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Decoupage (or découpage) is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and so on. Commonly an object like a small box or an item of furniture is covered by cutouts from magazines or from purpose-manufactured papers. Each layer is sealed with varnishes (often multiple coats) until the "stuck on" appearance disappears and the result looks like painting or inlay work. The traditional technique used 30 to 40 layers of varnish which were then sanded to a polished finish. This was known in 18th century England as the art of Japanning after its presumed origins.
3D decoupage (sometimes also referred to simply as decoupage) is the art of creating a 3D image by cutting out elements of varying sizes from a series of identical images and layering them on top of each other, usually with adhesive foam spacers between each layer to give the image more depth.
Pyramid decoupage (also called pyramage) is a process similar to 3D decoupage. In pyramid decoupage, a series of identical images are cut into progressively smaller, identical shapes which are layered and fixed with adhesive foam spacers to create a 3D 'pyramid' effect.
The origin of decoupage is thought to be East Siberian tomb art. Nomadic tribes used cut out felts to decorate the tombs of their deceased. From Siberia, the practice came to China, and by the 12th century, cut out paper was being used to decorate lanterns, windows, boxes and other objects. In the 17th century, Italy, especially Venice, was at the forefront of trade with the Far East and it is generally thought that it is through these trade links that the cut out paper decorations made their way into Europe.
Artisans in Florence, Italy have produced decorative objects using decoupage techniques since the 18th century. They combined decoupage with other decorative techniques already popular in Florence, such as gilt with gold leaf and carved wood designs. These older techniques were already used to produce articles such as furniture, frames for paintings, and even tooled leather book covers. Known as Florentine style crafts, these items are now highly collectible antiques. Florentine artisans made use of decoupage by adding it to the space within a carved gilt frame, or by adding the decoupage to a wooden plaque. Artisans used pasted reproductions of famous artworks, nearly always religious depictions. Florentine triptychs using decoupage images of such Biblical scenes as the Crucifixion are a common motif. As society became more secular in the early 20th century, and non–Roman Catholic tourists began buying more crafts from Florentine artisans, decoupage images became less religious in orientation and more reflective of famous Italian artworks in general.
Common household materials can be used to create effects. Here is a short list of supplies:
Someone who does decoupage is known as a decoupeur, or rather "cutter".
Mary Delaney achieved unexpected fame at the age of 71 in the court of George III and Queen Charlotte of England thanks to the 18th century decoupage craze. Moving in the circle of Jonathan Swift and Sir Joseph Banks, and possibly taught art by William Hogarth, she was introduced to George III and Queen Charlotte by Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, and became a court favourite.
In 1771, she began to create cut out paper artworks (decoupage) as was the fashion for ladies of the court. Her works were exceptionally detailed and botanically accurate depictions of plants. She used tissue paper and hand colouration to produce these pieces. She created 1,700 of these works, calling them her "Paper Mosaiks [sic]", from the age of 71 to 88 when her eyesight failed her. They can still be seen in the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum today.
Modern day "master decoupeurs" include Durwin Rice, Violet Knoxville (Vanesa de la Puente) and Queen Margrethe of Denmark. Modern day decoupage has evolved over the years beyond the simpler style of gluing images to plates and vases. The use of high-tech printers, resins, and enamel sprays contributes to the "modern" decoupage method.
A Florentine-style carved and gilt box with decoupage.
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