Raison d'etre

I am enthusiastic about home design and love French antique and vintage treasures.

This blog is about the things I find and use.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Aubusson Cartoons

Design for Canapè Back - Gouache on heavy paper
Detail of above
Tapestry cartoons were produced by local painters - and sometimes well known artists - as designs for hand weavers to follow in creating tapestries.  In the eighteenth century Charles le Brun and other famous painters at the Royal Court were often responsible for directing the cartoons.  

The designs were painted either in gouache on thick paper or oil on canvas and were pinned below the warp threads of the loom for the weaver to follow when creating tapestries.  On completion the cartoon was rolled up and stored for future use.  Wools and silks were dyed to match the colours of the cartoon which was often cut to allow the weaver, or weavers, to work on a section at a time.  

Aubusson in the departement of Creuse in Central France was the first centre for tapestry weaving dating back to the fifteenth century.  Painting workshops were set up to provide designs for the tapestry weaving industry here and at other centres such as Beauvais and Gobelins.  In 1731 the official Royal painter at Aubusson was Jean-Joseph Dumons who had worked with Boucher in the Beauvais tapestry workshops.

By the end of the nineteenth century the Aubusson tapestry industry had collapsed and the cartoons were left forgotten in factory archives.  In 1951 the river Creuse burst its banks flooding the warehouses and destroying many of the 18th century and some of the 19th century cartoons stored on the lowest racks.Those which survive today are mainly from the nineteenth century and are delightful paintings, in fact pieces of art, in their own right.  They were working designs and thus have marks, pin holes and creases from storage.
Design for a chair seat -Gouache

Chair Back Cartoon - Gouache

Subjects were drawn from fine art - scenes and stories from the Bible, mythology, history and literature.  A particular speciality at Aubusson were 'verdures' - verdant scenes including hunting, nature and the forests of the Massif Central.  

Most of the cartoon painters are unknown and many of the skills were passed down in families with particular painters specialising in animals, flowers or figures. 

Small fragment from larger cartoon - Gouache

The designs range from those produced for furniture - chair and sofa backs and seats to hand woven tapestry hangings.  Becoming much harder to find these lovely tapestry designs are to be treasured when they do appear.
Detail of chair back cartoon cut into four
for weaving and re-assembled

Framed design for a chair back

Framed fragment of larger cartoon
I know of two dealers in cartoons - one is Julia Boston in London who has the most wonderful collection from chair and sofa designs to large tapestries.  The other the recognised specialist in the field - Jean-Yves Lhomond situated in the Puces de St Ouen Paris.

All the illustrations are of cartoons I have owned or sold - the two framed examples are those I have kept..
I am still looking for a large verdure cartoon - one day I shall find it!

Thursday, 28 April 2011


I started buying ecclesiastical antiques in France many years ago.  Back then, as now,  I was interested in design and found that France abounded in different styles from the Baroque to Gothic and that many of the items I found were from churches, monasteries or convents.  It seemed then that so many religious houses were closing or combining that much of their contents found their way into the open market.  I was fortunate to know French dealers who were appointed by the Church to dispose of their surplus artefacts.   I was always drawn to the Gothic style - in England as well as France - and much of what I came across appealed to this sense.  Gothic altar sticks

hanging sanctuary lamps, church vestments

Gothic statue stands

 and church plate

attracted me by their design as well as their significance in liturgy.

So it was with angels.  They are rich in Church symbolism and are found in painting and sculpture

as well as the more mundane, but equally precious, items for personal devotion.

And, of course, on toile

One or two are still with me
however, this is Italian rather than French - Tobias & The Angel - Cantagalli
but many more passed on - I am a dealer after all and need to make a living!  But I do regret having let some of them go.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Story of Joseph - Toile de Nantes

I thought I would give more details of the fragment of Toile de Nantes I bought recently and mentioned in a previous post.  Roller printed in madder on cotton, Nantes Favre Petitpierre et Cie around 1810, the detail of the engraving is very fine and in this piece there are four scenes from Joseph's life.

This image shows Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers

And this the brothers showing Jacob his son's bloodied coat to explain his disappearance
Here Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams prophesying seven years of plenty for the land of Egypt followed by seven lean years

And this, I think, shows Joseph after rejecting the advances of Potiphar's wife which resulted in his being thrown into prison when Potiphar believed his wife's lies that Joseph had attempted to seduce her.  This is often referred to as 'The Chastity of Joseph' and many painting and engravings have been made of the story.

I love these early toiles with generous large vignettes!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A Diversion

I live in a most beautiful part of South Yorkshire and walk in the woods most days.  This weekend's wonderful weather saw me in the forest again among the bluebells and wood anemones which are flowering their hearts out at the moment.

