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.

Jul 25, 2010

Chocolate, cocoa and cacao

Reading a news story today about a commodities trader who is busy cornering the world market on cacao, I decided to recount a brief history of chocolate from an article in the April 2007 issue of Art et Décoration.

Cacao is a New World plant. When the Spanish explorers first landed in Mexico in 1519, they were welcomed by Montezuma and the Aztecs as if they were gods and were served the 'drink of the gods' - hot chocolate made with water and spiked with plenty of hot pepper.
A decade later, in 1528, chocolate was finally imported into Spain, but by then, the drink had been modified to suit Spanish tastes. Hot pepper was no longer in the mixture; instead the drink was flavored with cane sugar and vanilla.
The taste for drinking chocolate spread across Europe as travelers and visitors to Spain took the cacao bean with them. In Italy, the Jesuits cornered the cocoa market and created new recipes for drinking hot chocolate, often flavoring the drink with lemon or jasmine.
There was one problem though. Chocolate was marketed as invigorating and an aphrodisiac, so was frowned upon by the Church elders. This ethical question was overcome as the hot drink gained in popularity across Europe.
When Anne of Austria (born and raised in Spain) married France's King Louis XIII, she brought the chocolate craze to the French court. The enjoyment of drinking hot chocolate received an additional boost in 1661 when the French Académie de médicine listed the curative values of chocolate. The first French chocolate shop opened in Bayonne in 1687.
By 1866, almost 200 years later, chocolate was officially listed as part of French pharmacological treatment. Luckily for us, modern medicine has also 'discovered' that dark chocolate has positive health benefits.
Below is a scanned image from the Art et Décoration article.

Jul 16, 2010

French Arts and Crafts embroideries

As the Arts and Crafts movement gained in popularity at the end of the 19th century, the 'natural' look became a theme in home decor and found expression in many decorative hand-made objects. The crafts were usually done by women and included pottery, needlework, painting and more. French homemakers, who were skilled at needlework favored pieces made of natural linen which were then hand-embroidered. The charming motifs were also 'natural', i.e. plants, flowers and fruits. These linen pieces took many forms, including bags, knitting bags, letter and lingerie holders, pillows, valances, umbrella covers - the list was only limited by the imagination of the creator. Many women subscribed to stitchery magazines and used the ideas and patterns offered on the pages.
The first picture below shows a bouquet of mistletoe. The mistletoe was embroidered on a hand-made linen valance that would have been hung across the top of a doorway.
The second is a lined 'envelope' for storing silk stockings or fine lingerie. The motif, oddly enough, is also mistletoe, but this piece was bought in a different region of France several months after the valance above.
The linen holder hung from the loop at the top. Its purpose was to held letters or correspondence which would have been slid in from the side.
The last photo shows a small drawstrong handbag. Be sure to note the fancy scalloped top edge and the variegated drawstring that matches the colors of the embroidered motif.

Jul 3, 2010

July holiday celebrations

July 1 is Canada Day, July 4 is American Independence Day and July 14 is French National Celebration(La Fête Nationale.) All three countries celebrate in a similar manner with family get-togethers, parades, barbecues, picnics and fireworks.
Have a safe and exuberant July!
Monet bought his famous water lilies from  the Jardin des Nénuphars Latour-Marliac, Le Temple-sur-Lot, France (photo July 2000)