Research on Antiques & Collectibles


Contributed by:

CHINTZ, a familiar household word today, first came into our vocabulary in the seventeenth century. It comes from a Hindu word meaning spotted or variegated, and described the charming hand-painted and resist-dyed cottons first imported into Europe from India by the East India Companies. "Spotted or variegated" is a very mild term for some designs, especially when we consider that they were startlingly different from anything seen before in seventeenth-century Europe. Velvets, brocades, and damasks then in fashion contained either large symmetrical designs of highly stylized flowers and foliage, or small repeated patterns of geometric forms or stiff little leaf sprigs. The Indian designs in contrast were alive with free naturalistic movement, the floral forms full of fantasy, the colors brilliant. They were practical and could be washed and lost none of their brilliance in laundering.

Their appeal was immediate and an ever-increasing demand for them continued through the seventeenth century and late into the eighteenth, particularly in France and England where their influence had a lasting effect on textile design in the fields of printed cottons and embroideries. The designs found in Indian chintzes fall into two groups, the flowering tree and the allover floral pattern. The first type is truly exotic in design; it contains an endless variety of fantastic flowers blossoming on a tree which is usually shown growing on a patterned mound. Close examination is always worth while. It reveals a wealth of incidental detail: birds, butterflies, and in some cases flying squirrels among the branches, animals and sometimes human figures in the mounds. Usually, a wide floral border and a narrow inner border of tiny flower sprigs complete the panels. These were used for house furnishings, wall hangings, curtains, bedhangings, and bedspreads. "The late Queen Mary," wrote Defoe in 1725, "set up a rich atlas and chintz bed, which in those times was invaluable, the chintz being of Masulipatam on the coast of Coromandel, the finest that ever was seen before that time." A 'beautiful eighteenth-century example is the four-poster bed hung with Indian chintzes ordered by David Garrick for his wife, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The second type of design was laid out like the flowering tree panels with a central area and a border all around, but the entire field was covered with a repeated design of floral sprays. These became fashionable materials and were cut up and made into dressing gowns for men and dresses for women. Consequently, very few panels have survived intact. The Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology in Toronto, Canada, is fortunate in having some, as well as a number of excellent examples of the flowering tree design in the Harry Wearne collection.

Indian chintzes were produced by a very slow and tedious method of hand painting and resist dyeing. The process and the ingredients of the dyes used were carefully recorded in 1742 by Father Coeurdoux, a Jesuit missionary in Pondicherry, in his ‘Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses’, a translation of which may be found in G. P. Baker's ‘Calico Painting and Printing in the East Indies in the XVII and XVIII Centuries’. The design was first drawn on paper and the outline perforated. This was then laid over the cloth and powdered charcoal pounced through the perforations. The outline was then painted in, usually in black. Blue was applied by resist dyeing: all those areas which did not require blue were painted over with wax, and the cloth was submerged in a vat of indigo dye, after which the wax was removed by melting it in hot water.

Madder, the red dye, required a mordant. This was painted on and then the cloth was soaked in a vat of madder dye. It was then laid out in the sun to bleach, the color bleaching out of those parts which had not been mordanted. Yellow, the least permanent of all the colors, was painted in, and green produced by painting yellow over blue. After each dyeing operation there were numerous rinsings to prepare the cloth for the next stage. Finally, it was glazed and was ready for market.

Chintzes were very costly, made so partly by the process of manufacture but mostly by the long journey from India around the Cape of Good Hope and its attendant vicissitudes. The demand far exceeded the supply, and to fill it the textile printers in Europe adapted the cheaper and quicker process of woodblock printing.

Woodblock printing on textiles had been done in Europe since medieval times, with designs that were for the most part slavish copies of those found in the rich woven silks and made for those who could not afford such luxuries. They were printed on silk or, more often, linen, and have been found in Germany. The Indian chintzes gave fresh inspiration, and once the secrets of the hitherto unknown process of mordant dyeing were learned, many factories opened up in France and England. This prosperous state of affairs was not destined to last. Complaints began pouring in from the silk weavers in France and the wool weavers in England to their respective governments. They maintained that the textile-printing industry was ruining their business, and as the silk and the woolen industries were of vital importance to France and England, their complaints were listened to. In 1686 a ban was laid on the manufacture of printed cottons and the importation of Indian chintzes into France, and a similar prohibition followed in England about 1701.

These drastic measures might be expected to deal a death blow to the industry, but the demand for printed and painted cottons continued and a black market flourished. Cargoes of chintzes unloaded at Marseilles and destined for other European countries never reached their destinations. Printing factories operated surreptitiously on protected church properties; even the enforcement of the death penalty was of no avail. The struggle was finally given up and the ban raised in France in 1759. In England the authorities relented more gradually; printing on material with a linen warp and cotton weft was permitted in 1736, but all restrictions were not removed until 1774.

From that time on a beautiful array of printed cottons, a number of which have survived to the present day, flowed on the market in both France and England. They were called "Indiennes" and many show Indian influence, particularly in the exotic floral forms. The most successful are probably the allover repeated designs of sprays of flowers springing from meandering stems or branches. They range from large bold designs suitable for house furnishings to small delicate patterns for dress materials.

The most famous factory was that of Christophe Philippe Oberkampf at Jouy en Josas near Versailles, the name of which has become synonymous with certain types of printed textiles today called "toiles de Jouy." The name applies to those designs similar to or taken from the copper-plate printed textiles designed for the Jouy factory by Jean Baptiste Huet and others, and containing repeated patterns of groups of figures usually at pastoral pursuits. These were the pieces de resistance of the Jouy factory, but formed only a small fraction of its production, which, like that of the other factories, consisted chiefly of Indiennes.

The French Revolution severely disrupted the textile-printing industry, but it survived and gathered momentum during the nineteenth century with the development of speedier methods of printing. Indian floral designs found less favor than in the past, but a certain number were produced, just as they are today.

Chintz designs were also an inspiration to embroidresses. They were permitted to ply their needles unmolested by restrictions, and curtains, bedspreads, chair covers, and costumes were decorated with a variety of designs by diligent and imaginative needlewomen for their homes and persons. From England come the earliest and greatest number of examples, America and France providing the balance. Embroidered curtains and hangings showing either the Indian Tree or only meandering flowering branches, and worked in colored wools on linen and cotton twill, are the so-called crewelwork so characteristic of late Stuart and of William and Mary decoration. The seventeenth-century pieces were worked in a variety of stitches among which long and short stitch and stem stitch most frequently occur. In the eighteenth century chain stitch gained in favor and many of the finest examples of that period are done entirely in exceedingly fine chain stitch in silk or wool on linen.

It is curious that chintz designs had practically no influence on woven fabric patterns. Designers for velvets, damasks, and brocades produced silks of magnificent design and incredible technical skill but preferred to apply their genius to the baroque and rococo styles with occasional flights of fancy into chinoiserie, and later, when the excavations in Greece and of Pompeii/Herculaneum caught their imagination, to designs from classical ornament. Not until the end of the century did Indian design play an important part in the weaving industry, and then in a very different way through the fashion for Kashmir shawls.

For prices and auction results on Antique Textiles, please see our service.