Beneath these were tiny wood violets

Many years ago a local squire had planted an avenue of Yew Trees
and these ancient giants of the forest have over time become gnarled and many trunked 
Taking a lower path returning home I looked over the Flash (a large lake formed in a declivity in the ground from old mine workings) and could see two cormorants perched on their posts in the middle of the water opposite Heron Hide looking for fish.  

All the time there were butterflies - Orange Tips, Brimstones and Cabbage Whites - and the calling of pheasants, as well as more melodious birdsong. It is on days like these that one thanks fortune for the peace and calm of this breathtaking environment.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Newark and Beyond

Two days after the Lincoln fair it was Newark International Antiques & Collectors Fair.  Despite walking around the showground for over four hours my experience was similar to that at Lincoln.  It was difficult to buy - at a price that was affordable.  I was struck by how many empty spaces there were in the inside areas.  April should be one of the busiest fairs in the calendar and, while there were hundreds of outside stalls, (although one complete aisle was missing), many dealers I usually see were absent.
I don’t know whether this was a sign of the fairly depressing economic climate at present in the UK but French stall holders - of which there used to be many - were noticeably absent too.

However, I did find some more Hungarian linens from Beyond France and a lovely set of toile drawers from an English seller who lives in France.  

I was also happy to see good German linens - the fine pure linen mangle cloths are a dream and can be used for so many purposes.  They make great window blinds and, of course, cushion covers. 

 I was delighted to come across a piece of Toile de Nantes dating from 1810 and think I will have a problem parting with it.

Fortunately I later visited and old dealer friend and bought several things from her which made up for the disappointment of the fair.
These picture hook covers are delightful.  I have had those similar to the small ones before but the large are quite rare.  Depicting Napoleon on his horse they are backed with velvet and, I think, date from around 1850.  Only the French would think of producing decorative elements to hide mundane picture hooks!

More antique French ticking, a coat hook on a shaped wooden support together with a French corner shelf in oak were other buys.

The reason for this post so long after Newark is because my cottage has resembled a Chinese laundry for the last few days as I have been busy soaking, washing and ironing those textiles which needed it - and don’t mention mattress ticking which once contained feathers - I had forgotten how labour intensive removing those little blighters was.
Some of these buys will find their way onto ebay - but some will, I think, stick!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A Meagre Haul ... Something Interesting….and Moo Cards

I went to Lincoln Showground yesterday for the relocated Swinderby antiques fair, I hadn’t been since the change of venue.
The first mistake was to go on the second day.  Monday - the first day - has a £25 entrance fee.  I suppose that is an improvement on the £100 one had to pay to get in on the equivalent setting up day at Swinderby!  But please!!!!   Why do these fairs organisers charge so much - in fact, why do they charge at all?  These are trade fairs for heavens’ sake.  There is no entrance fee to trade fairs in France as far as I am aware.  Le Mans and Chartres, which both knock spots off the UK fairs for diversity and real antique and vintage items, certainly have no charge.  Someone will no doubt tell me that there are French venues which charge but I certainly haven’t come across any.  Oh - except for the one North of Paris (the name escapes me) which was taken over by the previous organisers of Newark and they imposed a charge.
The second disappointment was the quantity of repro.  OK repro has its place, I suppose, but not only is it found in the recognisable ‘repro. alley’ both at Lincoln and Newark but it permeates many many other stands too.  Actually I don’t really mean that - I don’t believe that repro. has any place at all!  I would prefer something brand new and of fresh design than endless repetitions of older things - or, more often, stuff that never existed in the first place and is ‘antiqued’ to death.  And yes - there is repro. in France too but so very much less.
So, because I was a cheapskate and opted to pay £5 only on the Tuesday, my buying at Lincoln was exceedingly meagre.  I had the distinct impression that it had all been well picked over the day before and very little of interest was left for me. I was pleased with the three things I bought - a vintage Fortnum & Mason Hamper for my own use, a French feed sack and a Hungarian linen tea towel.  
But so few buys made the event a great disappointment.

The upside was that I discovered ‘Beyond France’  I had seen the web site but it was great to handle the linens in reality and to meet Maud Lomberg the owner.  The Hungarian and other linens are beautiful and so useable.  It certainly opened up to me a world of textiles literally ‘beyond’ France.
Some of the linens are indigo dyed in Hungary following an old tradition

Away from antiques - as Lincoln now styles itself an ‘Antiques and Home Show’ that opens the doors to contemporary stuff.  The one stand I saw which really impressed me was ‘Tented Wardrobes’.  Based in Yorkshire I think they are quite new to the scene and their website (which I checked when I got home) is only partially operating.  However, I loved the fabric covered wardrobes and shelved spaces.

It certainly gave me lots of ideas and I wish them well.

On arriving home I discovered that my order of Mini Moo Cards had arrived.  I am really impressed with this company.  The quality of the cards is excellent and you can upload your own designs for mini cards, business cards and much else.  The prices are reasonable too.