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Gallery of Silk and Drapery - Expo Paris 1889

Gallery of Silk and Drapery at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889


Only one city, Lyon, occupied class 33. This gave the architects, who did not have the trouble of discussing with several organisers, the possibility of constructing a stylish façade, without taking into account the requirements of various exhibitors. Indeed, we are here, as in the watchmaking industry, in the presence of a collective exhibition organised by the Chamber of Commerce. It is undoubtedly for the interior of its gallery that Lyon has reserved the treasures, a glimpse of which can be seen in the magnificent church ornaments that burst forth in the first window. But as for the facade, it does not give us much reason to expect wonders. All the ornamentation consists of two or three escutcheons bearing the arms of the city of Lyon, which bears "Gules, a silver lion holding in its dexter paw a sword of the same name, with a chief of France", with the proud motto: "Lyon avant le melhor!

It is proud, but it is meagre as a decoration, and the unoriginal pilasters which support this façade would have been well found, if nothing else, with some magnificent silk brocade placed as a hanging, one of these imperial fabrics affordable only to millionaires... and even then, that the Croix-Rousse used to manufacture so richly. By the deliberate poverty of its facade, did Lyon's industry want to express its complaints and mourn the loss of its ancient splendour? It is because there was, if not a decline, at least a transformation by which the silk industry, which had remained a kind of privileged production, entered, like all industries, into the life of the large workshop and factory. The distinctions of master, journeyman and apprentice, dear to the old canuts of Gourguillon and Grande-Côte, fell before the egalitarian caporalat of the foreman, at the same time as the disappearance from current production of those truly artistic fabrics, those complicated weaves, in the manufacture of which the value of the worker played a role almost equal to that of the draughtsman, or even the designer.

Lyon, which today produces silk at 39 sous per metre, - one has to make a living, - in competition with Zurich and America; Lyon, I say, is no longer the Lyon of Sicilian fabrics, of gros deNaples, of velvets. It is perhaps to the great sadness that this decline spreads over Lyon's high industry that one must attribute the modesty of its exhibition.
But if one judges the prosperity of an industry by the sacrifices it makes in view of the Exhibition, drapery deserves to be placed in one of the first ranks. The façade of class 32 is indeed one of the most beautiful in the gallery, and compares favourably with that of the furniture opposite.

It opens with three bays, each surmounted by a pediment and separated by fanciful decorative compositions by Toché, in which, through ornamental motifs borrowed from the cloth industry, faunesses and fauns play. The colour is violent, with exaggerated shading in violet or intense blue, but it is brimming with exuberant life, and above all it is eminently decorative. The name of the painter Toché has already been mentioned several times in this description of the 30-metre gallery. This is because he did a lot of things, and because everything he did was excellent.

The pilasters are of marble and gold, and decorated with rams' heads; they are of a style very appropriate to the character of the façade.

But the best details of this entrance are in the pediments. The middle one is a wood carving, or at least an imitation wood one. It is a niche between the columns of which is seated a young spinner at her spinning wheel; I admit that this Jenny the worker is perhaps not of an excellently artistic production, but she is very pretty and finishes the central bay well.

The left-hand bay is surmounted by a composition by Rochegrosse, representing the shearing of sheep. Among the painters of the young school, Rochegrosse has the reputation of being the king of tricksters; the undersides of his paintings are contrived like third acts of the Ambigu. But natural or fake, the result obtained by these complicated means of painting is a good result, that is the essential. Thus one cannot say that the door panel is exactly true to colour. I am not talking about the composition, which can dispense with any reality since it is allegorical. In the sun, the grass is a light, transparent green; in the shade it is blue; in the distance, trees with pink foliage stand out against a golden sky.

It is in this highly fantastic landscape that Roche-grosse has set his characters, a woman, children and sheep; the children's flesh is as fanciful as the landscape, but their attitudes are full of grace and muteness. There is a baby trying to carry a sheep, which is simply delicious. As for the woman, she is very skilfully placed and the intense red note of the fabric which dresses her falls with marvellous accuracy in this debauchery of light and transparencies.

The other pediment, that of the right-hand bay, also by Rochegrosse, represents weaving. Here the fantasy has strayed even further from allegory than from nature. It would be difficult to say why the weaver is dressed, not in the antique style, not in the modern style, but in an Empire sheath stopped below the breasts, and tightening the waist with a wide purple belt. As for the loom, it is no less bizarre than the attitude of the half-crouched weaver, in the midst of the inevitable children who, with or without wings, are part of every allegorical celebration. Let us be grateful to Rochegrosse for not having given them wings and for having varied the physiognomies of these toddlers in such a happily personal way.

Golden Book of the Exhibition - Henry Anry.



