“Double historicization,” according to Pierre Bourdieu, is an arduous but necessary pre-requisite to any research. It consists in historicizing both one's research object and one's own concepts (Bourdieu 2013). Bourdieu thus advises a careful use of labels: placing them in the context in which they were used, or accounting for their “historical depth” (Sofio 2014). Studying French dessinateurs de fabrique, a term used to refer to the mostly nameless draughtsmen tasked with decorating manufactured objects, indeed shows that linguistic shortcuts can cause us to mischaracterize the very essence of a job. Dessinateur de fabrique is unreliable as a professional category. It is rarely used by today’s researchers, who prefer the terms artiste (artist) and artisan (craftsman) (Heinich 1993), which in effect separate fine art and draughtsmanship for industrial purposes. However, the fact that this denomination was widely used in the nineteenth century shows that there is a point where the two categories meet. It also contributes to defining what may have constituted an “ordinary artist” in those days. During the French Ancien Régime, rules laid out by corporations applied to most occupations, but factory draughtsmen worked freely—in the sense that they could sell their products without requesting permission from a trade group (Hanne & Judde de Larivière 2010; Sewell 1980; on unregulated occupations, see Thillay 2002). While all factory draughtsmen drew, meaning that they created decorations and patterns, the label referred to individuals with a varied range of trajectories and experiences (Morvan-Becker 2010).
The first phase of industrialization, from the 1750s to the 1850s, was a key period for the observation of technological and social transformations at work in the factories. The scope of the draughtsmen’s work broadened alongside the variety and breadth of products came into in fashion. In the second half of the eighteenth century, crockery, cotton fabrics, and wallpaper were no longer reserved for the elite; they became part of everyday lives outside of the upper classes. The new consumer economy changed individual relationships to objects and challenged traditional analytical categories (such as luxury versus everyday objects) (Roche 2000). The battle between manufacturers was largely fought on an aesthetic level. Draughtsmen therefore became key to their success, and their involvement was used as a selling point.
Despite this, the bulk of the activity of draughtsmen—consisting in drawing ornamental plants and decorations—contributed to their remaining within the lower levels of the academic hierarchy of the arts. The latter had been defined in 1667 by André Félibien in a speech to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, and still applied in the following century. Félibien organized pictorial genres into categories with varying degrees of prestige: history painting was the most prestigious, followed by portraiture, genre art, landscape, and still life. In principle, this meant factory draughtsmen occupied a lower position than most artists (Hardouin-Fugier & Grafe 1992). Yet factory draughtsmen in Lyon, tasked with working for the city’s thriving silk industry, were spared this relegation. Their creations served as blueprints for weavers, and they were expected to master complex weaving looms. Additionally, the fact that they worked with a particularly upscale material—silk—associated with Lyon’s reputation, whose prestige was cultivated by an abundant local historiography, made them stand out and apart in the world of factory draughtsmen (Leroudier 1908). Drawing onto silk is considered to be technically far more difficult than drawing on cotton, china, or wallpaper, where the pattern is printed or painted onto the object after the latter is manufactured: it requires the pattern to be woven literally and figuratively into the silk. These other decorating techniques, however, required mastery of wood and copper engraving, and of work on three-dimensional objects; each sector had its own technical demands. The impression of homogeneity of expertise conveyed by the term dessinateur de fabrique was therefore particularly deceptive. Ultimately, the occupation of factory draughtsman must be approached in an open, interdisciplinary way. While art history may study draughtmen’s work in stylistic and aesthetic terms, the industrial nature of their activity means that they are first and foremost skilled workers in the eyes of historians. At the crossroads of art and trade and in a network of cooperation where individuality matters just as much as the collective, factory draughtsmen formed a group that was arguably less formalized than a corporation, but whose references and actions were shared. They were ordinary artists insofar as they very rarely became famous and well paid, but also because they applied their art to everyday objects and were capable of “intuitive leaps”—leaps of the imagination made possible by their awareness of their ability to change things (Sennett 2008, Vérin 1984, 1993). In order to study their work with manufactured objects, we must take into account their economic conditions, their hierarchy, and the requirements in terms of of quality and creativity.
