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After: Nicolaes Berchem, Dutch, 1620–1683; “Chair Cover Printed with Pastoral Scene”, 1761; plate-printed cotton; 21 1/2 × 25 3/4 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Richard and Suellen Meyer 54:2017

ST. LOUIS, MO.- The Saint Louis Art Museum is presenting “Printing the Pastoral: Visions of the Countryside in 18th-Century Europe,” a free exhibition examining the early development of one of the most recognizable textile genres: copperplate-printed cotton, popularly known as toile. It opened May 24 in Gallery 100. 

Toile has remained popular since its inception more than 250 years ago, when technological advances allowed textile printers to exploit the type of copperplates long used by artists to print on paper. Artisans were then able to create nuanced, intricate designs, and their creativity flourished. 

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Nicolaes Berchem, Dutch, 1620–1683; “The Shepherd Playing the Flute”; etching; sheet: 8 1/16 x 6 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 110:1914

The emergence of copperplate-printed textiles coincided with the taste for scenes of country life and other pastoral imagery in Europe. Middle- and upper-class audiences clamored for fabrics patterned with idyllic scenes of shepherds, ladies on swings, amorous couples and village celebrations. Textile printers responded, drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources. 

This exhibition reveals the nostalgia for pastoral themes common to 18th-century textile consumers and art collectors by pairing furnishing fabrics, ceramics, and paintings with prints by—or after—Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolaes Berchem, Paulus Potter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher. A featured object in “Printing the Pastoral” is a reconstructed bed, complete with coverlet and curtains, that illustrates the visual impact of these innovative fabrics in the 18th-century home. 

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Jean-Baptiste Huet, French, 1745–1811; “Activities on the Farm”, c.1795; plate-printed cotton; 89 x 72 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 224:1931.

“Printing the Pastoral” includes a number of textiles never before exhibited at the museum, including a recent gift of printed cottons from Richard and Suellen Meyer and a loan from the Missouri History Museum of an important early English copperplate-printed textile. 

The exhibition is curated by Genevieve Cortinovis, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, and Heather Hughes, senior research assistant and manager of the Study Room for Prints, Drawings and Photographs. 

The exhibition will be on view through December 1.

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Jacob van Ruisdael, Dutch, 1628/29–1682; “The Little Bridge”; etching; sheet (irregular): 8 3/8 x 11 13/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. John S. Lehman 376:1952.

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Associate textile conservator Miriam Murphy installs “Printing the Pastoral: Visions of the Countryside in 18th-Century Europe.”