Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


Theories about the best education for craftsmen and designers preoccupied a number of French thinkers during the Enlightenment: they included several notable inhabitants of Lyons, a city which depended for its reputation on the manufacturing of patterned silks. After several years of debate, the initiatives of these individuals led, in 1756, to the founding of a school of drawing (ecole gratuite de dessin), which received Royal approval the following year, and direct central government funding from 1780. The founders and administrators of the school claimed that they were targeting future silk designers to whom they offered tuition in drawing, free of charge, under the direction of eminent artists. Seen as an alternative to apprenticeship with a Lyonnais or Parisian flower-painter, or apprenticeship at the Gobelins tapestry works in Paris, this education allegedly provided a service that allowed Lyons independence from the capital and also assured poorer students of the possibility of following a career in silk design.

Whilst historians of the school of drawing in Lyons have charted its establishment, related its philosophy and curriculum to similar institutions in other French cities, and noted the emergence of a fine school of flower-painters in early 19th century Lyons (the product of its liberal education), there seems to be little attention devoted to the irksome question of whether the plans for the school suited local manufacturers and catered for their needs in the second half of the 18th century. It is the aim of this essay to fill this gap in current histories, by evaluating to what extent the school of drawing responded to and represented the requirements of manufacturers of patterned silks - those manufacturers who relied on design for the success of their products and therefore employed designers in one capacity or another.