Drawing sound: paper, lead, graphite, and vellum Credits: © Audrey Millet
Drawing sound: paper, lead, graphite, and vellum
Credits: © Audrey Millet
To learn more about these factory draughtsmen, I used a variety of handwritten, printed, and graphic sources to compile a prosopographical database that comprises 3,715 trajectories of draughtsmen during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Millet 2016; 2017)1. These individual and collective trajectories of draughtsmen who were neither “stars” nor “geniuses” are characterized by their intensely technical nature, at the crossroads between art and industrial economy. Factory draughtsmen were both invisible and indispensable to the process of creating a manufactured object. However, at a specific moment in time, a minority of them—those working in the Lyon silk industry—were given the chance to step into the limelight of history. The first section examines how these “ordinary artists” made it into the local pantheon and what this meant. The second section moves on from this particular case to consider the absence of any mention of these draughtsmen and their working conditions during the first phase of industrialization in eighteen- and nineteenth-century technical literature, making them effectively workers rather than artists. The third and last section shows how the variety of labels used to refer to these draughtsmen contributed to their invisibility, until the term dessinateur de fabrique came to prevail in the late nineteenth century.
In his 1787 essay on factories and trade, Pierre Bertholon, a member of the Montpelllier academy of sciences, clearly attributed the success of Lyon's silk industry to the draughtsmen: “Never forget, O Lyon, that you owe to your draughtsmen much of the prosperity of your factories and that you are indebted to them for those miracles of industry that happen every day in your city” (Bertholon 1787: 194). Already at that time, the draughtsmen's work elicited a growing interest in the city. This interest was the basis of an emerging cult of the draughtsmen-artist in Lyon, which embodied the fortunate encounter between precious artistic skill and the silk industry, for the city’s greatest glory.
Draughtsman Émile Leroudier (1870-1937), son of an embroiderer from Lyon, was very actively involved in local silk industry circles and became a spokesperson for his profession. He was among those who promoted a discourse on Lyon's identity that rooted it in the city’s manufacturing history. In a text published in the early twentieth century, he painted the ideal portrait of the dessinateurs de la fabrique lyonnaise (Lyon's factory draughtsmen) in sixty-seven parts (Leroudier 1908). Leroudier also compiled the diary (or Livre de raison) of an eighteenth-century draughtsman (Miller 1998; Charpigny 2012). Along with almanacs and chronicles, he also reissued a 1765 draughtsman’s manual of gold, silver, and silk fabrics by Nicolas Joubert de l’Hiberderie (1715-1770), containing technical instructions and tips.
Figure 1a. Table of contents, Joubert de l’Hiberderie, Designer for Gold, Silver, and Silk Fabrics, 1765, not paginated
© Gallica.bnf.fr/Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.
Figure 1b. Table of contents, Joubert de l’Hiberderie, Designer for Gold, Silver, and Silk Fabrics, 1765, not paginated
Gallica.bnf.fr/Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.
Through these publications, Leroudier painted the picture of a united group in the face of an endemic crisis. Yet he transposed the context of the Lyon silk industry in the nineteenth century to that of the eighteenth century, which was then viewed as the silk capital’s heyday. Unlike in other technical manuals of the time (as we will see in Part II), Leroudier’s completely ignores the technical aspect of the draughtsmen’s work, emphasizing only their “genius” as artists. In his words, Jean Revel (who was active in the early eighteenth century) “still served as a model to the most skilled draughtsmen: they looked up to him as their Raphael” (Leroudier 1908: 12-13; Miller 1995; Thornton 1960).
Figure 2. Portrait of Jean Revel, Donat Nonnotte (France, 1748, oil on canvas, 31x24 in) Lyon, Musée des Tissus (Fabrics Museum)
© Lyon, Musée des Tissus, nv. no. 1398 [www.mtmad.fr, on line 2015, accessed 19/03/2017].
