Fleurs Tropicales et Palmiers (Tropical Flowers and Palm Trees)

Manufactory Oberkampf Manufactory French

Not on view

The Oberkampf manufactory at Jouy-en-Josas was located just two and a half miles from Versailles and about twelve miles south of Paris. Owner Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf (1738 ・ 1815) established the factory in close proximity to the center of the fashionable world and initially printed textiles only on special commission. One illustrious client took pleasure in the fact that an imitation Indian chintz made at the Jouy manufactory fooled his fellow courtiers, and he boasted of his triumph at the salon of the duchess de Choiseul in 1776.[1]

Though the Jouy manufactory started on a small scale, it became one of the most successful textile-printing enterprises in Europe, and to this day the phrase "toile de Jouy" is used to describe printed cottons with figural patterns. Determined to make the best possible products, Oberkampf himself was closely involved in procuring the necessary raw materials ・ from dyes and mordants to the foundation fabrics on which to print. The ideal fabric was made of evenly spun cotton warps and wefts, resulting in a smooth surface. When Oberkampf found that the cotton and linen textiles produced by French weavers were inconsistent in quality, he did not hesitate to purchase Indian cotton cloth from the French Compagnie des Indes Orientales or the English East India Company. In 1773 he made his first trip to London to visit local calico printers, whose work he considered technically superior, and to purchase an entire year’s supply of Indian cotton cloth.[2] The pattern seen here was very likely printed on Indian yardage: the width of the printed design is narrower than the foundation fabric, indicating that it was not drawn for this particular cotton, which is wider than those woven in Europe at this date.

A drawing for a portion of this textile survives in the Musee de la Toile de Jouy, Jouy-en-Josas, and it includes alternative motifs hidden under flaps of paper adhered to the drawing.[3]

While the identity of the designer is unknown, the lush, fantastic flower heads and bold, curling leaves are clearly modeled on variations of Indian Tree of Life palampores.[4] Despite the large pattern repeat of nearly fifty inches, which might indicate that it was to be used as a furnishing fabric, this textile was most likely intended to be made into an article of clothing such as a banyan; several extant European garments from the second half of the eighteenth century are made from the same type of Indian chintz yardage that this design imitates.

[Melinda Watt, adapted from Interwoven Globe, The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800/ edited by Amelia Peck; New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: distributed by Yale University Press, 2013]


1. This was reported to Oberkampf in a letter from one of his business partners, the socially well-connected Joseph-Alexandre Sarassin de Maraise; see Chapman and Chassagne, European Textile Printers in the Eighteenth Century, p. 147.
2. For a discussion of Oberkampf’s search for cotton fabrics that met his standards, see Bredif, Toiles de Jouy, pp. 30, 65-67.
3. Musee de la Toile de Jouy, Jouy-en-Josas (no. 986.36.3); other extant examples of this textile include one in the Musee de l’Impression sur Etoffes, Mulhouse (no. 981.52.1), and one in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (no. 934.4.182).
4. A similar Oberkampf design (a border design called Bordure de Fleurs Exotiques) of the same date as the present example is closely related to a palampore in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (no. IS.182-1965); see Bredif, Toiles de Jouy, pp. 12, 106. A book of design drawings from the Oberkampf manufactory, based on Indian textiles, survives in the Musee de la Mode et du Textile, Paris; see ibid., pp. 106, 142 n. 20.

Fleurs Tropicales et Palmiers (Tropical Flowers and Palm Trees), Oberkampf Manufactory (French, active 1760–1843), Cotton, block printed, French, Jouy-en-Josas

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