It is an astonishing and fascinating theme, the link between the book and the fabrics: whether they are stretched on the walls, framing the doors and windows or adorning the furniture, the furnishing fabrics inspire literature, and vice versa. With Literature in Indian women in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Toile de Jouy museum explores the literary and musical themes that inspired the decorative arts, in particular those of the indienneurs (editor’s note, fabric manufacturers) to design printed canvases used to decorate interiors.

This exhibition (until 27 mars 2022) will be followed by Fabrics in 19th century literature (from the January 22, 2022). The house of Chateaubriand and the house of Pierre Frey will deal with the interest of writers for textiles as well in the decoration of their interiors as in the narration of their novels.

Alain Montandon, pProfessor in Comparative Literature at the University of ClermontFerrand, and curator of the exhibition Literature in Indian women in the 18th and 19th centuries, served as our guide and deciphered one of the paintings exhibited at the Musée de la Toile de Jouy. Encounter and fascinating explanations.

Les Fables de La Fontaine, circa 1770, printed cotton canvas, Manufacture Oberkampf, coll.  Toile de Jouy Museum, Inv.  979.21.1.b (TRIBVN IMAGING)

In the 18th century, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf moved to Jouy-en-Josas to create his cotton printing factory. Under Napoleon, this manufacture was the third largest company in France. Over 30,000 patterns have been created there during 83 years of activity: initially inspired by fabrics from India, they are gradually giving way to exotic gardens, field flowers, geometric figures and character scenes. . The toile de Jouy is a cotton fabric (known as Indian) on which are represented characters with decorations or landscapes.

It is thanks to the progress of Indian and printing “in copper” that the canvases with figures then become a privileged medium for the representation of literary and musical themes. They are establishing themselves as a new decorative art: in addition to their ideological and memorial function, they also have an educational function in the family environment for adults as well as for children.

The Wolf and the Lamb (Toile de Jouy Museum)

In the exhibition Fabrics and literature. Literature in Indian women in the 18th and 19th centuries, the juxtaposition of 41 canvases, works of art (engravings, books, paintings …), decorative elements (wallpapers, fragments of architecture, armchairs, beds, curtains …) and industrial (maps to play, fans, clocks, screens …) show this influence of literature in the decorative arts. They are supplemented by extracts from explanatory texts.

The selection of the paintings presented here was made due to the literary and aesthetic interest and their availability: “some canvases in poor condition had to be repaired”, explains the curator before adding: “It is very interesting to explore all the culture of an era through these paintings”. For the professor of comparative literature at the University of ClermontFerrand, “they reflect not only the taste but also the great passions of the time such as literature and comic opera. For this reason, the exhibition analyzes them from the perspective of desires (elsewhere, history, love, adventure, wonder and of morality)”.

“There are works that have survived and remained in fashion like Chateaubriand, Racine, La Fontaine, they are great classics”, adds Alain Montandon, “but there are also many works that were extraordinary blockbusters at the time, such as the novels by Sophie Cottin, archi known and available in many editions. So his novel Mathilde – which tells of the loves of a Christian and a Muslim during the Crusades – has been the subject of many engravings and paintings as well as derived objects “.

Exposition "Fabrics and Literature" (Désir d'Aventure section) at the Toile de Jouy museum, November 2021 & nbsp;  (Pauline Pirot / MTDJ)

Alain Montandon deciphers one of the paintings illustrating a novel that had, he explains, “enormously successful”: Paul and Virginie by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1788). This brown canvas, designed by Jean Baptiste Huet and engraved by Georges Lemeunié, was made at the Oberkampf factory in 1803.This large cotton canvas of 2 x 1.4 meters, printed on the copper plate, offers a very pretty bistre color. It is one of the distinctive marks of the Oberkampf manufacture which favored three colors: bistre, blue and sometimes a darker color “.

The commissioner also emphasizes that this canvas contains major themes dear to Oberkampf: the taste for nature, plants and animals. “One of Oberkampf’s great passions was this relationship to pastoral nature. There, in addition, it is the nature of the Ile de France (editor’s note: current Mauritius) and this exotic vegetation that we like to show has also charmed those who owned these paintings “.

The Indienneurs chose particular moments in the novel that were significant in history. For Paul and Virginie, the scenes are not put one after the other as is the case, for example, in the canvas The miller, his son and the donkey de La Fontaine, where we follow the whole story like a comic strip. For Paul and Virginie, there is a fairly random distribution of the engravings, which gives a lot of movement and invites the viewer’s gaze to wander from one scene to another.

The exhibition curator also insists on the fact that here “there is an effect of depth achieved thanks to the juxtaposition of larger engravings and smaller ones”, creating a very interesting movement. “For example, when Madame de la Tour and Marguerite, with their two babies, are already talking about marriage for their two children, it is quite an important scene. On the other hand, in the scene where Virginie leaves for Europe and where we sees Virginie’s mother stretching out her arm towards the boat which is about to go away, there the drawing is smaller. It is the same during the sinking of the boat when Paul is lying on the corpse of Virginia, again the image is smaller “.

Paul et Virginie, 1803, printed cotton canvas, drawing by Jean-Baptiste Huet, engraving by Georges Lemeunnié, Manufacture Oberkampf © MTDJ, inv.  007.10.1 (Toile de Jouy)

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