Leroudier’s words are reminiscent of Vasari’s, whose Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Achitects founded the myth of the self-taught, precocious, inspired genius (Vasari 1963 ). In accordance with the tropes of artists’ biographies, Leroudier’s draughtsmen have major predispositions for their work. His portrait of Lyon’s draughtsmen is complemented by an account of the emergence and the history of the Lyon school of draughtsmanship, and of the draughtsmen’s inevitable “trip to Paris”—a section extensively borrowed from Joubert de l’Hiberderie. Leroudier was singing the praises of a flailing industry, whose golden age seemed remote, in an effort to reconstruct the city's identity (Charpigny 2012). He depicts the ideal factory draughtsman as an artist and a man of taste, a knowledgeable if not erudite reader, and of course as a traveller. This reconstruction of Lyon’s history had in fact already been undertaken by the aforementioned draughtsman and teacher Joubert de l’Hiberderie, by the Paris-trained Lyon silk draughtsman and painter Joseph Guichard (1806-1880), whose parents owned a wallpaper shop, as well as by Natalis Rondot (1821-1900). An economist, textile industrialist, and keen supporter of the arts, Rondot was tasked with international missions for the development of industry and trade. Additionally, in his capacity as an art historian, he founded Lyon’s museum of art and industry, working there on regenerating Lyon's silk industry. All contributed to this cult of the Lyon draughtsman, whose celebration entailed removing all traces of his ties to the world of craftsmanship (Miller 2004; Chazelle 1992).
The consequence of this mythification, involving the whitewashing of the memory of Lyon’s technical work, was that other French manufacturing centres were neglected. After a century of local publications, history remembered the genius of the silk flower painters, conveniently settling the artist-craftsman debate. The posterity of this heroic image of the factory draughtsman forces us to turn to other sources to comprehend the reality of this professional group, beyond a few exceptional figures. The body of technical literature that grew largely in the eighteenth century is an alternative source, primarily concerned with craftsmanship.
In the Enlightenment era, technical literature sought to provide detailed descriptions of numerous trade- and industry-related occupations. Again, however, factory draughtsmen were entirely neglected. In Diderot & D’Alembert’s 1754 Encyclopaedia (vol. 4), the entries on dessein (drawing), dessiner (to draw), and dessinateur (drawer) mainly discuss drawing in terms of its usefulness as a basis for the other arts. The entry on drawing was written by Claude Henri Watelet (1718-1786), a honorary member of the Royal Academy of Painting. He describes drawing as a “term of the art of painting,” both “a production made by an artist with the aid of a pencil or quill” and more widely the “art of imitating with lines the forms presented to our eyes by objects.” In the Encyclopaedia, this academic approach is complemented by that of professor of architecture Jacques-François Blondel. He expands the definition of the term to useful applications such as architecture, under the assumption that drawing is not only for those who devote themselves to “fine art.” Lastly, the anonymous authors of the entries on “drawer” and “drawing” are at odds. The “drawer,” somewhat in line with Watelet, is defined as “he who knows how to render with a pencil objects as nature presents them to us [and] he who knows how to execute on paper, using pencils, imagined objects, and represent them as we would see them in nature if they existed.” The drawer’s skills are praised, but no connection whatsoever is made to an application to manufactured objects. On the other hand, “drawing” is not limited to the imitation of nature. It has broader applications, which was more accurate—in particular, the technicity of varnishers” designs is mentioned. In the eighteenth century, the term dessinateur de fabrique was used by industry specialists but virtually absent from technical literature.
Crucially, none of these texts discusses the technical specificities of the draughtsman’s work. Yet, the draughtsman’s final design—the mise en carte (point-paper plan)—which consists in transferring the pattern to a sheet of graph paper that represents the cloth to be woven, requires a great deal of technical knowledge.
Figure 3. Map setting by Jean Revel, 1733
© Lyon, Musée des Tissus, inv. no. 40932 [www.mtmad.fr, on line 2015, accessed on 19 march 2017].
