Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre-François-Leonard Fontaine (1762-1853) were appointed court architects to Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821, Emperor 1804-14, 1815) of France. Their design influence, both architectural and for interiors, is evident at the grand estate Château de Fontainebleau and can bee seen in the early 19th century renovations at the Louvre and Tuileries Palaces in Paris.
During their appointment Percier and Fontaine produced several albums depicting the budding Empire style in decorative arts. The present set of wallpaper panels with the inset reserves framing figural groups and wall segments divided by pilasters are closely related to a number of elevations designed by Percier et Fontaine, and published in their 1812 folio entitled Recueil de Decorations Interieures. A particularly close comparison is that of an interior designed for “l'Atelier de Peintre du C. I****” (see pl. 2). Editions of this interior drawing are in the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The drawings of Percier and Fontaine, and subsequently these wallpaper panels, presented an opportunity to highlight the importance of the arts along with an homage to ancient Greek and Roman history.
A century later and oceans apart, the interest in the Empire style continued. Frances Elkins (1888-1953) originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reveled in learning about neoclassical architecture and the arts of eighteenth-century France and England (Lewis, Adam, The Great Lady Decorators: The Women Who Defined Interior Design, 1870-1955, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, p. 115). As children, Frances and her brother, notable architect David Adler, traveled to Europe, where they developed a mutual love of the arts and a strong relationship that would later translate into business. David, the architect of choice among Chicago’s affluent society, rose to prominence particularly during the 1920s through the mid-1930s, and his most celebrated commissions are those on which he collaborated with his younger sister Frances as interior designer. For Elkins, “…simplicity and quality, regardless of the cost, were the hallmarks of everything that [she] did.” (op. cit. p. 116). Already established on the west coast as an arbiter of style, she was highly influenced by the greats of the turn of the century including Elsie de Wolfe, however Elkins undoubtedly had her own eye. She began importing arts and antiques into America after buying trips to France to furnish her various projects as well as her arts and antique shop in California. It was upon one of these famed trips that Frances purchased the present set of wallpaper panels for Mr. and Mrs. Albert D. Lasker and their residence in Lake Forest, outside of Chicago. The Lasker residence epitomized what David and Frances sought to attain in their collaborations: a delicate balance of historic influence, simplicity of design, and symmetry not only in form but also color and texture.
Albert Davis Lasker is considered one of the fathers of modern advertising, having immense influence over an industry that he had helped to create during the first half of the 20th century. Having originally worked as a journalist, Lasker was found a position in a Chicago advertising agency by his father, who did not approve of his interest in newspapers. This launched Lasker on a meteoric rise: he was a full partner of the company he had joined, Lord & Thomas, while still in his early 20s and revolutionized the industry. Douglas Cooper argues “as the head of the largest American advertising agency, [Lasker] often had to approve the illustrations and layouts for advertisements varying from magazine pages to large billboard posters…daily application to these tasks made him rudimentarily, if informally, familiar with some idea of composition and color” (Cooper, Douglas, Great Private Collections, p. 228-231). Mary Woodward Lasker received a more formalized education in the arts while at Radcliffe College and after graduation she became an art dealer in New York for many years before her marriage to Albert Lasker. It was during their marriage that Mr. and Mrs. Lasker amounted one of the most prominent American collections of impressionist art works, including icons from the oeuvre of Henri Matisse, a personal friend of Mr. Lasker. Lasker managed to combine his business interests with philanthropy and education, and the Lasker Foundation and the Lasker Prize that bear his name and which he founded continue to promote medical science in particular.