Feb 26, 2010

Tropical birds in French textile motifs

Birds and animals have long been favorite motifs on French textiles.  During the latter part of the 19th century, as private menageries became fashionable amongst the wealthy, textile manufacturers began to incorporate exotic creatures into their designs. Lions and monkeys were favored animal motifs and were usually pictured surrounded by tropical plants and flowers. Parrots and cockatiels joined the multitude of bird motifs already popular in France.
The first two swatches are from the latter part of the 19th century. The brown background piece uses flying parrots, butterflies and palm fronds to set the ambiance. The pale background swatch utilizes colors that were favored in the sunny South of France - blue-green and coral. Palm fronds, banana leaves and ferns set the stage for the jaunty cockatiels and flying parakeets.
The love of exotic and tropical birds persisted into the early 20th century, and textile manufacturers were happy to design for the demand. The first piece below uses the formal French classic stripe pattern, but with a twist. The main motif is an exotic bird, perched on a branch of a local plum tree rather than on a tropical plant. The narrower stripe is filled with bunches of French grapes. 
The middle swatch below is seemingly a glimpse into a winter garden, and includes parrots on peony bushes, mixing local plants with tropical birds. The last swatch has a similar mixture of local and exotic, combining parrots with roses and peonies, in a stylized rendering that looks like a painting.

Feb 19, 2010

Variety with only one color

Monochromatic prints - one color printed on white - have often been used as a method of cost-cutting.  In fact, one of the rationales behind beautiful French toiles was to save money by printing in only one color.

Using a single color can add drama by simplifying, and thus emphasizing the motif.
During the 19th century, the cost of paying a highly-trained and talented artist to create designs for textiles was less than the cost of using complicated printing techniques that required expensive mordants and dyes.
A finely-detailed pattern would be commissioned from an artist for a monochromatic motif. The design was then engraved on printing plates or rollers. The rollers could be used for many printing runs which saved production costs and the use of a single color dye made further cost savings.

The first example below of a monochromatic print is the charming toile based on neoclassical motifs and includes cherubs, squirrels, parrots and butterflies.  The second example is a 19th century red on white, but with a complicated tonal pattern that required more than one pass of the printing plate.

The motif becomes all-important as can be seen in these examples. The blue on white and the red on white are both 19th century prints.  Both of these prints are on a fancier cotton with a woven stripe pattern. The green on white is a 1930s stylized motif on a plain cotton.

In the next pair, one color printed on white, the designer has left the motif white and has used the color on the background instead. The orange example is a 19th century fabric and the green is from early 20th century.

Feb 12, 2010

French antique scenic fabrics

A popular motif in French textile design, especially during the 19th century, has been a scenic vignette - a snapshot of an aspect of life - framed with foliage and flowers. The people portrayed in these small stories varied widely and could include characters from the ancienne regime or farmers or even children. Romantic and celebratory themes were popular.
We'll start with the most unusual, which are pieces that depicted children. The first piece below, from late 19th century, shows children and animals at play. The second shows children, preteens really, at work.

 Tranquil country folks with their animals, usually from a bygone era, was a recurring theme and was often mixed with romantic idealism. The first two pictures below are from a 19th century quilt and depict a young lady tending her sheep. The next two are 19th century fabrics with a decidedly romatic theme. In the first, a young man plays flute for his young lady who is caressing a lamb and next, a young man leaves roses for a young lady asleep in the garden.

The last two are 19th century fabrics depicting a romanticized interpretation of country life during the ancienne regime, the years prior to the French Revolution. 

Feb 5, 2010

A ritual for writing checks

Writing checks is never much fun, and luckily, electronic payment systems have lessened that burden.

Elsie de Wolfe, who created the art of interior decoration and who promoted the beauty of French fabrics and French design, added interest and drama to her life's daily events that would otherewise be mundane. Her dramatic ritual for writing checks appeared in a small note in the January 9, 1926 issue of The New Yorker.

"Elsie de Wolfe makes rite of writing checks. The check book is kept on a rare Italian piece, elevated as an altar. The book is bound in rich leather. Miss de Wolfe mounts the altar, draws on her slender hands a pair of gloves which match perfectly the shade of leather binding the book, and proceeds to pen the document to order of whoever it may be."

VoilĂ . Extraordinary.