Jan 7, 2011

Chinoiserie in France, Part 1

Although Chinese forms and porcelain patterns were known in France very early in the 17th century, Chinese-influenced design came to prominence during the reign of Louis XIV (ruled from 1643 to his death in 1715.) Louis XIV's reign was characterized by sophisticated elegance and a flourishing of French art and architecture with the palace at Versailles as an example of French mastery and taste. This elegance and sophistication was promoted by the aristocracy in France and dazzled foreign dignitaries and visitors. The trend of luxury, elegance and good taste was continued during the reign of Louis XV (ruled from 1715-1774.)
The French artist and designer, Jean Pillement (1728-1808) created patterns and tableaux with his unique interpretation of exotic eastern plants, birds and costumes, although he never visited China. Following the design ideas of Pillement, most later textile manufacturers treated various Chinese motifs as part of a design style rather than actually adopting the true concept and form of Chinese art. Thus Chinese motifs, such as figures, chrysanthemums, porcelain pots, bamboo, pagoda, dragons and parasols became mixed and matched in widely varied combinations in French textiles. This style came to be called 'chinoiserie.'

The first two pictures below are black and white copies of designs by Pillement which include meandering vines and flowers, oriental vases, exotic birds as well as oriental-inspired trellis (from the book Painted and Printed Fabrics by Henry Clouzot and Frances Morris.)

This next pattern from about 1870 is very much in the same style as the designs by Pillement, although it was manufactured about 60 years after he died.

As seen above, Pillement's chinoiserie designs were characterized by softly curving stems, soft or dangling flowers and flower forms that mimicked Chinese motifs. Although he worked during the latter half of the eighteenth century, textile manufacturers continued to take inspiration from his work for another century. The fabrics pictured below are all 19th century interpretations of chinoiserie à la Pillement.

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