What is GRISAILLE, you ask? And, no, it’s not a cut of beef or a type of bear.
First of all, it is pronounced
The Merriam Webster Dictionary definition is:
decoration in tones of a single color and especially gray designed to produce a three-dimensional effect.
An example of classical Grisaille wallpaper from Zuber
Grisaille originated from the French word “gris” which means “gray”. The first known use was in 1848.
However, grisaille, in the world of art is also known as a monochrome painting in varying shades of gray, greige, taupe and sepia.
There are also more specific terms for monochrome works of art that are more brown – brunaille and green – which is known as verdaille.
Today, we are going to look at grisaille and while many examples will be on wallpaper, some of them will be either painted onto a wall or a piece of art hanging on the wall.
Grisaille originated in fine art some centuries ago to create the illusion of sculpture on a flat surface and it is often seen in trompe l’oeil. (fool the eye)
Andrea del Sarto grisaille frescoes in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence (1511-26)
Trompe L’oeil Grisalle ceiling by fine artist, architect, and latter-day Michelangelo, Kurt Wenner
Watercolor by Grzegorz Wróbel – trompe l’oeil – en grisaille
When I first saw a small version of this image, I was sure that it was a photo of a building.
So glad it’s not!
Something I just recently learned is that most fine art of the renaissance began with an “under-painting” in grisaille – shades of gray.
At the time, pigments were rare, but an additional benefit was that the under-painting added greatly to the depth and luminosity of the art. After the grisaille under-painting was complete, thin layers of pigment were layered over that.
Below is a rare example of what I’m talking about.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres – Odalisque en grisaille
The above painting by Ingres c. 1824-34 hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What is very interesting about this rare work is that Ingres went to all of this trouble only to abandon this work and began afresh.
But, here we have an example of the grisaille under-painting
Above we see in Ingre’s Le Grande Odalisque the second piece, complete. The differences are not dramatic in the form. However, the finished odalisque appears to be more elongated than in the original grisaille piece. This painting, too had a grisaille under-painting, however, as you can see, it is layered with colored pigments.
However, grisaille is more commonly known as an independent finished work.
And now, for many fine examples of grisaille art, murals and screens, from old to new; from super expensive, to very reasonably priced.
And these are not in a particular order. I love them all! But let’s start with something antique.
Above and below an antique Zuber screen from First Dibs. Probably no longer available
Martha Stewart’s former home in CT, Turkey Hill
A Zuber panel in a dining room.
Love the De Gournay grisaille paper in this charming powder room by Frank Ponterio
I love this painterly style of grisaille in the dining room above.
Another wonderful painterly mural by Nicholas Crowell
It is reminding me of the incredible hand-painted murals by Susan Harter.
Susan has an extraordinary website. In addition to her hand-painted designs, she has a printed collection which of course, if far more affordable.
Another exquisite Susan Harter design in this dining room. For more of Susan’s work (aside from her website) please click here. Also, a lot of other great ideas in this post.
Above, one of the most beautiful living rooms every featuring two coordinating grisaille screens. Interior design by Frank Babb Randolph
DeGournay mural photographed by Ian Nolan. Love the infusion of color into this mixed color and grisaille mural.
Above and below, two images of the same giga-gorgeous room featuring a hand-painted grisaille mural by Suzanne Rheinstein
This mural has a little more color, but since leaves aren’t typically steel blue, I’m calling it grisaille-like.
Exquisite dining room by Crisp Architects featuring a Zuber mural – A Passage To India
The same Grisaille Zuber mural in a bathroom – why not? by Miles Redd
I believe that this is also a Zuber mural. I adore the colors. While it is quite colorful, there are some areas in grisaille.
When I first started writing about Grisaille several years ago, for the most part the only option were the very high-end hand-painted companies, Ananbo, Zuber, DeGournay and Gracie.
This extraordinary site of hand-painted artwork and murals.
Crisp Architects Zuber Wall Mural – Grisaille
Extraordinary living room Designer- Jared Hughes. Photographer- Heidi Harris via Gracie Studio – Gorgeous grisaille hand-painted mural. Actually, I believe this one is more green making it verdais.
Wonderful handpainted Grisaille wall mural by Paul Montgomery
Well, these days, one can get the grisaille look for a LOT less money.
Paul Montgomery created Mural Sources which I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. Absolutely fabulous source for Chinoiserie wall murals and Panoramic Design wall murals.
(please click on both of those links for many more wonderful examples of gorgeous wall murals featuring grisaille and colorful examples, as well)
And many designs that are en grisaille. Definitely click those links for numerous far less expensive sources for both.
In fact, many will recall that the exquisite wallpaper in my bedroom came from Mural Sources.
And, also, you can see my Mural Sources wallpaper on the wall, in this post.
Since I wrote the posts linked to above, I’ve discovered some new sources featuring some beautiful inexpensive (or relatively inexpensive) Grisaille prints.
BelleImpressionFinds on Etsy Grisaille mural
Interesting mural. I can’t tell for sure the quality from this image, however.
Chinoiserie Wall Deco Panoramic Grisaille mural
Some of these murals such as this one look identical to those from the high-end sources.
This one is hand-painted, however, less money than the original, probably from Zuber. Is the quality the same? I don’t know. However, you can get samples before ordering. Also, read the reviews very carefully.
One thing to look out for, when getting an inexpensive Grisaille or other wall mural is that the print is done correctly.
