Materials & Techniques

19th-Century English Papier-mâché

The French term papier-mâché refers to pulped paper mixed with an adhesive and shaped in molds, but the 19th-century English material was made differently. It was created by gluing together sheets of paper over a form that could be further shaped with a lathe, rasp, or plane. In 1772, Henry Clay of Birmingham invented this technique and patented it that year. However, it was Jennens and Bettridge, the successor firm to Clay's, that greatly extended the range and quality of this type of work. By the 1850s, the firm was producing numerous forms, including chairs, tables, cabinets, bookcases, bedsteads, pianoforte cases, and boxes. Besides the wide spectrum of its wares, Jennens & Bettridge was also known for its mother-of-pearl decoration. In 1825, George Souter, one of the firm's employees introduced pearl-shell inlaying. Although the technique was used by others, Jennens & Bettridge appears to have made many of the finest articles of this type and is probably responsible for several of the pieces in the Reves' collection. However, the only documented example in the Reves' collection is a box that features a fanciful chinoiserie scene and five lidded interior compartments. The box's verso is stamped Jennens and Bettridge.

Adapted from

  • Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1985), 168.
  • Dallas Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 53.

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