Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz has been a dealer in European decorative arts for 20 years, but she fell in love with her specialty—period French wallpapers—only a decade ago. While making the rounds at the Parisian auction house Drouot, she experienced a coup de foudre. "I walked into a room which had all of these wallpaper panels," she recalled recently. "I was taken aback. I didn't really know what they were, but I thought they were fabulous." Her love affair with papiers peints from the late 18th century to the Art Deco era has continued ever since.
"It's really an extraordinary feat in printmaking—a lost art form," she says of the panels, which were hand-printed onto rag paper using hundreds of carved wood blocks. For her clients, among them interior decorators, museums, and private collectors, Thibaut-Pomerantz mounts large pieces on stretchers as decorative panels and frames smaller fragments as if they were prints. She never puts panels under glass, however, because of the richness of their surface textures.
Often more than 30 feet long, scenic views are the great white whales of French wallpaper. These narrative sequences started to appear at the beginning of the 19th century; until then designs primarily featured floral and avian imagery, arabesques, and neoclassical scenes inspired by Pompeian frescoes. With their themes of exotic lands, titles like "Hindustan" and "Savages of the Pacific," and treatments of mythological and historical subjects, these early-19th-century scenics established the primacy of the French over the English in the field.
At last year's Palm Beach fair, Thibaut-Pomerantz sold a large panel from manufacturer Joseph Dufour's scenic "Monuments of Paris" (1812) for $65,000. In general, she notes, a fragment will go for $3,000 to $5,000, a good-size panel, $12,000 to $50,000; an exceptional, complete scenic can command as much as $200,000. Even at that price, she points out, they are "very affordable in relation to other works of art."
Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz, by appointment. New York: 212-759-6048; fax 212-308-3486. Paris: 33-1-45-04-54-68; fax 33-1-45-04-11-53.