Indian Chintz – Red ground

Detail from Palampore

Just got delivery of three huge boxes and a large parcel containing Indian Trade cloths from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where they were on loan since 2004.

Seems rather strange to have them back as the last few times they were examined they were in the South East Asia study rooms at the Museum.  Increasingly the concept of ownership of such historic objects seems rather strange as the pleasure is always associated with the huge responsibility of care and preservation.  Some of these textiles date from 1300’s and it’s hard to imagine how such fragile objects could have survived so long in such pristine condition. We can only play a minor role as short term guardians and hope that they are continued to be preserved.

Indian chintz Palampore circa 1700

On examining the two red ground Palampores it is evident that they have had a very different life since they were manufactured on the Coromandel Coast in India.

Red ground palampore No 2 circa 1700

Both the above textiles depict a single flowering tree on red ground and share a very similar and unusual small size, 190cm by 110cm. The first one seems to be in pristine colour and condition with minor areas of damage, it seems like it was folded and put away soon after it was manufactured almost 300 years ago, whereas the second piece is in rather poor state although restorable.

Chintz was introduced to Europe in the early 17th Century, but the trade to SE Asian markets had been traced back to the Fostat finds, see John Guy’s pioneering book on Indian Trade cloths, Woven Cargoes,  Indian textiles in the East published by Thames and Hudson in 1998

Indian chintzes became very popular in Britain as soon as they were introduced because of their colour and design and due to the dyes being fast. In 1697 over five thousand English weavers protested at the House of Commons against Indian imported goods. Despite the passing of a law in 1701 banning the import of Indian cotton and silk the trade in these items continued, leading to further protests resulting in chintz dresses being torn off women in streets. All this is covered by Rosemary Crill in her book on Indian Chintz called Chintz, Indian textiles for the West, V & A Museum publication published in 2008.

Base detail of palampore

The drawings in the first palampore seem to take me to the very open blossoms in the bouquet being held by the black maid in Manet’s Olympia, a painting I have studied in detail. It’s as if the flowers are so heavy for the tree that they are on the verge of falling away from it, over the top and excess like the prostitute in the painting waiting with her gaze fixed at the viewer with a huge open flower in her hair. Given the subject matter a truly amazing and forward looking piece of art for its time.

Detail of second palampore

The feel of the second worn palampore is very different, the overall drawing is not as fine as the better preserved piece. The tree feels almost suspended in red space and rather disjointed which could be partly due to the missing red ground areas.  It does take me back to August this year in front of The Red Studio by Mattise hanging in MOMA in NY.  Timeless like the clock with missing hands and almost floating nature of the objects in the red studio.

A much larger red ground palampore was exhibited in Paris at Musee Galliera at an amazing exhibition called Le Coton et la Mode in 2000. Red ground chintz was much favoured by the Dutch market.

Hope to explore these themes a bit further in an update of this first blog.

Other red ground chintz in the collection.

Red ground Indian chintz fragment, 18th Cent.

Redd ground Indian Chintz sarong for SE Asian market

Red ground Indian chintz fragment


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