Paul et Virginie depicted in a printed toile fabric. by…

Paul et Virginie depicted in a printed toile fabric. by CARON, [Jean Louis Toussaint, engraver]. < >

~ Paul et Virginie depicted in a printed toile fabric. Lyons-la-Fôret (Normandy): Goutan, [first quarter of the nineteenth century]

Large fabric panel 2900 × 820 mm, with several repeats of the plate (each 470 × 820 mm). Occasional very minor flaws, one small blue ink stain, but overall extremely bright, unfaded and fresh.

A SUPERB RENDERING OF BERNARDIN DE SAINT PIERRE’S TALE OF PAUL ET VIRGINIE ON A FRENCH TOILE FABRIC. The six repeated scenes depict the principal episodes of the Rousseau-inspired story, set among the exotic vegetation of the Île Maurice (then Île de France, now Mauritius). In the first, a letter from Virginie’s European family is brought to her, in the presence of Paul, their respective mothers and two black servants. In the second, the governor of the isle summons Virginie to order her return to Europe, before the horrified Paul and the supplications of their kneeling servant; in the third she leaves the island by night, borne on a litter by four servants. The fourth depicts the tragic climax of her shipwreck, as she attempts to return to Mauritius. Two small secondary scenes are symbolic of the the young couple’s pure and untainted love — braving the storm together under her apron, and Paul weeping over the body of his beloved.

First published in 1788, Paul et Virginie was an immense success partly on account of the rich and visual culture it inspired, encompassing prints, games, ceramics and fabrics. Its abolitionist themes also coincideded with other popular fabric patterns, notable a rendition of the Traite des nègres produced around the same time. Several renderings in toile are known, but this example from the Normandy firm of Goutan around the year 1820 is one of the most impressive. The engraver Toussaint Caron (1790-1832), whose name appears as though carved on a rock in this scene, made several other toile designs around the year 1820 as well as engraved prints on paper.

French toile prints (often referred to generically as ‘Toiles de Jouy’ after the products of the famous factory at Jouy-en-Josas) were one of the great successes of French industrial production, but are often overlooked as examples of popular iconography and of engraved printmaking. This example from Normandy was printed using the mordant technique ― the design printed from large engraved copper plates with an invisible mordant. Once the cloth was dyed, the pink colour adhered only to the mordant-printed areas, being entirely washed away from the remaining blank background. Quand les toiles racontent des histoires. Les Toiles d’ameublement normandes au XIXe siècle [exhibition catakogue] (2007), no. 25.

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