History of Toile de Jouy www.museedelatoiledejouy.fr

"Offrande à l'Amour" (vers 1785)
Impression à la planche de cuivre, d'après un dessin de J.B Huet.

Mechanization: the key to progress in printing techniques

At the beginning the printing technique was inspired by traditional Indian methods. Mechanization then enabled to produce much greater quantities of toile (or cloth). During the first ten years (1760-1770), wood block printing was the only method used and polychrome prints were produced. The cloth coming from France, Switzerland or India was first washed in the river ‘La Bièvre’, then beaten to remove its dressing and dried. Those processes were then mechanized. After drying, the cloth was put into a calender to smooth it.

For the actual printing process, wooden blocks were carved to reproduce specific patterns in relief. ‘Mordants’(starch, iron aceta or alumna) were then applied on to the wooden block, which was then used to print the prepared cloth . Therefore dyes weren’t directly applied on to the cloth but ‘mordants’ were. After treatment, these ‘mordants’ revealed the desired colors.

After printing, the cloth was rinsed in a vat of cow dung and then washed. In order to reveal the colors on the areas stamped by the ‘mordants’, the cloth was plunged into a vat full of dye, made from madder roots. This process is called ‘garançage’. A range of colors was obtained using this technique: from dark red to soft pink, from black to lilac, violet or brown. Since the background would become pinkish, the cloth was laid out in the prairies to bleach. To print patterns in yellow and blue, the dyes were directly applied on to the cloth. Until 1808 green was obtained by applying layers of blue and yellow. In 1808 Samuel Widmer, Oberkampf’s nephew, discovered a green dye that could be applied directly on to the cloth.

After the finishing touches, a last coating was applied to some of the pieces. This coating was made of a mixture of wax and starch. Once coated the piece was flattened through a hot calender. To give a satin finish, the piece was then smoothed using a machine called ‘lissoir’, which consisted of an articulate arm that would flatten the cloth with ‘marbles’ of agate or crystal.

From 1770 onwards, etched copper plates replaced the wooden blocks. This copper plate technique enabled monochrome printing and marked the beginning of printed scenes with characters, which made the toiles de Jouy famous. In 1797, the copper roller (invented by a Scotsman in 1783) was introduced. Productivity was greatly improved using this roller technique: up to 5000 meters could be produced in one day!

Historical background

At the end of the XVIth century, navigators from Portugal, England or Holland started to import bright colorful printed fabrics to Europe. These fabrics quickly became the latest fashion and imports grew.
In France, the ‘Compagnie des Indes’, established in 1664, travelers’ exotic stories and diplomatic relations with Siam and other distant countries, enhanced the vogue for Indian fabrics.

In 1686 Le Pelletier, secretary of trade under Louis XIV, convinced the king to decree a nation-wide ban on import and production of those Indian fabrics. The ban was finally lifted in 1759 and France had a big gap to close in fabric production. The lifting of the ban attracted many foreigners who had technical printing expertise. Amongst them was the Bavarian engraver and colorist Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf who decided to set up his own business and to improve printing processes. The river ‘La Bièvre’ was already well-known for its chemical properties favorable to the washing of fabrics; therefore he chose Jouy-en-Josas to set up his factory. Production started in 1760 and the business quickly grew to be a great success.

During the first ten years, traditional wood block printing was the technique used to produce polychrome designs. (Wood block printing and the techniques used afterwards are described in the section above.) In 1770 the copper plate printing process was introduced in Jouy. This new technique made printing big patterns with very fine designs possible. Thus designs of scenes with characters, inspired from true stories, novels, operas or legends were created and printed. Those monochrome designs became the reference of ‘Toile de Jouy’ and still are today.

In 1783 Oberkampf brought in the well-known painter Jean-Baptiste Huet, who became his head designer. That same year the factory was granted the title ‘Manufacture Royale’ by Louis XVI.

It is important to state that ‘Toile de Jouy’ has a double meaning. The term not only evokes the fabrics created at the Jouy-en-Josas factory (bucolic designs or ones with mythological figures, ‘Indiennes’ or designs inspired from India with flowers and fruits in bright colors, and other geometric patterns) but also, by extension, fabrics with similar monochrome designs depicting country scenes printed in other factories, such as the ones in Nantes, Orange, Bordeaux, Bourges, Rouen and Alsace. ‘Toile de Jouy’ became a label that refers to a style of print.

In 1797 the copper roller, also called the ‘bastringue’, replaced the copper plates and productivity was greatly improved. In 1805, production attained 1 450 000 meters, of which 890 000 meters using the copper roller.

In 1806 the factory reaches its peak and is considered to be the most important one in Europe.

When Napoleon visits the factory and grants him the renowned ‘legion d’honneur’, Oberkampf is at the height of his career. In 1815 Emile Oberkampf takes over the factory at his father’s death. Juste Barbet buys the factory in 1822 and the name of the factory is changed to ‘Barbet Jouy’.

The factory is closed in 1843 due to trade competition. The quality and fineness of the designs were matchless but certain pieces needed up to six months work. Most of the copper rollers disappeared since then due to wars. Today only 14 have been preserved.
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