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Even the well-known striped design ornamented with tiny nosegays of flowers which in pastel shades adorned the drawing rooms and boudoirs of other days now reap pears in stronger color value. Few interiors of today, even when completely following the traditional scheme of decoration of the eighteenth century, would be satisfactory with reproductions of the old fabrics in their original colors. We are accustomed to a brighter and sturdier effect in floor coverings, wall hangings and upholstery, even in period rooms, so that a piece of brocade, beautiful as it is, would seem too delicate and faint if reproduced with the exact tone of color of the time of Louis XV or XVI.
Brocade must be used with discretion. It suggests sumptuous interiors and the grand manner. But while this handsome fabric is still being used perhaps for a Marie An toinette boudoir, a chair or sofa in this silk weave is finding a place in rooms of quite other styles. Of course any room into which a piece of furniture upholstered in brocade enters receives an air of distinction, but when combined with furnishings foreign to interiors of the time it needs thoughtful discrimination. With the wealth of bright, modern colorings now given to old patterns this combining may now often be successfully achieved.
A small Sheraton sofa in a hallway may acquire a modern cheerfulness from this upholstery in gay red and white stripes with scattered nosegays and be made to harmonize with a grandfather's clock or a Duncan Phyfe side "table. Or, perhaps, by a living room fireplace two French bergeres, those comfortable chairs with the enclosed sides, give a delightful color note by their upholstery of deep wine red and ivory sprinkled with a floral motif. For the more formal drawing room even one of the modernistic patterns suggestive in its motif of the angular beauty which the iron work of Brandt has contributed to fabric design may be appropriate. Such a pattern in steel blue and mulberry, accented with a garland in gold metal thread and with a charming dove incorporated, will give an otherwise conventional interior the proper touch of modernity which is often effective.
Besides the use of brocades for upholstery and window hangings, designs from ancient types of hand embroidery are today being woven especially for use as wall hangings, their rich variety of color and design fitting them into diverse types of modern interiors. With the many combinations of colors available it is a fairly easy matter to find a bit of fabric which will embrace the many colors used in the room, and thus the hanging may aid in harmonizing diverse patterns and colors. The robust hues employed, especially in the modern weaves, permit such hangings to be placed in any interior that can assimilate a touch of the elegant in its furnishings.Brocade is really hand embroidery, although it is woven on a loom. In spite of mechanical aids, much depends on the artistry and dexterity of the weaver. The weaving of brocade is an old art, coming to Europe from China, where it reached a high perfection. The Chinese used it for their most important costumes and hangings, and developed the patterns which are being reproduced today. Some of these patterns, quaintly named a thousand years ago in the Sung dynasty "Pearls and Grains of Rice" or "The Three Peonies" or "Wild Geese Flying in the Clouds," still inspire brocades for a chair or sofa or hangings for our twentieth century homes.
Indeed, few fabrics have as rich and diverse a past from which to draw as do brocades. In the medieval times, as Esther Singleton records in her book, "The Collecting of Antiques," Saracenic, Arabian and Persian sources contributed to the wonderful brocade weaves of Italy and Spain. Later in France the types of brocades now almost familiar were evolved by the courts from the time of Louis XIII to the fall of the monarchy. During the time of Mme. de Pompadour, for example, the stripe characteristic of French brocades was introduced. Everywhere in the great mansions and palaces brocade was used extensively. It was a fabric that lent itself particularly well to the luxurious decorations of the period.
Modern makers of brocades, however, are not content to draw only on woven patterns of this mode made in the past, but are going, as brocade designers have always gone, to hand embroideries of all ages for their inspiration. Elizabethan and Jacobean crewel work now appears adapted to the color needs of today. Or perhaps an old piece of Portuguese embroidery serves as an inspiration.