The Art and History of Decoupage: A Furniture Painter’s Journey through Time and Creativity
Decoupage is so much more than cutting and sticking; it's an art form with a rich history that dates back to Eastern Siberia. From tomb art to household items, decoupage has evolved into a beloved hobby and skill that's stood the test of time.
In this blog from TFAC blogger Susan Ruth, you'll discover the fascinating history of decoupage and learn about the methods and styles of our talented furniture artists and upcyclers.
. Feast your eyes on their stunning work and find out why they love this craft so much and what inspires them.
Okay, let’s start with the basics, shall we?….
Qu'est-ce que le decoupage ?
Decoupage is the practice of cutting out and glueing coloured paper and other decorative elements to form a picture, pattern, or decorative enhancement to a surface, like a box or small piece of furniture.
The picture or pattern can be built up by layering, with each layer sealed with several coats of varnish.
In some examples of traditional decoupage, 30-40 layers of varnish or lacquer were used to build up the surface and then sanded down to a smooth finish.
Our members use decoupage to decorate many beautiful pieces, whether it's a tea tray, a lampshade, or a chest of drawers.
There is something almost magical about watching a decoupage artist bring a piece of furniture back to life. Each artist has their own unique method and style, and many create custom pieces for their customers.
Below, you’ll see examples of their work and links to their websites, but before we get into that, let’s go back in time and find out a little bit more about Decoupage.
Est-ce en français?
So, hands up all those who thought Decoupage (as in the craft, not the word), is French.
Go on, all the way up!!!
Well, you'd be wrong.
The word is most definitely French: “decouper”, means to “cut out” in French, but much like “French Fries” (which are actually Belgian, but that’s a whole different blog), the French seem to have pilfered the practice, as their own.
That’s not to say that the French, and France, haven’t played their part in the history of Decoupage. They most definitely have (apparently, Marie Antionette was a very passionate Decoupeur), but we need to go much further East to find its true origins.
The earliest examples of decoupage were found in Eastern Siberia, where it was practised as a form of tomb art. That is to say, roaming Siberian tribes used a very basic “cut-and-paste” form of craft to decorate the tombs of the dear departed!
Now, the fact that these examples were found in “Eastern” Siberia is quite significant because, from there, the art form became very popular in China and Asia.
In fact, this is where we see the first examples of it being used to decorate household items: lamps, windows, boxes, etc.
Bon Voyage Decoupage!
Over the next couple of centuries, as travel and exploration increased, the wonderful art of decoupage spread across the globe. Italy had particularly strong trade links with the Orient, which may be why some of the finest examples of “historic” decoupage seen today hail from Venice and Florence and late Renaissance Italy, and whilst they depict mostly biblical and religious scenes, they are still, nonetheless definitely decoupage.
I wonder if Michelangelo ever considered it for the Sistine Chapel ceiling.......
Decoupage became established not only as a hobby but also as a wonderfully artistic skill. Talented Decoupeurs could make quite a healthy living, obtain celebrity status, and be invited to give talks on the subject.
By Victorian times, young ladies were taught the art of decoupage, along with the essential watercolour, pencil drawing, embroidery, and music lessons that made up the skills and talents of a “truly accomplished lady”.
J'adore le Découpage
There are countless reasons why Decoupage became and remains such a popular craft.
Not only is it relatively easy to achieve results, but it is also a craft that can be enjoyed by anybody at pretty much any age.
Just about anything can be decoupaged, whether it’s something as small as a pill box, a mobile phone cover, or a masterpiece of furniture.
Each piece is completely and totally unique and personal and, perhaps best of all, especially in this day and age, the craft is all about upcycling and reusing.
Within the TFAC membership, we have a stunning collection of decoupage items, and many of our artists are also stockists of decoupage paper – you can find out more by clicking on their website links.
In fact, we'll leave the last few lines of this piece to them while you feast your eyes on their stunning work and read a few words from each of them about why they love the art form so much and what inspires them.
First up, we asked Issy Tidmarsh from Little Gecko Interiors, a specialist in decoupage, to share her love for this particular medium.
"I just love the way it can transform a very plain piece of furniture using very intricate detail and design from the vast array of papers currently on the market.
Detail that I find you can’t always achieve with paint alone. Many of the papers are also wipeable, UV resistant and recyclable, so it also fits the bill in being kind to the environment."
Vintage cabinet by Little Gecko Interiors featuring “Elephants on Safari”, a paper by Emma Shipley
Catherine Fay, the talented artist behind Fay Designs, has recently been drawn to decoupage as a medium, especially for smaller projects such as the charming gift box she created.
Her work has a unique fairy tale quality to it that never fails to capture the imagination. Each piece seems to be infused with a magical quality that transports the viewer to a fantastical wonderland.
We are enamoured with Catherine's ability to create such delightful pieces and excited to see what magical creations she comes up with next.