CLASSICAL DESIGNS ON ANTIQUE FRENCH COTTON TEXTILES
Contributed by: www.Marks4Antiques.com
It is seldom that a designer is called upon to make such a sharp transition in style, as was the case with Jean Baptiste Huet, chief designer at Oberkampf's cotton printing factory at Jouy, France. When he first began to work for Oberkampf, in 1783, the growing classic revival had not yet altogether swept away the charming genre scenes and rococo scrolls and arabesques which he adapted with such skill in his cartoons for toiles. But aesthetically as well as politically a revolution was brewing. In 1780 Jacques Louis David returned to Paris from a sojourn in Greece, burning with a zeal for classicism which was to become practically a religion. The general feeling of the day was summed up by the archaeologist Quatremere de Quincy when he indicated his conviction that the ideal of absolute beauty had been revealed for all time to the Greeks on Mount Olympus, as the law had been revealed on Mount Sinai.
A new interest in classicism had been making itself felt in the decorative arts for some time. The French Revolution gave classicism an added political sanction; by returning in spirit to the classic democracies people felt cleansed from the aristocratic taint. As Louis Hourticq has said, "At a time when furniture was Pompeian and costume Greek, when political speeches were translations from Livy and Plutarch, it is not surprising that David and Guerin should have resuscitated Leonidas and Pericles." David's ‘Oath of the Horatii’, painted in 1785, started a craze that was to sweep the country. The heroes of antiquity were exalted to the position of saints, and everybody clamored for scenes from Plutarch and the classic historians and representations of the gods. The Oberkampf factory fell into line with the new trend in the 1790's, and Huet gave an entirely new treatment to the mythological and classical subjects which had first appeared about 1780. The new designs, instead of being repeated vignettes, were characterized by a geometric treatment, such as ovals and rectangular medallions.
Though the best known, Oberkampf's was by no means the only cotton printing factory in France. Other centers were at Angers, Avignon, Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, Mulhouse, Nantes, Orleans, Beauvais, and Rouen. The census of 1806 showed some 145 cotton-printing factories in France. All the factories responded to the classical vogue, their designers seeking inspiration from paintings and engravings.
Angelica Kauffman's ‘Cupid and the Graces’ provided inspiration for several designs whereas others may possibly be from English literature sources; all may have been transmitted through the medium of the engravings of Bartolozzi.
A Rouen cotton of about 1815, shows a doorway inscribed ‘Temple des Souvenirs’, where Gratitude or Grateful Memory welcomes Virtue attended by Wisdom and Innocence. A second motif shows the barge of Time, on which Fame, Beauty, and Love are attended by blind Justice. Time grasps the arm of Friendship and tries vainly to draw her on board. Below is a motto to the effect that all things change with time except friendship.
A Huet pattern from Jouy, made about 1800, illustrates the tendency toward a compact, rigidly controlled design that came in with the nineteenth century. In the large oval medallion is an altar to Demeter, the corn and cereals goddess, attended by two priestesses. Demeter holding a serpent is probably intended by the figure in the rectangular motif. Between is a sacrificial ram with a stalk of corn, symbolical of the harvest. The altar attended by cupids and doves is probably that of Venus.
In the ‘Four Elements’ dating from about 1815, Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon, drawn by dolphins, represents water; Priapus, god of plenty and fruitfulness, reclining under tropical trees with an array of fruits at his feet, represents earth; Juno, drawn through clouds by her peacock chariot, represents air; and Vulcan, working at his forge, represents fire. The central design, more stylized in the nineteenth-century style of Percier and Fontaine, depicts the implements of agriculture representing earth, an eagle representing air, a pair of salamanders guarding an urn of flaming coals representing fire, and fish and eels representing water. The signs of the Zodiac, drawn in Empire style, form the border.
An unusually close copy of David's ‘Leonidas at Thermopylae’, painted in 1814has in the center Leonidas surrounded by some of the three hundred Spartans who remained with him after the main troops had been sent back to attack the advancing Persians in 480 B.C. A traitor guided the Persians to a secret entrance to the pass, and in the famous conflict which ensued the Spartans perished to a man. At the right Spartan warriors are taking their arms from the trees, to the rear of Leonidas a father is saying farewell to his son and youths are offering crowns on the altar of Hercules, at the extreme left the blind Eurities is guided to the conflict by his servants, while the soldier who has climbed to the wall of the cliff is engraving the epitaph of this heroic Greek land.
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