Nature by Design: Bathing Beautiful

June 8, 2019 – March 13, 2020

Scenic, Sea Beauties, 1920–40; Made by Ideal Wall Decoration ; Germany; lithograph printed on paper; H x W x D: 169.2 × 105.7 cm (5 ft. 6 5/8 in. × 41 5/8 in.); Gift of the family of Victor S. Robinson, Salem, New Jersey; 2004-16-2

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
New York, NY

2nd Floor

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Nature appears throughout Cooper Hewitt’s collection of wallcoverings, which includes designs for the bathroom that beautified the appearance of this everyday domestic space. In the late 19th century, given the concerns for hygiene and running water, ceramic tiles were the preferred wallcovering because of their durability and sanitary nature. For those on a budget, wallpapers imitated this look with varnished tile patterns. Around 1910, bathrooms started moving away from a sterile look to become a more decorative room in harmony with the rest of the home’s décor. In this alcove, an early example of an immersive large-scale scenic design transports the bather into an imaginative underwater scene with fish, shells, coral, and plant life in their natural habitat. The paper’s lithograph printing gives it a very soft appearance, almost like a watercolor and the use of oil-based inks allows it to withstand moisture and the occasional splash from the tub.