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.

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