Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Joy of Painted Blinds

Today's roller blinds come in all sorts of colours, fabrics, stripes and patterns and this to my mind is a big improvement over all the plain beige and cream ones that most of us grew up with.
I recently came across this photo of the treatment that a creative person had given to an off-the-shelf roller blind from Ikea.
I think this is a charming, simple and effective and it made me think of several bespoke 'painted' blinds that I have come across during my imaginary travels through historic rooms. There are not many of them, so I can show them all here, hoping that some readers may be inspired to paint or design something similar. I'm pleased I have persuaded one client to go this way; in a dining room where the curtains won't always be drawn at night, roller blinds with painted decoration can be elegant and fun, and give as much privacy as curtains would. 

As far as these images show, painted blinds were particularly popular in Germany. It is remarkable that all of them depict private spaces that are situated inside mostly royal palaces. date from the first half of the 19th century, but then that was also the height of the art of the interior watercolour, which was particularly taken up in that country, so whether these blinds existed in southern countries I couldn't say. 

The earliest image I have found dates from 1829.
Princess Augusta's 'Muslin Closet' in a Berlin town palace decorated by the then uber fashionable Schinckel was entirely hung with muslin drapes with decorated borders. 
Luckily for us the window on the right is shown with its blind completely down, so we can see, behind the plants, how they were decorated with Greek ornaments
Another private sitting room, this time in the Palace of Bamberg, is depicted in this gorgeous watercolour of 1844. The decoration is in a Roman/Etruscan style, and this particular Princess took the floral arrangements to an altogether higher level.
As in the Berlin image one of the blinds is shown as drawn down and the elegant decoration can just be made out behind the seated girl : 
The view through the window suggests an upper floor of the palace, so one can sympathize with this young lady's desire to bring so much greenery into her room; the gardens must have been a long walk away!

If I may digress for a few seconds : I love the wacky flower support thing that she has on her desk, and here is a contemporary image of  something similar:
Another one of my favourite images dates from the 1830s and shows a private sitting room in the Royal Palace in Berlin.
I love the blue and gold in this room, which must have been in an important part of the palace, judging from the decoration and the height of the ceiling. The picture hang is also quite grand, but the room is furnished as a private domain; with a sofa, a reading table, a couple of light chairs, and a charming seating area inside the window. There is also a small, personal rug under the table, protecting the grand carpet.  
What suddenly struck me though, is what I THINK is a semi-transparent, painted blind in the window. I'm not entirely sure of it, but here's a detail :
Now ... is this a plant on the window sill - or a landscape with a tree painted on a semi-transparent blind ? It looks even more like a painted tree reflected in the big mirror. It appears that through the blind one can spot a pediment on columns of  a nearby building. It must have been painted on something like muslin, which presumably doesn't roll up easily like paper or canvas. The user of this room will have had servants to attach and remove the blind, so I guess practicality was not of prime importance.

The next example is also semi-transparent and was published in a French magazine in 1840 and may there for not depict an actual room. 
Even so, the half drawn up blind painted with a Chinoiserie scene looks charming.
An equally elaborate design was present in another private study in an apparently royal castle in Silesia, around 1850. The windows  have smart, embroidered surrounds (of which the proper name escapes me right now ....) and seem to lack draw curtains. Instead, there are blinds painted with a fantasy river landscape. This must have been in summer, and I love the row of miniature plant pots on the window sill.    
Ten years later we see the only English image of a similar blind:
In this design for a bedroom, published in Berlin in 1871, we find an elaborate idea for the curtains, which includes two elegant blinds:  

So far these are all blinds that show their best effect when they are fully drawn down. They are painted landscapes or decorations that perhaps looked a bit odd when the upper part was invisible and the design would start half way the window.

Blinds that solve that problem would need to be of a much simpler design and the earliest of those I have found in a charming watercolour of a very private sitting room at Buckingham Palace. Here, Queen Victoria's family enjoyed views over the gardens and the afternoon sun. There were striped awnings outside and painted blinds on the inside.
They had a border of (presumably) flowers in between two thin lines; a design that worked regardless of high or low the blinds were drawn. 
The same was true for this curtain and blind design that was published in 1900. Here too, the design always works, as it's really only a wide border along the bottom. This kind of decoration is not difficult to do and could be easily painted or stencilled on a roller blind today. 
And finally an actual painted blind that I was very happy to spot in an auction catalogue.
Somehow this reminds me of rooms in Italy or Spain - backgrounds in films like The Leopard and other gloomy, dusty rooms. For a study I think this would look very smart indeed.

I have no idea really how widely used blinds like these were; among thousands of  images I have only found these few. Painting this kind of interior views was not as widespread in southern countries as it was in the North, so there is very little evidence for their use in countries like Italy or Spain.
On top of that, due to their material and their use, very few of them will have survived the ages. 
Sad, because I really like them !  



As a result of this post, I was sent two photos by a reader, Penelope Bianchi, of paper blinds that she found many years ago in an Antique shop in Florence, and which have clearly found a very sympathetic home in California. Thank you Penelope!
In her message she says that there were blinds like this in the Madelaine Castaing sale, but I never saw the catalogue. I would love to receive photos and add them to this little collection. Any one? 



My blogger friend John Tackett , from  The Devoted Classicist has kindly reminded me of a blind fabric, that in fact could be one of the most famous ... silly me ....
I am unclear as to where the original idea came from, but John Fowler used it a lot, and as a result it has never really left the scene. It has been widely mentioned in blogs, like herehere and here
At the moment it is available from Nicky Haslam, who himself is closely linked to John Fowler, as he uses the latters home as his country retreat. The fabric is called Shutter Stripe.
This is a detail: 

John Fowler used it in his sitting room, which lends it a strangely Southern State American atmosphere, although the busy King's Road must have been very audible in this room. 


As I am making a little collection of painted blinds here on my blog, I will add a photograph that I was given last week of a blind that my friend Michael Dillon painted for a project designed by Caroline Percy. I think it is beautifully elegant, very effective and I hope it will inspire my readers.  


Many of the images came from that invaluable book AUTHENTIC DECOR, by Peter Thornton.

1. Ikea 'tree' blind :
2. Berlin interior : Authentic Decor, page 248
3. Bamberg interior: Authentic Decor, frontispiece
4. Design for a window wall: Authentic Decor, page 242
    (from Wilhelm Kimbel's influential furnishing journal published between 1835 and 1853)
5. Blue and gold sitting room : Authentic Decor, page 261 
    (Described as: A Royal love nest - sitting room of Countess Liegnitz, the morganatic wife of King           Friedrich Wilhelm III, 1824)
6. Chinoiserie blind: Authentic Decor, page 262
    (from: Le Bouteiller, Journal de l'Industrie et des Arts utiles, Paris 1840) 
7. Study, Sagan Castle, Silesia, 1850s
8. English sitting room by Lady Honoria Cadogan, in Inside Out, Charles Plante
9. Bedroom designs, Berlin 1871, Authentic Decor, page 326
10.  Buckingham palace (1848):  House Proud - 19th century water colour interiors from the Thaw      Collection, Davids/McCarron-Cated/Gere, 2008
11. Design for curtains: Authenic Decor, page 322
    (from: Ernest Foussier's 'Nouveaux Modeles de tentures, Decorations de fenetres', Paris 1900)
12. Photograph: Sotheby's catalogue of Christopher Hodsoll sale, 29 Oct 2002