History of french textiles

History of French Textiles

France, in the seventeenth century by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, lost great numbers of trained designers and weavers. England, Switzerland and Holland greatly benefited by this event, and the weavers who had been trained in France introduced their trade to the neighboring countries.

Until the last quarter of the seventeenth century Italy led the world in the production of textiles and France merely copied the Italian designs. Not only are the designs a repetition, but technically they are also woven the same as the Italian textiles. It was not until the eighteenth century that the French designers started to manifest an individual style in everything from fabric to fireplace designs.

One means of sometimes identifying the early french fabrics is by the French crown motif which is sometimes used. Under Louis XIV, France became the art center of the world, and the Italians commenced to copy the patterns which were originated by the French artists. Patterns were still large and became much more naturalistic, and the modeling of the highlights and shadows was greatly developed.

Although extremely massive in detail, proportions were carefully studied, and the artists of this period deserve great commendation. France produced the most important innovations in textile design in the eighteenth century.

Silk manufactories were established at Orleans, Lille, Paris and Toulouse, in addition to those already established in Lyons and Tours. Lyons led the world in the production of silks and the entire output of precious brocades and silks was used by the royal court. The pomegranate motif may still be seen, but we find a new group of additional decorative forms. Plant forms become more conventional.

The rococo style appeared about 1725, and showed designs in large scale. This style did not show a symmetrical arrangement. Vertical flowing ribbons, alternating sprays of flowers form the dominating design. The ribbon motif showed a great swing and was usually fluttering.

Under the late Louis XV a reaction took place. More graceful and lighter detail was introduced. The style became feminized. Due to new trade relationships between France and China, and an exchange of textiles between the reigning monarchs, Chinese designs were copied on the French looms.

Under Louis XVI, the textile designs followed the general character of architecture and decoration. The Louis XVI silks show the ribbon motif gradually becoming a straight vertical line or used as a bow or knot to the garlands and festoons of flowers.

Flower motifs are not only designed to appear true to nature, but the coloring also approaches the natural tone. This particular feature was important in the development of textiles because it necessitated an unusual technical change. Colored weft threads were introduced running through only a portion of the width of the material and became popularly used as fireplace screens.

Classic forms were again introduced and the inspiration for this style came from the discoveries being made at this time at Herculaneum and Pompeii, such as antique vases, torches, cornucopias and medallions. Textile art also turned to painted wall panels for inspiration. Architecture had a great influence on the fabrics.

Symmetry again prevailed, and all violence in line and color was eliminated. With the short and rather unfortunate Empire period, the nineteenth century was ushered in. Taste in all countries depreciated and the introduction of machinery turned the manufacturers to thoughts of quantity more than quality. Patterns of classical subjects continued, but were usually badly copied.

The French Revolution nearly destroyed the production of silk fabrics. When Napoleon became Emperor he revived an interest in the silk industry, especially at Lyons, and appropriated large sums of money in order to renew its fame. All materials for decoration and the court costumes were purchased from the government mills.

In a short time Lyons was again the leading silk center of Europe. The distribution of the ornament of the Empire style is not particularly good and the coloring is sometimes harsh. The effeminate designs of the Louis XVI period disappear, as well as all the motifs recalling the court life of the previous reigning kings.

The commercial struggle between the countries became acute, and it was not until the twentieth century was well under way that a marked revival of taste was noticed. The invention of the Jacquard looms in 1801 created a commercial epoch in the history of fabrics on account of the greater variety of designs. Today exquisite reproductions of the historic patterns are being made and much original work done in both Europe and America.

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