(AMERICA). ~ [Toile fabric fragment from ‘Apotheosis of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington’ England, c. 1785].
445 × 465 mm. Cream linen copperplate printed in red. Modern frame and mount.
A large fragment of a famous post-Revolutionary copperplate-printed textile. It shows George Washington on the chariot of America, drawn by leopards, with an allegorical figure of America in a plumed headdress holds an oval medallion, ‘America Independence 1776’. It was produced by an unknown English firm around 1785, intended for the American export market, but also used in England.
Printed linen ‘Toiles de Jouy’ (named after the French town of Jouy-en-Josas from which many of them originated) were used for bed hangings and furniture. Originally such fabrics were woodblock printed, often with chintz patterns, until 1752 when the Irishman Francis Nixon adapted the copperplate engraving technique used for paper to produce patterns on textiles. Thereafter, patterns could be large (with copperplates measuring up to 45 inches square) and highly detailed, such as the ‘Apotheosis’ design. ‘When it first appeared, this toile was evidently well-regarded enough to furnish one of America’s most important residences, the President’s House in New York... Although obviously intended for the American market, the pattern seems to have been well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. English poet Robert Southey’s 1808 book Letters from England features a passage describing the design in detail, appearing on the protagonist’s bed curtains at an inn in Carlisle. He states, “My bed curtains may serve as a good specimen of the political freedom permitted in England”’. (Robertson).
In our example, just visible to the right is a portion of a figure of a native American with a headdress, while the background contains impressions of American vegetation and, in the further distance, there are large groups of American troops in action. The whole repeating design, with the figure of Franklin on another tier, and other supporting figures covered several feet.
Robertson, ‘Sleeping Amongst Heroes: Copperplate-printed Bed Furniture in the “Washington and American Independance [sic] 1776; the Apotheosis of Franklin” Pattern’. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings, Textile Society of America, 9, 2012.