Before taking a step into this gallery, so magnificently furnished by the Lyonnais factory, let us reassure those who claim, and who - the unfortunate ones - repeat to every echo, that the silk industry is dead in Lyon. This is an error, which has been produced and acclimatised by virtue of the tendency to pessimism of modern times, no doubt, for it would be very difficult to give any reason for it.

Lyon's industry is dead, just as the tradesmen once cackled their babbling song from the Croix Rousse to the Terreaux, bis tau claque, pan! dear to the old canuts of the grande côte and the plateau, as well as those of the gourguillou. No, it is not dead, the factory, as it is called in Lyon, under this name which means the silk industry, as the city called Rome for the Latins of old. It has only become more comfortable, the factory, and of the 35,000 trades that it occupied in Lyon before 1870, more than two thirds have emigrated to the surrounding area, in search of less expensive living conditions. Alongside these emigrants, many mechanical trades were set up. If we reduce the work done by the engines to manual labour, we can see that the whole of Lyon's industry currently represents, in 1889, nearly 140,000 manual trades. This is a respectable figure.

It is because silk has become part of the clothing habits of the whole world. A silk dress was a luxury twenty years ago; today it is no more than a bare necessity. The great elegance has even, by reaction, thrown itself on the hune. Suits are made of woollens which are very expensive and are doubled in silk. The price of fabrics has almost halved, not only as a result of the reduction in the cost of methods, brought about by the introduction of mechanical weaving, but also as a result of the reduction in raw materials. Silk, which used to cost 80 to 90 francs a kilogram, costs an average of 50 francs today, and wild silks, of which Lyon buys 500,000 kilograms a year, are much cheaper. And in spite of this decrease in prices, Lyon manufactures each year nearly half a billion pieces of cloth. Are there many prosperous industries that can measure up to this one, which is said to be in its death throes?

But in an industry such as silk, quantity is not enough, quality is also necessary. Let's see if Lyon has also been able to live up to its old reputation on this point.

I am not talking here about perfection in the material means of production, but about the very value of the object manufactured. It is certain that the more silk fabrics have become accessible to the entire consuming public, the more it has been necessary, day by day, to reduce their cost price. Mixed fabrics have become more and more widespread each year, which has obviously been at the expense of quality. It is a mathematical law that any industry which lowers the value of the raw materials it uses is bound to lower the aesthetic value of its products.

But pure silk fabrics have lost nothing, on the contrary, they are richer than anything that has been made up to now, and this richness is accompanied by a more perfect finish, due to the improvement of the manufacturing processes.

In the Lyon gallery, which opens onto the Thirty Meter Gallery and includes as an annex the showcase of honour facing it, we will see, without a doubt, that Lyon has retained its artistic rank as well as its place in the industrial composition.

The showcases are arranged in lounges with a central showcase in the middle of each of these lounges, the rosewood panelling is enhanced with gold, but it seems that the exhibitors wanted to conceal themselves, for it takes real work to find their names on their installations. Plain fabrics are the least eye-catching, but this does not mean that they represent the least amount of industrial progress, and connoisseurs admire the superb brocades, failles, satins, reps, and various weaves in the same way. These three or four designations include more or less all the undecorated fabrics: these are at least the vulgar designations, because the factory has for each variety a name which is often arbitrary, sometimes ultra-fantasy. Scarves, - in pieces, - fringes and other light fabrics are sometimes plain, sometimes decorated with printing. These fabrics generally belong to the Lyon factory only through the last manipulations they undergo. Most of them are made in China and sent unbleached to Lyon, where they are scoured, bleached, dyed and if necessary printed. The various crepes, whether they are said to be from China or elsewhere, are, on the other hand, very Lyonnais products, we know these airy fabrics, some of which are as tenuous as spider webs. The brocaded crepe de Chine is one of the marvels of this exhibition, there is nothing more delicate than this impalpable background, supporting flowers laid with the lightness of a watercolour touch.

But let us pass quickly. Here are the velvets, for which Lyon is still without rival. The plain velvets are obtained in the best qualities, by the interposition of a metal rod in the passage of a second warp, which loops and is thus connected by the weft to the first warp. Then, with the help of a diamond, the worker cuts the loop, which forms the pile. In cheaper qualities, the loom weaves two pieces at once, one above the other, and the pile, instead of forming a loop, connects the two pieces; a razor, which passes after the shuttle, separates the two pieces from each other, cutting the pile in the middle. Such is the general theory of velvet, but in practice, it has received many modifications which allow the most marvellous brocaded fabrics to be made.

Thus in the showcase of honour, we find pantes, that is the Lyonnais name for a decorative ensemble, in curled and cut velvet on a background of old rose faille, these pantes are formed of immense feathers; next to them, on a background of grey satin, large red and yellow flowers are thrown with exquisite art. Here are other fabrics of an even more artistic impression, these are flowers with faded tints, obtained by the process of printing on warp. This process, which once provided the marvellous Grégoire velvets now sold at the weight of gold, consists of printing on the warp which will form the pile, and before weaving, a design calculated in such a way that, when reduced by the weaving, it will form the required pattern on the piece. It is easy to understand the care required for such preparatory work.

