Printing the Pastoral: Visions of the Countryside in 18th-Century Europe presents early and rare examples of copperplate-printed cottons, more familiarly known as toile. This textile genre has remained popular since its inception more than 250 years ago, when technological advances allowed textile printers to exploit the type of copperplates long used by artists to print on paper. For the first time, finely detailed pictorial designs could be faithfully reproduced with colorfast dyes on cloth. Textile designers could now draw upon a far greater variety of visual sources, and their creativity flourished.
The emergence of copperplate-printed textiles in the eighteenth century coincided with a taste for pastoral imagery across the arts. Fueled by a thriving print market, textile manufacturers exploited the subject’s sentimental and, at times, seductive potential. The earliest examples feature idyllic scenes of shepherds and livestock inspired by the bucolic landscapes made by Dutch artists a century earlier. Later designs with revelers on swings and gallant couples in manicured gardens celebrate a more romantic—and largely French—vision of the countryside, closely tied to theatrical productions of the period.
This exhibition reveals the nostalgia for pastoral themes common to 18th-century textile consumers and art collectors by pairing furnishing fabrics, ceramics, and paintings with prints by—or after—Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolaes Berchem, Paulus Potter, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher. A featured object in Printing the Pastoral is a reconstructed bed, complete with coverlet and curtains, that illustrates the visual impact of these innovative fabrics in the 18th-century home.
The exhibition is curated by Genevieve Cortinovis, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, and Heather Hughes, senior research assistant and manager of the Study Room for Prints, Drawings and Photographs.