amy azzaritopast & present

past & present: the history of toile de jouy (part 1)

by Amy Azzarito


[above: Les Traveaux de la Manufacture (The Activities of the Factory), 1783–84, designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet – 14 different scenes in this fabric depict the copperplate printing process via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

I so loved digging into tartan that I thought it might be fun to look at some other patterns that we see everyday. (If you have suggestions for patterns to research for future columns, let me know in the comments.) Because March 2010 marks the 250th anniversary of the founding of Oberkampf factory at Jouy-en-Josas in 1760, – we’ll begin with a little look at a well-known pattern – Toile de Jouy.


[above: 18th century French cotton dress via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Cotton Banned in France
Before we can get into the nitty, gritty of the pattern, we really need to start with the fabric. When cotton was first imported from India to France in the 16th and 17th century, the light, colorful, and easily washable fabric was a wild success. It was used for everything from clothing to wall coverings, curtains and bedclothes. It was so much in demand, that the French government became concerned about the financial impact that this competition would have on French manufactures of silk, wool and cloth. So in 1686, all cotton was banned in France – production, importation and use. Even with the threat of arrest, the fashion continued – clandestinely. Finally in 1759, when the ban proved impossible to enforce, it was lifted and French factories sprung up to satisfy the demand for printed cotton.


[above: Oberkampf family by Louis Léopold Boilly, 1803]

Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf
– founder of the printed cotton manufacture in
Jouy-en-Josas
German-born Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf moved to Paris at the age of 20 in 1758. Both his father and grand-father had been in the cloth dyeing business and as a child, Christophe-Philippe accompanied his father on dyeing jobs. In Paris, Christophe-Philippe was rose quickly through the ranks. In 1759, after just a single year working in Paris, he formed a partnership with his former employer, who had advance warning that the cotton ban was about to be lifted and recognized the importance of Christophe-Philippe’s expertise – the two men decided to manufacture printed cotton.


[above: The factory at Jouy, 1807, by J.-B. Huet via the Le musée de la Toile de Jouy (the cloth is bleached by the sun in the meadow – the cloth was spread pattern-side down and sprinkled with water six to eight times a day for six days.)]

The factory in Jouy-en-Josas
Attracted by the clean water of the Bièvre river, the pair set up their factory in town of Jouy-en-Josas. In the early days of the business, Christophe-Philippe worked alone with his brother and the only item of furniture the pair possessed was the printing press – which he slept on at night. The demand for printed cotton was feverish and the company grew quickly. By 1805, the factory employed 1,322 workers. In 1770, after satisfying the 10 years residency requirements, Christophe-Philippe became a French citizen. In 1790, he became the first mayor of Jouy-en-Josas.

CLICK HERE for more about Toile de Jouy



le ballon de gonesse, c. 1784 -The pattern is based on two etching made shorly after the Montgolfier brothers successful ascent in hydrogen-filled hot air balloons

Copperplate Technology = Toile de Jouy!
The early printed cotton was produced using woodblocks. In 1770 Oberkampf began using copperplate printing at Jouy – the technique had been used abroad in England and Ireland for a number of years, but Oberkampf was the first cotton manufacturer to bring copperplate printing technology into France. Because the lines on the engraved copperplates are finer than those on wood blocks, one was able to introduce the effects of light and shade. The copperplates also allowed for a larger repeating pattern. This opened up the possibility for designs – no longer limited to florals or geometric designs – Oberkampf commissioned the best artists to design pastoral scenes with humans figures.  This new style allowed for the fabric to depict major events of the time period such as the first balloon flight (above) or the fascination with Egypt (below).

[Les monuments d’Égypte designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet and inspired by eight engravings after drawings by the painter Louis-François Cassas via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Fact to Know

  • In total, more than 30, 000 designs were created at the Jouy manufacture, many of them the work of renowned 18th-century artists such as Fragonard and Boucher.
  • Rue Oberkampf in the 11th arrondissement of Paris is named for Christophe-Philippe.
  • While the phrase toile de jouy literally translates as cloth from jouy, it has come to refer to the single-color print of a pastoral scene (usually) on a white ground

Books to Read

  • Toile de Jouy – This is my favorite of the two books listed here. Both had similar information – I just responded more to this organization.
  • Printed French Fabrics – Toiles de Jouy
  • The Age of Comfort – One of my all-time favorite books – the ins and outs of the fashion of comfort in 18th century France – it has a chapter on the advent of cotton in France.

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