Dec 19, 2010

Joyeux Noël et bonne année

Joyeux Noël!
Meilleurs voeux pour une année remplie de bonheur!

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a new year filled with happiness.

Nov 11, 2010

Dufy's influence on French textile design

An important aspect of the Art Deco movement was characterized by designs that were stylized depictions of aspects of everyday life - parties, sailing, outdoor celebrations, houses and more. Raoul Dufy was one of the leading designers of this style, which quickly became popular. Dufy's ideas and style were copied and re-interpreted by other artists and by many textile companies. By the 1930s, the interpretations of many of the earlier avant-garde artists had become quite common and were found in everyday fabrics in many French homes.
Below are five cotton prints from the early 1930s.

Oct 18, 2010

Art Deco orange

In the fall of 1905, all Paris was talking about the new style of paintings exhibited at the Salon d'automne. A group of artists led by Henri Matisse, who came to be known as Fauvists, used bright and clear colors in their revolutionary work. Similar movements took hold in the art world in Germany and Austria.
French textile designers from that era included Sonia Delauney and Raul Dufy whose hand-printed fabrics were ordered by couturiers such as the innovative Poiret. A style was born.
Textiles were designed with geomtric and highly stylized motifs and then printed in bold, bright colors. World War I put a hold on the movement, but at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes the streamlined look and the new colors and materials created a worldwide.

One of the favorite colors in the era was orange, which was often paired with blue to create a vibrant look. Below are several examples of the use of orange in Art Deco fabrics from the 1920s-1930s.

Sep 28, 2010

A-hunting they will go ...

In rural France, hunting is a popular sport that almost seems out-of-step with the French love of nature. Each fall, the fields and woods are in a frenzy with dozens of hunters and frightened scurrying animals. In the last French national election, one candidate for parliament promoted only two policies: to retain bull-fighting and to keep all rural land open for hunting, i.e. to disallow the posting of 'no hunting' signs. He won his district.
In the 17th century, the French were avid hunters and considered the hunt on horseback to be the most noble. They hunted deer, wolves and other large wild animals. The French king maintained several huge estates that were reserved solely for hunting. Louis XIV spent several weeks a year at his hunting lodges and enjoyed the sport up to the end of his life. Napoleon likewise enjoyed the hunt on horseback and used it as a way to relieve stress. Josephine was known to follow along in a carriage.
Today in France, many textile collectors and antique dealers search for and put a premium on fabrics and paintings that depict the hunt. These motifs are much less popular with American buyers.
The first two pictures below are of an early-19th century toile entitled "Chasse en forêt Bretonne" ("Hunt in the Brittany forest.")  This design is variation on the original design entitled "La chasse à Jouy" ("The hunt at Jouy," ca. 1815.) Note the carriage at the bottom of the first picture below and notice that the dog handler in the second picture is wearing typical French clothing from that era. Extremely popular designs like this one were often printed in several factories in France.
The next fabric shows a motif that was extremely popular during the second half of the 19th century, despite the rather gruesome subject matter. This motif was printed with either a red or blue background and was used in many different rooms of a home. I once saw a complete set of bedhangings and boudoir curtains in this motif.
The next three pictures are of early 20th century versions of a much older toile motif (ca. 1800). This motif shows a hunt that is focusing on a wild boar, but also includes hunting birds and deer.
This woven luncheon table cloth from the 1920s has the hunt as its border motif.
Lastly, the 1950s brightly-colored hunt pattern was very popular in the mid-20th century and is still reproduced in France.

Sep 19, 2010

Fine feathered friends

Although France is famous for glorious Paris, most of the country is rural with a large proportion of the people engaged in agriculture and agriculture-related activities. The French are very much in tune with the weather and the rhythm of the seasons and take great joy from the flowers, birds and other creatures.

The18th and 19th century French textile designs reflected this love of nature in its many aspects. One favorite theme was songbirds or other small birds that might be found in the garden or in nearby trees.
The first two fabrics shown below are unusual in that they depict hummingbirds hovering between the flowers. This hummingbird is extinct in Europe and has been for centuries. This tiny bird is now only found in the Americas. In 2007, a 30,000 year-old fossil of a hummingbird was discovered in France.

The next group are all 19th century fabrics in an array of styles and colors. This group includes a monochromatic toile as well as a two-color toile plus a black background piece and a piece with a neutral beige background. The beige background creates a canvas for a colorful foreground motif of spring flowers and cheerful songbirds.

