Toile - a brief history

    The word "toile" refers to any of the printed fabrics pioneered in the town of Jouy (pronounced zhoo-E) in France centuries ago and now undergoing a resurgence in the home fabrics and home decor markets, particularly in the United States.

    The story of toile is the story of the development of the printed fabric industry in France and in the West in general.  In the Middle Ages in Europe it was rare to find clothing with decorative images.  When the Portuguese explorers opened a sea route to India in the late 15th century, they were able to introduce Indian painted cottons to Europeans.  

    These "Indiennes", as they were called, were brightly-colored, block-printed cotton fabrics that were light-weight and washable. By the end of the 17th century they had gained a substantial market throughout France and all of Europe.  

    Concerned that these lovely Indian imports were destroying the French fabric industry, King Louis XIV placed an embargo on the importation of Indian fabrics.  Despite the embargo, demand was so great that Indian fabrics continued to make their way into the country, leading the French monarchy to aid in the establishment of a factory, right in France, that could compete with the foreign imports.

    As a result, in 1759 a program was begun to recruit foreign fabric manufacturers and specialists, particularly from Switzerland and the German state of Wurttemberg.  The following year the Manufacture Royale de Jouy was established in Jouy-en-Josas, a little town near Versailles, just southwest of Paris.

    This "Royal Factory of Jouy" was founded by a man named Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, the descendant of a family of dyers in Wurttemberg.  By 1806 the factory employed as many as 1,300 workers who printed literally miles of fabric using the Indian block-printing method which allowed for repetitive designs printed in single colors.

    Over the years Oberkampf refined the technology of block printing and replaced it with the use of copper sheets that were mounted on rollers, producing a continuous image.  Oberkampf's lead artist, Jean-Baptiste Huet (1745-1811) created images based not only on oriental subjects but also on the lovely fields, flowers and scenes of Provence.  These "cameos", as they were called, eventually became known as "toiles de Jouy" (Jouy fabrics) or "Provence fabric."  Many of Huet's designs are still in use today.

    In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in "toile" images and Provence fabric, and basic toile designs have had an enormous impact in the marketplace, particularly in the United States.

    They can be found not only on home fabrics for kitchen, bath and bedroom, but also on picture frames, boxes, window treatments, clothing and accessories, and a vast array of products.

    Many if not most companies use traditional Jouy toile designs that are available to everyone.  We at Porterfield's created a special design division we're calling NewToile.com in order to give manufacturers more variety in design and far greater flexibility in colors.  Our initial designs are on the pages of this site and over time you'll see it grow, affording you an increasing body of lovely new toile images for your own products. 

For more information on how to license the works of this artist,  please contact Lance Klass, President, Porterfield's Fine Art, 5 Mountain Road, Concord NH 03301-5479, (800) 660-8345 or email us right now.  Please state your specific interest in the art, whether licensing, authorized reproduction, or other potential usage when contacting us.
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