Oct 30, 2009

French antique woodland scene fabrics

Everyone knows Paris - the great city of art, beauty and culture. But outside of Paris, France is largely rural and agricultural. Driving along smaller departmental roads, I was amazed at the carefully-tended orchards, the acres and acres of hand-pruned vineyards and the many vegetable gardens in and around the villages.
La nature est belle.
The French revel in nature. They love a lazy afternoon in the country or a hike in the woods and always prefer to eat locally-grown produce. During the 19th century, French people were even more entranced with nature and its mysteries. In this post, we'll examine the verdure textile designs - those illustrated with verdent woods, a forest glen or other foliage - designed to bring the outdoors in.

Most foliage textile designs incorporated a scene or vista with the central motif showing a grove of trees or a forest glen with an opening that would reveal a lake or chateau in the distance. The first example of this time-honored motif is the 19th century fabric pictured below. In this case, the view is onto an indistinct meadow.
Although this kind of woods and vista motif was a repeating theme, the color schemes were quite varied and often unusual. 

Below are several examples of 19th century woodland scenics. 
The first, with a off-white background and a foreground motif in olive, khaki, rose and mauve, the vista revealed is of a bubbling waterfall. 
The next piece has a brown and tan forest glen with exotic flowers as the central motif that is printed on a greenish-gray background. This piece encompasses the traditional forest theme, but is quite unusual in the use of the oriental-style trees and bushes.

Verdure prints were also made that depicted woods or semi-jungle motifs, but did not incorporate a scene or vista.  Three such printed fabrics are shown below. The first is a crowded motif that is thick with trees, bushes and many smaller plants, all done in muted blues and rusty browns. The plants are all fantasy plants and are not botanically identifiable.
The second swatch has a sparser design that is created by using tall spindly trees and rangy bushes.  The main color is teal, which was a favorite in many leaf and verdure prints in the second half of the 19th century.
The last one in this post is the most unusual and is a favorite of mine. The designer chose a single large tree as the central motif, which  is reminiscent of the Indian tree-of-life patterns. The tree depicted is an oak tree with acorns and is done in the softest olive and tan shades with accents of very muted mauve. The oak tree was the most common tree in France and is a symbol of strength. Fluttering around the powerful tree are lively songbirds. Magnifique!

Oct 23, 2009

To market, to market

The weekly open-air farmers' markets and outdoor brocantes that we see in France today have their roots in medieval times. During the middle ages, many merchants and vendors had to travel to the customers rather than the other way around. 
The merchants soon realized that they could enlarge the customer base with less effort if several vendors coordinated efforts. Smaller farmers' markets were organized locally and were soon held weekly.  The large merchandise fairs - organized by manufacturers and large companies - were usually only held a couple of times a year.  One of the largest in the south was held at Beaucaire and always had a large group of displays by textile manufacturers from the north.
Here are a few pictures of one local weekly farmers' market in July 2009 in Puisserguier. The offerings that particular day included fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, rotisserie chicken, jams, flowers, wine and more.  There were also vendors selling clothing, housewares, sewing needs, African handicrafts and collectibles.  To round out the offering, there were several artisans who offered specialized services. I include photos of the chair caning booth and the antique clock repair booth.

Oct 16, 2009

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 7

Although gray is used in chic modern interiors, it is also often associated with industrial or drab paint schemes.  But, not so in 19th century France!  The French decorators and textile designers of that era, in their bold creative ways, used gray as both a lovely background color and as a prominent foreground color, often in various unusual color combinations. Gray was widely used in solid backgrounds and is found in many different shades and tones.
Let's start with the simplest combination .... monochromatic prints with gray foreground motifs on a plain white or near-white background. Below are two 19th century examples - the first uses bouquets of meticulously-drawn lilacs as the central theme and the second uses dreamy neo-classical motifs with songbirds.

Gray foreground motifs were also used with various other background colors during the 19th century. Here we see pale pink, pale pink and white, sapphire blue and deep red.  The pale pink fabric features a bird, a bird's nest and bouquets of daisies and trailing vines. The next, on a palest pink and white background is printed a large-scale, very high quality floral with peonies and poppies. The deep blue fabric has baskets of roses and other flowers as well as garlands and wheat-heads. The red background piece has three adorable cherubs as the central motif along with trellis, acanthus and trailing vines.  Notice that two cherubs are playing instruments while the third is holding his ears!

Oct 9, 2009

Just for fun: 1920s - 1950s cotton print fabrics

Conversational prints were very popular from the 1920s to the 1950s, just as they are today.
The subject matter of French conversational prints covered a wide range, but I have chosen a few pieces that I find charming or amusing.
Adorable animals were a popular motif like in these two 1930s prints with dogs and kittens and the 1950s print of  kittens playing with red and green balls of yarn.
Children and pretty girls were perennial favorites.:

Exotic and foreign places were often motif in the pre-war years. France still had many colonies in Africa, so the designs reflected these relationships:

I find this last print, which looks like it was intended for childrens' decors, to be the oddest conversational print that I have ever seen!  It depicts members of French military marching bands careening drunkenly with even one fellow lying on the ground and drinking from a bottle of wine!

Oct 2, 2009

Color schemes in 19th C French textiles, part 6 (browns)

Continuing the discussion from part 5 of the darker backgrounds that were very common in 19th century French furnishing textiles, we'll take a look at shades of brown as used in the various printed fabrics.

In the 18th century, there was generally not a distinction made between the brown and black backgrounds. They were grouped together and called "chimney sweep" or fond ramoneur.  The variety of browns ranged from bronze shades to chocolate to deep brown-black. 
The 19th century elephant ears print fabric above and the three fabric prints immediately below all have light- to medium-brown backgrounds.

The final group in this post are all what I would categorize as dark brown backgrounds, although, as you can see, there is some variation within that color category.