Figure 3 is a mise en carte by Jean Revel: a two-dimensional representation of the weaving loom. Even in the most technical manuals, not a single author mentions this critical stage in the conception of a design. Mise en carte is mentioned in passing in the Encyclopaedia entry on “velvet,” but the indications provided are too complex for amateurs and insufficiently detailed for specialists (Diderot & D’Alembert 1771, vol. 17). Likewise, in his aforementioned book, Joubert de l’Hiberderie devotes fourteen chapters to weaving techniques, but only a few lines to mise en carte (Joubert de l’Hiberderie 1765 : 17): in no way would a neophyte be able to make a point-paper plan for silk based on that description. The Nimes-based draughtsman and manufacturer Bénard Paulet (active in the second half of the eighteenth century) included standardized figures describing the stages of silk manufacturing in his Art du fabricant (1773)—along with Joubert’s, the only “handbook” available at the time. Curiously, draughtsmen are not mentioned in the book (Paulet 1773). It is also worth noting that at the same time, there was another equally technical field in which drawing was applied to manufacturing: the manufacturing of wallpaper. Yet, no technical book describes work in that sector (Jacqué 2003: 81), unlike weaving, which was at least the subject of a few, albeit partial, handbooks.
Paradoxically, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth century, when these occupations had become mechanized and the process of mise en carte had become highly standardized, that handbooks on technical draughtmanship were finally published (see, for example, Lemaire 1906). This gap in the eighteenth century was arguably a consequence of an effort to safeguard trade secrets and of the versatility of the draughtsmen’s job, allowing them to work freely in a variety of sectors (china, lace, silk, Indienne). The prestige of Lyon's Grande Fabrique (silk guild) and of its workers influenced the development of technical literature, and more broadly the image of draughtsmen. A more general overview can thus only be achieved by diversifying sources, in terms of type and geographical origin.
In Paris, notaries’ records, containing information on marriage certificates, transfers of companies and estate inventories, attest to the use of a variety of terms to refer to draughtsmen. In 1851, for instance, a draughtsman who decorated objects could be called a dessinateur pour fabriques (factory draughtsman), a dessinateur lithographe (lithographer), a dessinateur créateur de tapis (rug designer), or a dessinateur sur étoffes (fabric draughtsman)2. New terms appeared when actors were in a position to name what they did and to embody what they were (Hilaire-Pérez 2008: 233-289). Each of these labels should therefore be considered in light of the context in which they were used. Most importantly, and logically enough, these labels changed as industrialization progressed, especially as draughtsmen no longer worked on a single material. Many draughtsmen worked indifferently on Indiennes (printed or painted textiles), china, and wallpaper.
This apparent lexical indecision reflects not only the singular position of artists in industry, but also the mutations of industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The terms dessinateur and metteur en carte were used interchangeably in almanacs around 1800, but sixty years later, factory cabinets’ stamps and seals all read dessinateur3. Could the generalization of that term attest to the recognition of a skillset that was not connected to a specific material? In practice, both in the archives of the Sèvres factory and in deeds drawn up by a notary, the use of a more specific label indicates either a specialization or the draughtsman in question's current activity. In the academic hierarchy of arts, genres are organized according to prestige. But the artists working for the industry were working within all of those genres. Also, manufacturers were not keen on high specialization, which limits the workers’ skillsets and mobility. The working environment of the factory draughtsman and the manufacturing chain thus distort our vision of the skills and knowledge of these ordinary artists. Draughtsmen were usually considered to be specialized in flowers, ornaments, or panoramic designs.
Figure 4. Banyan, France, 1735-1740, section made around 1780, silk
© Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, inv. no. 909.33.1.
Admittedly, plants did have a prominent place in the clothing industry. However, in his Grande Helvétie (wallpaper from 1814), Pierre Mongin demonstrated that he was capable of drawing anything: landscapes, characters, architectures, animals, etc. for the purpose of transforming an interior.
Figure 5a. Wallpaper, Pierre Antoine Mongin, Great Helvetia, Zuber factory, 1814
© Musée des Arts décoratifs, de la faïence et de la Mode (Museum of decorative arts, earthenware and fashion), Marseille (Wikimedia Commons).
