PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston October 2020

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Page 83 of 111

If These Walls Could By ReBecca SheRman. hannah cecil GuRney poRtRait By DouGlaS FRieDman. C laud cecil Gurney wrote his new book, de Gournay: Hand- Painted Interiors, while at home in the Kent countryside, with his German Shepherd mowgli as company and a riotously blooming garden for inspiration. there couldn't be a more apt setting for Gurney to chronicle the story of the legendary company he founded in 1986; after all, de Gournay's hand-painted wallpapers are rooted in the tradition of centuries-old chinoiserie panels, often depicting lavish, vibrantly hued garden scenes. De Gournay papers grace the walls of well-known people and places around the world — the homes of Kate moss and Gwyneth paltrow and the interiors of annabel's in london, to name a few. the company has recreated 18th-century hand- painted chinoiserie wallpaper panels found in the attics of houghton hall and collaborated with design luminaries india mahdavi and alessandra Branca. With showrooms worldwide, de Gournay offers French 19th-century panoramic and art Deco designs, fabrics, porcelains, and, most recently, a collaboration with fashion house erdem. But to understand the hard-won, unbounded success of de Gournay, one must first appreciate the trials and tribulations, twists, and turns that Gurney navigated to create some of the finest hand-painted papers in the world. as he writes in the book's introduction, Gurney sought to buy 18th-century hand-painted chinese wallpapers to decorate his london townhouse, such as what graces many of england's grandest estates. to his dismay, they proved both hard to find at auction and too expensive. then, a bolt of genius: he would go straight to the source and commission hand-painted wallpapers from artists in china. in the early '80s, china was just starting to open up economically to the West, and Gurney seized the chance not only to buy works of art but to explore the idea as a business opportunity. his arrival in Beijing was met with much fanfare by the chinese government, and he was whisked from the airport in a chauffeured black mercedes with entourage — a rare occurrence since private cars were illegal at the time. "it was much more fun to go and set up a studio than to buy an antique set of papers at auction," he writes. unfortunately, he soon discovered that like most of china's ancient heritage, the art of painting wallpapers on silk had been lost under decades of communist rule. undeterred, Gurney set out to retrain artisans there and found himself navigating uncharted waters. the studio operated at the pleasure of Talk (Continued on page 84) Claud Cecil Gurney at home in London with Olaf and Jiminy Cricket. Rives du Bosphore wallpaper. Abbotsford hand-painted wallpaper by de Gournay. John Sellén Tim Walker

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