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"Shapes and colors"

in printed textiles from 18th century to nowadays

Exhibition from November 11th 2016 to October 1st 2017

“All the action of the paint lives in the report of colors between them, in the report of the shapes between, and in the report between colors and shapes”
Auguste Herbin


The use of colors and geometric shapes aims to be understood by everybody, but also to be applicable in every domain. Shapes and colors offer a broad range of combinations and possibilities, but this obvious simplicity is also a limitation. It is accessible to all but, just like the writing process, but it can be more or less successful. The designers would completely master the use of forms and colors.

Since the 17th Century, the success of the first Indiennes in Occident is bound to the richness of its colors. It enlightened the Europeans’ houses and clothes and, very quickly, several manufacturers took inspiration from its patterns. The Indiennes represent the basis of the decorative textile’s vocabulary.


The use of natural colors (essentially madder and indigo colors) confined the creativity but the drawer’s imagination had no limit when it came to providing new drawings, which were necessary to meet with commercial success. Indeed, fabrics have to be attractive to reach a wider customer base, and the offer has to be continuously renewed. As a result, the designers would completely master the use of forms and colors.


The harmony of colors is a recurring subject in the world of textile. During the Antiquity already, the problem of colors’ coordination and the problem of the luminosity’s effect on weavings was raised. Originally, the colorist had only a few hues on-hand. Since the discovery of the first synthetic dyes in the 1850s, only natural colors from purple, madder, pastel, indigo, kermes, cochineal, saffron and sorrel were used for the fabric dyeing and printing process. Manufacturers had always been concerned by the color chemistry. In France for instance, a particular chemistry based on scientific principles for dyes started to develop.
In Alsace, Jean-Michel Haussmann (1742-1829), a manufacturer of Logelbach next to Colmar, became a pioneer as he improved the mordants’ application on cotton and linen fabrics. In the 1790s, some mineral dyes appeared such as iron oxide (which gives a red color), antimony (orange), Prussian blue and the bister obtained by the manganese (brown).



Since the 18th Century, designers found their inspiration in the smallest, which became more accessible thanks to the discovery and amelioration of the microscope. They created abstracts pieces of art covered by modules looking like human cells. During the 19th Century, which also marked the beginning of chemistry, imagination is intensified by the engraving techniques’ improvement and the use of wool. In a commercial purpose, manufacturers joined the movement and used abstract or geometrical shapes. They also got interested in contrasts and color blends, and used third dimension to create kinetic cloths.





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