Friday, 17 December 2010

Lace Work of Alcide Roussel

Illustration: Alcide Roussel. A flounce of alencon point lace, 1867.

At the 1867 Universal Exhibition held in Paris, many different forms of the decorative arts were included within the myriad displays. These included all forms of metal and wood work, furniture, glass, ceramic, stained glass and any number of personal items not associated with interiors, such as jewellery and other fashion orientated items. Textiles was, as always at these nineteenth century events, thorougly well represented, with carpet, tapestry, printed, woven, embroidery and lace examples from across Europe and North America.

Being a French sponsored, although international event, the domestic lace industry dominated the lace contingent at the exhibition, although there were entries by other European nations such as Austria and England. A number of French companies as well as individual designers were represented including that of Auguste Lefebure who were based at Bayeux in northern France. The three pieces illustrated here were designed for them by Alcide Roussel.

The 1850s and 1860s saw lace production in Europe expand as it become a more desirable and status driven commodity. Much of this was prompted by some very selective product placement, such as the timely patronage of the Empress Eugenie wife of Napoleon III, until 1871 still Emperor of France. By gaining Eugenie's public patronage French lace production was assured of a very public display for the work of both companies and individual designers.

Illustration: Alcide Roussel. Lace parasol cover in point a l'aigulle, 1867.

During this period of the mid-nineteenth century, lace pattern work became much more complex and ever more accomplished. Many of the pieces, such as the ones illustrated in this article, were deliberately over-produced in order to show as examples of the complexity of both the industry and the companies involved. However, royal patronage did also mean that ever-finer examples had to be produced in order to both flatter and engage the individual involved, but also in order to exaggerate the strength and creativity of the domestic market in France.

It would be untrue to say that all French lace production during the 1850s and 1860s was of the same standard as Roussel's pieces for international exhibition status. Much of the domestic work was of a lower and more durable standard, which was meant to keep many of these companies in profits during this period.

Perhaps the most important purpose for displaying these complicated lace pieces at both international exhibitions as well as for the arrangement of royal patronage was the increasingly real prospect of genuine competition from machine made lace. Machinery had been involved within the lace making industry long before the 1867 exhibition in Paris. However, much of the work produced during the early nineteenth century had been crude and a derisory reflection of lace compared to the craft of hand lace making, but by the mid nineteenth century, machine lace was becoming more apparent, more flexible and much more accomplished. By continually complicating the pattern work of hand lace production, it was hoped that the craft would be able to stay one step ahead of the machine lace rival. However, this strategy was limited as the complexity of the patterns used in hand lace made it so exorbitantly expansive for both the company and the public that eventually no one could really afford these showpieces.

Illustration: Alcide Roussel. Point colbert lace band, 1867.

The extraordinary illustrations shown in this article can only give a glimpse of the staggering complexity of the work shown at the Paris exhibition. Trompe l'oeil features, complicated and undulating foliage, along with detailed and almost kaleidoscopic features within the design work, show the status that French hand lace production had reached by the mid nineteenth century. In some ways irrelevant to us one hundred and fifty years later, as to why these complex patterns were produced. It is much more a case of admiring both the design work of Roussel as well as the infinite patience and dexterity of the lace makers involved, many now anonymous.

Reference links:
Reports of Artisans Selected by a Committee Appointed by the Council of the Society of Arts to Visit the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867
Reports On the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867. Vol.2-6 [And] Index To, Volume 5
List Of The Objects Obtained During The Paris Exhibition Of 1867 By Gift, Loan, Or Purchase And Now Exhibited In The South Kensington Museum
De la Dentelle & Des Hommes / The Lace-makers of Calais (French Edition)
BB-French Lace
A History of Hand-Made Lace: Dealing with the Origin of Lace, the Growth of the Great Lace Centres, the Mode of Manufactures, the Methods of Distiuguishing and the Care of Various Kinds of Lace
Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace
Pillow Lace, a Practical Hand-Book
A History of Hand Made Lace

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