Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Étoffe d'époque

photo: RMN Anne-Sophie Grillat for the Manufacture Prelle
This yellow Gros de Tours with lilac-filled medallions was woven for Napoleon when he planned the   installation of his fourth salon in his apartments at the chateau of Versailles. In order to help the silk manufacturers of Lyon get back on their feet after the revolution, Napoleon  placed colossal  fabric orders, delivered from 1811 till 1813 and which were to make up a tremendous stock for all  the successive governments. This particular fabric was woven and delivered by Jean-Pierre Seguin of Lyon in 1812 at a time when  Napoleon was no longer concerned with decorating his appartments. A large part of the unused meterage was stored in the garde meuble de la couronne furniture depository. 

photo St Tyl

 Josephine Bonaparte bought the chateau de Malmaison in 1799 and it briefly became the seat of the French government from 1800 until 1802. Finding the residence too small, Napoleon installed the Premier Consul at St Cloud. Josephine continued living and embellishing Malmaison. She retired there definitively after her divorce in 1809 and there she died  in 1814.

Napoleon III, Josephine's grandson who had fond memories of his childhood sojourns at the chateau,  acquired Malmaison in 1861. Since the original furishings had long been dispersed, he decided to replace it with pieces that had furnished Josephine's salon at the palace of St Cloud and which remained there still at the time of the Second Empire. Before installing the furniture, he had it covered with the yellow medaillon fabric Napoleon I had had woven in 1812. We might speculate that in using these elements having belonged to Josephine and the Empire fabric to cover them, Napoleon III showed  concern for  authentic period decoration.

photo St Tyl
Hector VIGER 
 The Empress Josephine receiving the Tsar Alexander at the Malmaison

The above painting contains a  scene commissioned from Hector Vigier by Napoleon III. It shows the meeting of the Tsar Alexander with Josephine surrounded by her children, Eugene and Hortense, and with her grand children, Napoleon-Louis and Louis-Napoleon. 

Even with genuine Empire furnishings and fabric, the scene is anachronistic in that it shows the Salon Doré with its post-1861 decoration.

photo St Tyl
Today the condition of the upholstery necessitates its replacement and the chateau, a museum since 1906,  is  reproducing the precious silk to match the original quality of 1812 in every way. The reproduction is provided by the esteemed silk weaver, Prelle.

photo: RMN Anne-Sophie Grillat for the Manufacture Prelle
preliminary sampling 

photo RMN Marc-Antoine Mouterde for the Manufacture Prelle

photo: St Tyl
As the re-weaving continues, the newly upholstered furniture is replaced little by little in the salon. 

for more: Salon doré Malmaison


  1. Beautiful stuff (to use the old name for what we now call fabrics) and fascinating to see the small loom at work. Is the Gros de Tours is a brocade? Again, beautiful stuff.

  2. Very fine stuff! This is a Lampas, meaning it has a supplementary warp to bind the decorative wefts. It is the yellow ground which is in Gros de Tours, a weave similar to taffeta but with a horizontal ribbed effect. So many cloth names take you all over the map! I have heard these fabrics referred to as brocade in English, so that might be the best way to be understood – but there is no sculpted, embossed effect. The final weaving is adapted to a very modern loom.