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.