Sep 9, 2010

Cotton masquerading as fine silk

The reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870) - called the Second Empire - was characterized by a period of rapid economic growth in France that created a prosperous middle class. Many of these newly-affluent middle class people now wanted to own larger homes and to create interiors that would be like the luxurious rooms in the very wealthiest houses.
The printed-textile manufacturers were quick to respond to the demand by creating cotton print motifs that looked like expensive silks, but were less expensive and could be produced quickly. These cotton fabric manufacturers strove to elevate the quality of the floral and botanical prints by hiring artists and Parisian-trained designers to create the motifs.
First below are two examples of cotton prints designed to look like the elegant striped silks. Notice the faux moiré background on the red stripe with cherubs.
The next two pictures show medium-heavy cotton prints that were intended to look like heavy silk jacquard furnishing fabric. Indeed, when hung as drapes, these fabric have the aura of sumptuous silks.
The last cotton print would have been less expensive to produce since it used only one color and was printed on a lighter-weight cotton. The striated background was designed to look like a taffeta.  This kind of pretty print would likely have been used in a boudoir or a child's bedroom.

Aug 29, 2010

Orchids as motif in French textiles

In the 18th and 19th centuries, botanists across Europe were fascinated by the orchid plant, which originally came from Mexico. This New World plant was included in many plant collections, but getting it to grow and to reproduce was difficult. In addition, the best growing environment for orchids usually required a greenhouse which was a costly proposition. As a result, orchids did not become a popular or well-known plant during those decades nor was it often included as a motif in art or textile design.
The swatch below, from about 1880, features a large blue orchid with botanically correct leaves. This is one of the few orchid motifs that I've found from that era.
By 1900, the orchid started being used in stylized versions on Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau textiles. The next two swatches depict stylized orchids from about 1900. Both are the same motif in different colors.

These next two pictures are very stylized versions of orchids from the first decade of the 20th century.
Despite the sensational beauty of the orchid flowers, the plant will never rival the rose as the favorite flower in all of France. Below is a picture of The Rose - depicted as a queen on the throne with the insects paying homage - from a 19th century French illustrated book called Les Fleurs Animées.

Aug 23, 2010

The end-of-summer harvest

Le vendange - the grape harvest- has started in the south of France. The villages and roadways are busy this time of year, buzzing with the many people and the various pieces of agricultural machinery needed to pick the grapes and transport them to the wine cave.
The status of the grape in the French economy and in French cuisine is all-important. The culture of the grape is reflected in textiles as discussed in a previous post.  Here is a notice that is posted annually at the entrances to the village of Puisserguier. Similar signs are found across the country.

Aug 16, 2010


Images of rural France often include panoramic views of rolling fields of sunflowers - plants that grow as tall as five feet with blooms that follow the arc of the sun. French textile designers took inspiration from these fields of golden flowers and used them as motifs in printed fabrics.

The first olive background swatch below is from the late 19th century. The beige and gray stylized motif and the second olive background piece are both from the early 20th century.

Next, this large-scale floral print on a red background was earlier than the two above - about 1880.
This oddly stylized version is difficult to understand because although the colors are pretty, the flower is slightly grotesque. Ca. 1900

One of my all-time favorite sunflower prints is this dramatic large-scale pattern from the 1920s!
The last picture is a of hand-embroidered piece that was created as a wall-hanging, ca. 1870.

Aug 7, 2010

Napoleon III silk embroidery on velvet

Sewing was a necessity in homes around the world until after mid-20th century. During the 19th century and earlier, women in France always had a sewing or needlework project close at hand to pick up whenever they were sitting or resting.
Everything was hand-stitched - from clothing to bed linens to draperies and of course, decorative items. Aside from the necessary sewing required for the home, fine embroidery and other decorative hand-stitching was highly valued and some of the workmanship is astonishing.
For this post, I am showing some photos of the silk embroidery on a pair of velvet valances from the Napoleon III era that I had the pleasure of owning briefly a couple of years ago.

Jul 31, 2010


In Europe, until the second half of the 19th century, the common waterlily was a wild plant with plain white flowers. By the 1860s, an enterprising Frenchman named Joseph Latour-Marliac began experimenting with the hybridization of these waterlilies and was soon successful in creating hardy hybrids that could be cultivated. In 1875, he opened a nursery at Temple-sur-Lot in southwest France where he continued the cultivation of waterlilies.
Latour-Marliac used imported lilies from around the world in his hybridization work and had soon created plants with gorgeous flowers in a wide range of colors. In 1889, he exhibited his waterlilies in an expansive jardin d'eau at the Paris World's Fair and created a sensation. One of the visitors to the fair was artist Claude Monet, who soon bought waterlilies from Latour-Marliac in order to create his own jardin d'eau. Monet's paintings have immortalized the 19th century fascination with these beautiful water plants.

Textile companies were soon to follow the trend and produced fabric designs with waterlilies as the central motif. Below are four Art Nouveau fabrics with varying stylization of the waterlily motif.

This next fabric is from the 1920s and incorporates both the waterlily and dragonfly motifs.

And lastly, these two photos were taken at the jardin d'eau of Latour-Marliac in France. The first shows the original basins that existed when Monet bought his water lilies.