Still under the showcase of honour, we find one of the most beautiful productions of Lyon's silk industry. The Royal Garland is a branch of roses in very muted tones, set against a background of green satin.

All these fabrics are for the "costume, here are others for the furnishing, in reps, decorated with cut velvet. Other fabrics are decorated without the intervention of velvet, either brocades proper or battens; in brocades, the decorative motif is executed, so to speak, independently of the fabric, by accessories called brocades that are driven by the loom. In laths, the play of heddles, i.e. cords that lift the threads, led by a set of perforated cardboards, the Jacquard, forms the design, leaving on the reverse side of the fabric, the threads that should not appear on the right side. These two processes are often used in conjunction with each other and provide a wealth of designs. I will mention snowballs, enormous white flowers, Jacob's Ladder, a garland of endless roses, Freezing, a sort of prismatic irradiation, which is rather reminiscent of the physical work of solidifying water; the Luminous Fountains, which despite their distasteful name, are a very beautiful arrangement of tone on tone.

I have omitted, in plain fabrics, the moirés which, for many people, are a mystery and which are nevertheless obtained by very simple means. Moire is a faille, i.e. a coarse-grained fabric, in which the weft is entirely concealed by the warp. If you want antique moire, the fabric is folded by half its width and subjected to considerable pressure, which crushes the face to be moiré grain for grain. If you want moire with paths, i.e. with long, regular matt or shiny lines, the pressure, which is applied to the unlined fabric, is preceded by the passage of a gas flame which traces the paths. Once obtained, this crushing is ineffaceable.

One showcase among all is particularly interesting, because it contains the real tour de force of the art of brocaded cloth: a prayer book, woven according to the manuscripts and illuminations of the 14th and 15th centuries. Each page is made up of two sheets of satin glued together, back to back. The Gothic text is hardly more than two millimetres high, in the capitals, and yet it is as sharp as the best printing. The frames are prodigiously sharp and worth any print for clarity of size and degradation of halftone. Each page has its own frame. Certainly nothing so finished has ever been produced: the portraits, however famous, woven after Carquillat, who portrayed all the heads of state and all the famous men who have touched Lyon from near or far, always have a certain stiffness of execution. But here, there is not a deviation of a tenth of a millimetre in the line, which would indicate that the artist had to subordinate his work to the demands of weaving. I repeat that this prayer-book is a marvel, which does great honour to the house of Henry, already famous for its church ornaments, of which it has a whole series around its prayer-book.

Among the industries which proceed from silk, the church ornament holds, indeed, the first rank and one is astonished to see it so little represented. But there is quality for want of quantity, and the few chasubles or copes that we find are of great beauty.

All styles are represented in this kind of work. Here is a gothic chasuble, the good shepherd. Here is an imitation of the Italian chasubles of the 15th century, in antique silk stitch. It represents the Ascension, the heads of the apostles are remarkably expressive.

The theory of silk should have been represented in this Lyon exhibition. It is represented by the exhibition of the Chamber of Commerce, which shows what is called the condition of silk, that is to say, the series of devices used to weave raw silk and to remove it. At the same time, we see the results of the studies undertaken over the last ten years to expand silk production. Today, thanks to this research, we know very well how to use in Europe the wild silks of China, i.e. those produced by bombyxes which, instead of being reared like ours in silkworm factories, produce in the open air, on bushes, in the woods, where their products are collected at the right moment. These wild silks, of which more than half a million kilos are imported each year, are used in China for the manufacture of the pongees and tussahs mentioned above; in France, on the other hand, they are used not for light fabrics, but for the most resistant ones, such as the plush toys known as otters, which have absolutely the feel, appearance and vigour of a fur.

The Chamber of Commerce has exhibited wild cocoons; some of them seem to be made of solid gold.

Such is, as far as one can describe it in such a succinct manner, the exhibition in Lyon. It is worthy of the second city of France, of this Lyon, which for centuries has had as its motto: Lyon before the melhort, and which, since the day when the first silk masters came to settle, has known, through its long series of craftsmen, artists and its stubborn work, never to falter or decline.

Golden Book of the Exhibition - Paul Le Jeinisel.


One wonders how far man's imitation of nature can be pushed.

Until now, it was well known that silk could be adulterated by foreign fabrics; but no one thought of silk which had not been supplied by the silkworm, and yet artificial silk has been discovered, it is silk in which the Bombyx of the mulberry tree has nothing to do.

