Grégoire Velvet


We want here to talk about unique specimens in their category and very scheming those are Grégoire's velvets.

Gaspard Grégoire was born in Aix in Provence (France) on October 20, 1751 and died on May 12, 1846. He belonged to a family of silk traders. For a long time, in Aix, one raised the silkworm, but one also made silk fabrics. In 26 years, working in the paternal business, he had the idea of his painted velvet and began his trials to realise the invention.

He needed a considerable sum of studies, of searches, of spent time and expenses of money to be able to realise his first works, which aroused surprise and admiration of those that saw them in Aix.

Then hopeful and confident of the future of his discovery, he tried to derive glory and profit of it and decided so to go to Paris to present his invention to numerous, rich and influential amateurs, and so obtain privileges.

He succeeded in presenting the first samples of his velvet still imperfect to the senior civil servant who steered at that time the Arts Department of the kingdom, the count of Angiviller.
He obtained encouragement and material help. He was even accommodated in the Galleries of the Louvre.

It matters before continuing this small story, to describe a little what were these famous fabrics. It is necessary at first to explain that one does not know the detail of the Grégoire techniques. Indeed, we know by a passage of a Gaspard Grégoire's niece letter, that few days before his death, the history having rather badly turned, as one will see it farther, this last one had burned all the papers concerning its invention of the velvet. However, it seems certain that there is there no mysterious technique, but simply the fruit of an ingenious dexterity, a know-how and dexterity acquired by means of ceaseless efforts, of laborious work and furious pugnacity.

Hundred times on the loom, put back your work, polish it, and repolish it once more.

Grégoire's velvet reproduces in the perfection of portraits as those of the Napoleon, the Pope Pie VII, Louis XVIII or duchess of Angoulème, the reproductions of famous Raphaël's works, Greuze, flowers …

The Historical textile Museum of Lyons presents numerous Grégoire's velvet.
Velvet Grégoire never exceeded as a rule 27 cm x 30 cm, at least for those that were successful, because he was often subdued and for a long time in the pressure exerted, as one will see it farther, by the count of Angiviller, his creditor of the state, to realise his velvet in big width, that means about 50 cm.

We have just said that Grégoire's velvet represented very detailed drawings as portraits. The extraordinary and unique technique of Grégoire holds in the fact that these drawings are neither figured fabrics (as they would be by means of a hand loom, because let us not forget that mechanics Jacquard loom was not yet created), or printed as they could have been on a self coloured fabric after weaving.

Grégoire painted his portraits on the warp before the weaving. To understand a little better Grégoire's exploit, let us say two words of the description of a velvet. The velvet is consisted at least of two warps, of which one is named "back ground" serves for weaving normally according to a simple armor (as the taffeta), the body of the fabric.
The second warp, named "pile warp" is that one producing only the drawing, realised with tuft of piles, and does not intervene in the background of the fabric.

These two warps are warped on two different warp beams for the following reason: The back ground of the fabric, in taffeta or satin, consumes a certain quantity of warp yarn in a metre length; let us say for example that for a metre of velvet, it is necessary to count 1,10 m of back ground warp length (10 % of embuvage).

The drawing, for velvet consumes, for the same length tissue, infinitely more warp, for the simple reason of its progress around the irons which allows to create loops, which will be cut in two to form the tuft of piles. This consumed length varies, naturally according to the height of velvet piles, and so of the pile wire height.
On average, to weave a metre of fabric, 7 metres of piles will be needed (maybe less for velvet Grégoire, this last one limiting the height of the piles by using pile wires little high).

One understands that two warps, for 1 metre of fabric, to supply 1,10 m for the "back ground" and 7 m for the pile must be necessarily placed on two different waving beams, the back ground weaving beam and pile waving beam. But this small explanation makes understand us all the difficulty of the work of Grégoire: Indeed, because for 1 cm of drawing realised with the pile, it is necessary to consume 7 cm of this pile thread, one realises well that motive painted on the pile warp before weaving should undergo a deformation of a report from 1 to 7 to find a normal proportion during the weaving.
This is rather easily possible for a simple or abstract motive, but what can we say regarding the representation of very faithfully portrait of the Emperor ???

Look now below the Pope Pie VII portrait that he represented :


Pope Pie VII portrait in Grégoire's velvet


Henri Algoud's book (1908), " Gaspard Grégoire and his Velvet of Art " describes in 72 pages Gaspard Grégoire's history and his process of velvet weaving. It is for our knowledge the only book treating this subject.

The CVMT (Conservator of the old professions of textile) has scanned a copy and realised a CD-ROM that is sold by the Association: You can get it (see home page of the site).

Gaspard Grégoire having not been able to weave his velvet in bigger width as required his creditors, in the person of the count of Angiviller, fell in disgrace, then in the total neglect.

After him, several imitators, as native of Lyons Herguez, Garin, Henry, or still Martin in 1894, tried to reproduce the technique, but nobody succeeded in equalling reaching his quality level. Later, interesting imitations were obtained by the impression on warp, however, the engraved board, however skilfully combined and applied it is, can not give the sharpness of Grégoire's paintbrush, the half-tones, its shadows, its blends, the flowing outline, soft, definition. Indeed, these are not Grégoire's velvet...