Toile de Jouy: Three interpretations of a traditional French pattern

Presented by: Lois Weinthal

Wallcoverings and textiles have the ability to capture our attention through patterns and imagery.  The traditional eighteenth century French textile pattern, Toile de Jouy is an example of this type whereby multiple vignettes depict French scenery. (Figure 1)  The artists at the time looked to recognizable themes such as florals, the arts, and bucolic scenery to populate a pattern of floating vignettes across the surface of the textile. (Grant 2010: 5)  While this type of pattern has endured, contemporary designers have questioned how the imagery is reflective of current times.  This paper looks at three examples of Toile de Jouy that reflect interpretations by contemporary designers to the reimagining of everyday vignettes.  In these examples, the designers referred to fundamental characteristics in the pattern, such as site, vernacular architecture, and everyday activities.  The result places emphasis on place and culture.  The three interpretations identify contemporary examples of these characteristics and replaced them with updated contextual elements.  

Landscape and architecture provide the background for traditional French Toile de Jouy vignettes.  In the first example of an updated version, the African American interior designer Sheila Bridges, used Harlem and its cultural identity as a means for redesigning the vignettes in Harlem Toile de Jouy, 2006. (Figure 2)  Her design portrays African American characters in everyday activities of  “…couples dancing with a boom box nearby, girls doing double Dutch jump-rope and a trio playing basketball…”. (Seymour 2006)  At the same time, Bridges left the characters clothed in traditional French garments to reinforce a connection back to the original.  

In a second example, the graphic design studio Revolver, in collaboration with Mike Diamond, reinterpreted Brooklyn in a similar manner in their version titled Brooklyn Toile, 2012. (Figure 3)  In this version, iconic sites and personalities associated with Brooklyn and pop culture provided characters and site-specific elements such as subways and bridges, upon which floating vignettes recall daily life in Brooklyn.

In the third example, the American ceramicist, Beth Katleman makes reference to traditional French Toile de Jouy and transforms the bucolic scenery associated with these prints into a contemporary version of three-dimensional wallpaper titled Folly, 2010. (Figure 4)  She crafts ‘islands of folly’ in porcelain that require a second look to fully grasp her new narrative. Katleman included the typical set of characteristics that appear in the toile, such as people, animals, architecture and nature, but reconfigured the vignettes with cast figurines to transform the narratives into vignettes that reinforce the absurdness that the term ‘folly’ implies.  The ordinary two-dimensional background is amplified to a three-dimensional surface that allows onlookers to occupy fictional narratives.

These three contemporary examples reveal the potential for traditional interior elements to be rendered into a contemporary language while retaining fundamental characteristics of the original.  In each example, the designers analyzed the collection of elements that formed the narrative and saw the opportunity to translate them into contemporary elements.  People, animals, architecture and nature are still present, but the details of each allow for this pattern to transcend time and be continually updated with site and culture.


  • Grant, Sarah (2010), Toiles de Jouy, French Printed Cottons 1760-1830, V&A Publishing, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
  • Seymour, Liz (November 9, 2006), “Designer Sheila Bridges, Changing The Face of Toile”, Washington Post, [retrieved July 26, 2012]
  • Riffel, Mélanie & Rouart, Sophie (2003), Toile de Jouy: Printed Textiles in the Classic French Style, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.


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