Monday, August 25, 2008

Hewson & the French Connection

My article "John Hewson and the French Connection" is currently in The Magazine ANTIQUES , August 2008 issue. This is my second research paper about John Hewson in less than a year, but I have been engaged in in-depth research about him and his work since 2002.

The first paper appeared last October in FOLK ART Magazine of the American Folk Art Museum. Hewson is considered to be one of the earliest and the finest of chintz block printers in America's history. He emigrated from England to Philadelphia in 1773 to set up one of the first textile printing factories here. His goal was to dye and print cotton and linen fine enough to compete with England's dyed and printed cottons. Colorfast printing on cotton was still new to the Western world at that time and they loved it; colorful cottons from India, called chintz, were all the rage around the world and now Europe and America would be competitors.

A small number of textiles printed by Hewson exist today (as far as we know there are twenty-eight) and the majority of them have a large vase holding a bouquet of garden flowers placed in the middle of a square printed panel. The quilt maker often placed this panel in the middle of a medallion or frame quilt. Or the vase and flowers design was carefully cut-out of the chintz and appliquéd to a different background in a quilt.

The vase and flowers are colorful and naturalistic in their depiction. Hewson's influence was thought to be from his homeland and from Dutch flower paintings. A closer look at the neoclassical decorations on the vase indicated to me that it was in fact more like the decorative arts I was seeing made in France in the last quarter of the 18th century. With the decorative arts as my field for research, I became more convinced of the French connection as I went along. Then in 2004 I found the source of his design!

What I reveal in this important paper is the late 18th century French arabesque wallpaper in the Louis XVI style from which Hewson borrowed the vase and flowers design to print onto cotton. He took the central portion of the vertically repeating design on the wallpaper, adapting the tip top of his flowers and bottom of base of his vase, to show a complete free-standing design.

The wallpaper curators of museums in France and America are of the belief that this wallpaper was from the atelier Jean Baptiste Réveillon, whose manufactory was known for producing the finest luxurious arabesque wallpapers at that time. 1780-1790. Who printed the French wallpaper I discuss in this article, is not certain as it is not stamped with a manufactory and it is not in the sample books of Réveillon's wallpapers kept at various museums. However, the late 18th century printing was likely printed at his manufactory after he retired, by the new owners were Jacquemart and Benard.

I also reveal how the manner of Chinese wallpaper artists probably affected Hewson's designs and choices he made for the lay-out of his panel. This is not to be confused with the style called chinoiserie. The manner of early Chinese wallpaper artists, who were the first to make wallpaper, is the influence I write about here and it is significant.

Wonderful photos accompany my article. The highlight of all the photos however is the pair of portraits of John and Zibiah Hewson!! Their portraits have not been published before.

I will be publishing more of my research findings and assessments about John Hewson’s life and his work. I am available for lectures and presentations. To talk about this further please contact me directly at a different email address, or go to my website for the phone and address at I welcome your inquires and contributions!

The month is nearly over, so if you haven't found a copy yet, order one from the publisher by email: or to subscribe call 212.941.2806. Some Borders and Barnes & Nobles sell the magazine, as well as other fine bookstores, and many libraries subscribe.


Kimberly Wulfert, PhD

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