T&CC 1976.57.58, toile depicting Paul et Virginie, mid 18th to early 19th century
To learn more about the historical background of Toile de Jouy, read Part 1 here.
by Mia Madrid
Though not all toiles are from Jouy, France (many in our collection are likely English), they are broadly categorized as Toile de Jouy if they feature the signature style of these formative designs. As the founder of the Jouy printing company that defined this style, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf commissioned or employed distinguished artists such as Jean-Baptiste Huet who created designs ranging from bucolic to tragic to exotic.
One such toile in the Textile & Costume Collection tells the tale of Paul et Virginie, or Paul and Virginia, a novel written by Jacque-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre about a young couple who grew up together on the island of Mauritius while it was under French rule. The book was written on the eve of the French Revolution and while it criticizes both classism and slavery, it is also a love story between the titular characters. The toile depicts several dramatic scenes from the book in repeated motifs including Virginie’s eventual death by drowning after a shipwreck (see detail image above).
Another toile in our collection features a framed scene of a wolf and a sheep, which is another design by Jean-Baptiste Huet who was inspired by Le Fontaine’s “Fables.” This motif is best known as a feature in the toile Le Loup et l’Agneau or “The Wolf and The Lamb,” which is on display at the Musee de la Toile de Jouy, and in both the MET and Art Institute of Chicago collections as well. However, our version does not have the same motifs of Venus and Diana, and includes a different trellis background and a different arrangement of decorative medallions. This poses an interesting puzzle about the origins of this piece because, as author and authority in textile printing Joyce Storey writes, “hand engraving was a time consuming job and therefore to change a design already on a copper roller to another one seems unlikely.” It’s possible that this is a later 19th century reproduction of the original design, but we are still searching for more information about this mysterious piece.
Yet another noteworthy toile we have at the Design Center is a large furnishing fabric that features the Jean-Baptiste Huet design Les Quatre Parties du Monde, or “Four Quarters of the Globe,” which includes scenes of people, animals and foliage from four regions, each carefully labeled in the print: Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. One panel of this fabric stands alone, but another is affixed to yet another distinguished design: L’Abreuvoir or “The Watering Place” (pictured at left; T&CC 19220.127.116.11). This toile includes scenes of animals and people drinking at various fountains or natural water sources.
Together, these fabrics appear to have been fashioned into part of a bedspread or an elaborate dressing for a four-poster bed, and we even have accessory pieces of the toiles as valances, bed skirts, curtains, and tie backs. Though not yet verified, our donor records indicate that this collection may have originally been owned by Louis Comfort Tiffany – iconic decorative artist known for his stained glass lamps, and son of Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany. The set was included in the Design Center’s first exhibition in 1978 – “A Fabric Bestiary” – which presented animal-themed textiles from around the world and throughout history.
Thanks to their highly illustrative nature, Toiles de Jouy offer us a glimpse into European life and beyond during the late 18th and early 19th century. Their rich visual imagery will undoubtedly be in homes and garments for years to come, and it was a privilege to document the pieces we have in the Design Center collection because the longer I looked at them and researched, the more stories they told.
To view more of our toiles, visit our online collection on JSTOR.
Riffel, Mélanie, and Sophie Rouart. Toile De Jouy Printed Textiles in the Classic French Style. Thames Hudson, 2003.