Let us now examine the two manufactures. Silk is a product of the secretion of the Bombyx mori, or Mulberry Bombyx, of the family Lepidoptera. This caterpillar has two tubercular glands on its head, containing a liquid which it extracts in the form of two separate threads, but which soon unite into one, these two threads being welded together by their own viscosity. It is with this thread that the caterpillar, in its chrysalis state, forms the cocoon that protects it in order to carry out its transformation into a perfect insect, i.e. a butterfly.

This is where the difficulties for the industry arise. The thread forming the cocoon can be completely reeled off, if the cocoon is intact, but for this to happen the butterfly must not have flown away, it is there to make silk and to die; but as it would not do so willingly, it must be suffocated by heat a little before its complete development. It is therefore necessary to use only unperforated cocoons for reeling; this is the first industrial difficulty, as well as a loss, because it is not always possible to prevent this perforation.

Finally, there is another, even more serious cause: disease, which is always epidemic when it occurs; in this case all is lost.

The length of the reeling thread which forms the normal cocoon varies from 250 to 900 metres.

The natural silk is mainly formed of fibroin (C30 H23 Az15 O12) and the material which welds the two threads of the Bombyx spinnerets is sericin (C30 H25 Az5 O16).

Now that the manufacture, or rather the production, of natural silk is well established, let us move on to artificial silk. The insect becomes a machine, a very pretty one indeed, and it was M. du Chardonnet, a former student of the Ecole Polytechnique, who invented this apparatus.

What does the silkworm do? It transforms the vegetable tissue of the mulberry leaf into a long thread which constitutes silk. What is this plant tissue? Cellulose. The problem, then, is to take the cellulose and turn it into silk.
A first difficulty arises. Cellulose is a tetraglucoside whose chemical formula is: C48 H40 O40. If we compare this formula with the one for silk given above, we see that one element is missing: nitrogen.

Moreover, cellulose is insoluble in water, alcohol, ether, acids and alkalis. Only one liquid dissolves it: ammoniacal copper oxide, but we cannot use it, and we absolutely must have our cellulose in solution, to imitate nature.

At the same time, both difficulties are solved, the cellulose takes nitrogen and becomes soluble, we then have octonitric cellulose or cotton-powder, or fulmi-cotton or pyroxil.

Do not tremble, future artificial silk will not contain a trace of cotton-powder, and you will not have, ladies, explosive dresses. "Here is how it is done: pure cellulose is subjected to a mixture of one part, by weight, of nitric acid at 1.42 and two parts of sulphuric acid at 1.84, the whole is left for 24 to 48 hours, then washed, and dried in the open air. The octonitric cellulose or cotton-powder, thus obtained, is soluble and contains the necessary nitrogen; it is dissolved in a mixture of 20 parts of alcohol and 80 parts of ether. We now have everything we need for our artificial silk; this solution of cotton-powder in alcohol and ether constitutes what everyone knows as collodion.

This is how M. du Chardonnet's apparatus works.

First, there is a vertical container containing the collodion, under a pressure of about ten atmospheres. This container ends in a horizontal tube on which are placed a series of small tapered glass tubes, through the end of which the collodion under pressure escapes in small jets of extreme fineness, but it is liquid; These latter tubes are a little longer than the inner ones, and the jet of collodion first meets the small mass of water where it is cooled, and when it leaves the water it is sufficiently solidified, and there you have the silk thread, similar to that around which the silkworm surrounds itself. Only this artificial thread is immediately collected on large reels where it is wound endlessly, whereas the cocoon must be unwound once it is made. Now the apparatus is arranged in such a way that one, two, ten of these threads can be reassembled, because isolated they are not strong enough, any more than the single thread of the cocoon; this thread then undergoes denitration.

M. du Chardonnet also exhibits a larger apparatus for industrial manufacture; more sophisticated, there are series of clamps intended to collect the threads if they break. Finally, all the manufacturing details are provided. But this artificial silk is not yet available on the market. It is said that it will soon be launched. And look at the savings: everyone will be able to have silk dresses at will. This artificial silk costs between 18 and 20 francs a kilogram, whereas natural silk costs between 50 and 140 francs. And there is another big advantage. With natural silk costing so much, fraud inevitably takes place, and people try to increase the weight of the silk in every possible way. There are harmless methods, but there are also very dangerous ones, and these are the most lucrative. Thus, a few years ago, Oudart found 40 0/0 of lead chromal and copper arsenite and a little ceruse in coloured silks, which caused the gums and lips of young tapestry makers to swell. With artificial silk the cost price is too low to indulge profitably in these dangerous falsifications.

Finally, whatever the future of this new manufacture, one cannot help admiring the ingenious simplicity of the idea and the execution. And to see the specimens of brocaded fabrics, pieces of silk, the chasubles exhibited and woven with this artificial silk, by Messrs Perret and Chapenel of Lyon, one cannot doubt the brilliant future reserved for this new manufacture, which does so much honour to M. du Chardonnet.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - S. Favière.