This one took a print on canvas and blew it way up so that the canvas, is far larger than it would be in real life. It’s just something to be aware of.
photo by me
Above is a Grisaille wallpaper Versailles by Cole & Son – from a bathroom I did a few years ago in Bronxville, NY
And, from this post about decorating to sell your home. For more of this beautiful home near me, click the link. This wallpaper is also by Cole & Son and called Nuvolette. You can actually get it at Anthropologie.
Below are a few more grisaille items. Please click on the individual items to go directly to the source.
Hope that you enjoyed learning about the beautiful art of Grisaille. I always learn new things with these posts too!
PS: Please click here for the newly updated hot sales and deals in home furnishings.
by Laurel Bern
I just found the article via Google and it helped me a lot. Thank you for your effort.
Oops! Now I see it.
A surprising source of grisaille wallpaper is Etsy! There are several Etsy shops selling regular and removable wallpaper. Among the choices are some gorgeous grisaille patterns. Oh, btw, there’s a new restaurant in Charlotte NC named, “La Belle Hellene” and it’s considered the most beautiful restaurant in the city – the huge wall behind the bar is covered in grisaille.
I probably didn’t make it obvious, but did link to many of those sources both in this post and in the other post about wall murals.
Thanks for another great informative piece. And thanks for including how it’s pronounced. If it ever comes up in a conversation, I don’t want to seem like an idiot.
I’ve always been drawn to these types of artwork. I especially love when it’s used in wallpaper form. It seems so soothing.
Thank you for this beautiful post. Just what I needed today. I have a 4-panel floor screen & would love to find an affordable source for a paper in Grisaille (gray or sepia) to cover it. Do you know of any source for this or have any suggestions? So very much appreciated…
There are numerous links both in this post and in the wall mural post linked to in the post that have some affordable sources for Grisaille and other beautiful wall murals. But, here it is again.
Loved this post on the murals. I do have a question though:
I saw photos of a home with stained baseboards to match the wood floors in one room and white baseboards with the same wood floors in an adjacent room.
Is it really okay to mix baseboard finishes inside your home? White walls and white baseboards obviously make your walls look taller. Would that same principal apply to wood floors . . they would look somewhat larger with stained baseboards? In the case of the light gray murals, would baseboards painted light gray look better?
I am remodeling a home and could use your thoughts.
The general rule of thumb is that all of the trim in a room is either stained the same or painted the same. There have been a few situations where that rule has been broken but it makes sense within that context.
Hahaha, well I just read the comment about mixing modern and traditional! It’s such a good question actually. I hope Laurel would write about it one day. I’m not pushing but I can try :)) For instance, in a modern architecture house could we have grisaille wallpaper bedroom?
Sure. Why not?
What a beautiful gift to open up on a Sunday afternoon : )
Great post! I love that you said how much you learn when researching for your posts. I felt the same way when I taught art in high school. I learned more by teaching than I ever did in school!
I love the expression, “When one teaches, two learn.”
I’m a loyal reader (LOVE YOUR BLOG!) and I follow you religiously! :)Based on your above article, I think you might enjoy knowing about my artist friend Charlotte Terrell…..she does paintings, custom wallpaper & also sells a line of wallpaper. She’s got it going on. 🙂
Check out this fabulous Nashville artist! You’ll love! https://styleblueprint.com/nashville/everyday/charlotte-terrell-custom-wallpaper/
And here’s her website
Exquisite! Thanks so much for sharing Amy.
So, tried to register at Mural Sorces and there were “problems”. Is this because I must be in the trade? Great post, BTW, I love these murals. (May have to paint my own though.)
Yes, I believe that they are only to the trade now. Sorry about that.
I always love reading your blog. It is clever, good humored and I always learn something. Thank you.
I loved learning about grisaille. When you did a DeGourney post a while back, I fell in love and decided I had to have a mural wall. I was about to embark on my own and my friend told me she would come to me and do it. It’s a work in progress and turning out amazing! She paints for art shows and does commissions for fancy people so I got lucky! Now I’m wanting a grisaille! I like Just the grays, but I found the ones with a little color to be my favorite!
How cool is that! Lucky you to have such a talented friend.
Another interesting and informative post…your posts are the highlight of my early morning on Sundays!!
Thanks so much Maggie!
Hello Laurel, I think grisaille is one of the classiest of decorative techniques and I am enchanted by all these examples. Since entire murals might be a bit too much for some people, keep in mind that many black and white engravings (especially architectural ones) and old black and white photos (not the shiny ones!) are grisaille or at least can count as such. Grisaille can also go well with white (or other) interiors when you want to control the “poppings” of color.
Thanks so much Jim!
amazing information!!! My question is completely out of topic though. I’m wondering about mixing modern and traditional if you are starting from a scratch. Accidentally you see a modern bathroom sink and do you have to mix it with modern taps or shower fixtures? Or you can mix it with trad taps and shower fixtures… how would you decide if you have a new build house…see a Checkerboard floor tile- do you have to use it in a classical interior architecture only (like Ben Pentreath in his projects) with Palladian arches etc or what are your rules? Sometimes I see one element and it certainly feels more modern or classic and then I think so I have to have the rest of my furnishings and interior architecture should be modern or…. What a messy message I’m sorry Laurel
Yeah, this is a whole other topic. And, not an easy one to answer. However, generally the sink and the taps should coordinate as they are a unit. A checkerboard floor could work in a contemporary space, but like everything else, it depends what else is going on. It isn’t easy, is it?