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Lyon, France

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Impression of the exhibition at the Musée de Lyon, France.

Lyon, France, is proud of its textile history. This begins in the city’s airport, where mannequins in designer clothes are scattered throughout the arrival hall. Their plaques state that Lyon has been the Silk Capital of France since the 16th century, and continues to produce luxury silks, taffetas, velvets and laces for top fashion brands. Then there’s a Metro line called “La Soie” (“Silk”) and glossy advertisements for a candy named “Le Coussin de Lyon” (the “Cushion of Lyon”, after a silk cushion in front of a local statue of the Virgin Mary).

It is Lyon’s Textile Museum, however, that really showcases the city’s love affair with silk. The Museum has one of the world’s largest textile collections with some two and a half million objects, spanning 4000 years. The collection was begun in 1864 by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which still runs the Museum. Herein lies a problem: several years ago the government cut its subsidies for Chamber of Commerces by 40 percent. The Lyon Chamber of Commerce decided it could no longer afford to keep the Textile Museum and its sister collection, the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Museum staff and supporters are working hard trying to secure private funding to keep the Museum open. If they do not succeed, the Museum may close at the end of this year and the collection will be divided up. Given that the Museum also houses a conservation and documentation centre and is headquarters, since 1954, for the prestigious Centre International de’Etude des Textiles Anciens (CIETA), this would be a blow to textile research.

It would also be a blow to the average textile lover, if the Museum’s most recent exhibition “The Genius of Industry” is an indication. It is a stunning exhibition of 18th and 19th century Lyonnaise fabrics, mostly used to decorate walls and furniture in wealthy homes or in palaces such as Versailles. The exhibition opens with a 19th century wood and iron dryer, beautifully decorated on the outside with Chinese images of silk production. The dryer was used to dry samples from silk bales. Silk can absorb up to one-third of its weight in water. Using this machine, prospective buyers were assured they were getting as much silk as possible.

And then come the stunning textiles: three metre long, beautifully preserved panels, many from silk and linen, often embellished with gold and silver thread. One such panel portrayed peacock feathers, bouquets of big flowers and broad ribbons, and used 48 different colours. This fabric decorated Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom walls. I was surprised at the narrowness of the panels, until I saw the exhibition’s Jacquard loom, with its width of about 40 centimetres. Because of meticulous record keeping, the names of the designer and the weaver (and, in the case of embroidery, the embroiderer) are often known. Each panel was accompanied by detailed technical information, unfortunately (for me) only in French. This is an exhibition that deserves to be seen—and a Museum that deserves to stay open.

By Shelley Anderson, 23rd May 2017

See also the blog of 22 May 2016. 

TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428   info@trc-leiden.nl

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Gallery exhibition, 3 April - 29 June: From Kaftan to Kippa

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

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Financial gifts

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
Financial donations can also be made via Paypal: