended up with a product which was very similar to the actual artist`s work.

From 1700 until 1788, a woman named Mary Delaney lived in England. She was a member of the court for King George III and Queen Charlotte and was also one of their confidantes. When she was 72 years of age she began to make intricate and botanically correct replicas of flowers and plants by cutting up very fine tissue paper which she had first hand-colored. She continued to make these gorgeous “paper mosaics” until she was 88 years of age despite her failing eyesight. These works of art can be viewed today at the British Museum.

Many women were enthralled with the art form of decoupage and it became known as “Japanning” in England. In 1760, a printer in London named Robert Sayer produced a book on the subject that became very popular. The Art of Japanning Made Easy or The Ladies Amusement was filled with 1,500 illustrations for craftsmen, five instruction pages regarding coloring, gluing, lacquering and polishing of the cutouts, and composition directions which explained how to combine subjects.

Eighteenth to Nineteenth Centuries

Decoupage was very popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Famous artists such as Redoute and Boucher had their artwork cut out and glued to objects. In the Victorian era, nineteenth century England, the intricate cutting and hand-coloring became replaced by more sentimental, collage-style art. Valentine cards and embossed braids and papers were used to enhance and beautify items such as lamp bases and linen boxes. Children even enjoyed this incarnation of decoupage.

Decoupage Today

Decoupage is again experiencing a resurgence in popularity. There are many active decoupage guilds throughout the world including Australia, South Africa, England, Japan and America. In 1972 the National Guild of Decoupage was formed in the United States and is largely responsible for the resurgence of this art form.

This type of art is constantly evolving as artists discover new ways to enhance images. Paper tole is a way to create three-dimensional images with decoupage. It is achieved by using identical prints, cutting out their component parts, sizing and shaping the components, and finally layering them onto the base print. You now have a three-dimensional look!

Author: Lily Calyx

Flower expert, gardening enthusiast and creative mind behind our blog.

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