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Sold Archive: Antique Textiles

Salesman's sample of block-printed foulard designs
French (probably Rouen), mid-19th century
121 x 90 in. (307.3 x 228.6 cm)
Rouen, an important industrial city and trade entrepôt on the Seine, had been involved in textile printing since its introduction there in 1763. As a result of advances in textile technology in the Napoleonic era, the factories of Rouen were able to capitalize on the burgeoning market for less expensive, mass-produced printed cottons. By the 1850s, Rouen was particularly known for pictorial or floral foulards, though geometric motifs such as those seen here were also popular. Cut into two pieces from one length and now rejoined, this sample panel with fifty-two neckerchief designs would have been used by a factory representative for several purposes. A continuous panel must have been a useful merchandizing tool because many patterns could be shown to a client at a single glance; or, because of the compact format, it could have been sent to distant clients to aid in placing orders. Much in the way that a stitched sampler served as a pattern reference for an embroiderer, examples like this might have been printed for company archives. Individual numbers for each unique design made ordering or reprinting multiple foulards an easy undertaking. Inspired by Indian bandhannas—tie-dyed scarves primarily made for export to Europe and America—these diminutive foulard samples average eight inches square for the majority of designs. They exploit a simple formula: two colors against an unbleached cotton background in graphic combinations. Each foulard required no more than two carved wood-blocks, one for the rich red shade, another for dark brown. Both colors were conveniently achieved with the same dyestuff—madder plant, an herbaceous member of the coffee family—and two distinct mineral mordants, alum and iron. The blocks were prepared with mordant solutions and impressed on the cotton's surface; the designs printed with alum turned red in the dyebath, while those done with iron yielded brown. Overlapping areas resulted in an intermediary shade of russet. Variations on linear patterns—grids, squares, stripes, rectangles, crosses, checks, and diamonds, some with assorted dots and curvilinear motifs—recalled exotic bandhanna motifs and simplified production without sacrificing their appeal. Keeping manufacturing time, labor and material investments to a minimum meant that market prices could be set low enough to attract the type of customer who sought garments which were hard-wearing and color-fast after frequent washing.

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