Figure 5b. Wallpaper, Pierre Antoine Mongin, Great Helvetia, Zuber factory, 1814 (detail)
© Musée des Arts décoratifs, de la faïence et de la Mode (Museum of decorative arts, earthenware and fashion), Marseille (Wikimedia Commons).
During their careers, draughtsmen had several areas of skill depending on the commissions on which they worked—meaning by extension depending on the available workforce at the time of the commission. The idea that draughtsmen were highly specialized is a myth, just like their image as manufacturing heroes.
The term dessinateur de fabrique prevailed from the mid-eighteenth until the late nineteenth century, but it did not supplant all other denominations. Its increasingly widespread use in that period is confirmed by Google's textual analysis tool Ngram Viewer [https://books.google.com/ngrams], which can search for occurrences of a word or group of words in all Google Books. Ngram Viewer has many flaws and should not replace the analysis of quantitative and qualitative sources. However, by inventorying some 45 billion words in a corpus of 5.2 million French-language books, it allows for a completely unprecedented change of scale. Between 1720 and 1880, dessinateur de fabrique appeared in 136 books and articles. In the eighteenth century, dessinateur de fabrique was used very little in the specialized literature. An inverse trend is then observed: the term was used increasingly frequently throughout the nineteenth century
This increase reflects the standardization of the term—as well as the greater availability of digitalized works for that period, but not to an extent that invalidates the results.
Ultimately, the international competition between manufactures and the growing importance of decoration to attract customers worked in the draughtsmen's favour. They were at that time not labelled according to their specialization, but on the basis of the industrial applications of their work. They emerged as a professional group at the same time as the applied arts sector was shaped and international industrial competition grew. Factory draughtsmen gained prominence in the literature from the 1780s and onwards. Their job became understood in its homogeneity and unity, in a way that did not prevent specialities being taken into account in specific contexts.
Factory draughtsmen were ordinary artists for several reasons. First, they were prisoners of the academic discourse which opposed minor and major arts, arts and industry. Secondly, the production environment of the factory remains little-known, generally addressed under the angle of the history of relationships between bosses and workers, or of their internal hierarchies (Chassagne 1980; 1991; Dewerpe & Gaulupeau 1990). Thus, the relationships between art and the factory, and the working conditions of draughtsmen have remained under-investigated. Lastly, at a time of fast and far-reaching industrial transformations, these artists’ contemporaries were still searching for words to name an occupation that involved multiple skills and was changing quickly.
The functional, utilitarian nature of the objects on which factory draughtsmen worked contributed to relegating them to footnotes of the art world or to making them invisible, under the belief that art is not compatible with manufacturing. Yet, just like other artists, factory draughtsmen imitated and rearranged nature in their creations (Hilaire-Pérez 2008; Damisch 1982; Scott 1999: 61-73). The routine, repetitive character of their acts is perceived to be at odds with the painter’s inspired spontaneity. Yet the “singularity of action in experience defines a rationality conceived not as the application of a method, or even an ability to calculate the subject, but rather as an engagement of the sense and the deployment of ‘innate faculties’ to ‘face things’” (Hilaire-Pérez 2008: 414, n. 17). Gilbert Simondon calls this alternative rationality the “technological unconscious” of draughtsmen; in other words, the intuitive intelligence of their gestures. In this sense, the flexible automatization of the draughtsman’s work is compatible with standardization and mass production: the unconscious aspects of technological action and usage are mental tools that are available during work (Simondon 1958). The experience of the factory draughtsman has thus been shown to be, as an ordinary artist, more collective than individual.
Factory draughtsmen mastered a complex skillset, a language that was aesthetic, technical, economic, and cultural, between individual action, cooperation and negotiated order, shaping the world of factory draughtsmanship. To the purists of artistic hierarchy, factory draughtsman were inferior artists due to the commercial, strategic, utilitarian, and technical dimensions of their work. Yet history painters also repeated the same actions throughout their careers, organized and changed their habits, worked on commissions, made multiple sketches, had customers, and received remuneration. Perhaps if cases of deviance are to be found in artistic labour, they might relate to the few artists who rise to fame, the exceptional “stars”?