Tole Painting and French Folk Art

The name "tole painting" came from a process, Tôle Peinte, which the French utilised for decorating tin or iron articles. Tinplate sheets of iron or steel were dipped in molten tin or pewter (which is an alloy of tin and copper) and these were then worked into the various objects such as cache pots, urns, platters, candlesticks, tea service, trays and other small articles and accessories. The objects were then japanned (imitation of oriental lacquer work from Japan and the Far East) with a varnish created using a mixture of resins, spirits, gums and oils. Many original pieces of Tôle Peinte have been preserved and can be viewed in museums and bought at antique auctions.

Tole painting as we know it today is, simply, decorative painted tin, and "toleware", which is a common term in the decorative painting circle, is an American term for tinware and tinplate.

French Folk Art - Tole Painting Projects

A group of projects on various metal objects in the tradition of tole painting.

Preserved tole objects are truly pieces to admire - small trays, plates and other items usually decorated with floral motifs and either strokework or the classic French ribbon borders. Pieces painted with these elements had a uniquely "soft" look about them. Colours commonly used were pastels. Sometimes they were painted on crackled backgrounds. Maritime scenes and portraits were also quite common.

France is also renowned for "Quimper faience", a style of faience (the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed earthenware on a delicate pale buff body) produced in a factory near Quimper, in Brittany. Production started there in 1690 and continues to this day. Quimper faience initially featured rustic blue on white designs on tin-glazed functional earthenware objects including tiles, bowls, soup tureens, herb jars etc and was traditionally painted with elements depicting French country life.

French Folk Art - Quimper Faience Plate

Through trade and travel, they soon became influenced by the exotic floral designs of porcelain from the Far East in the 17th century. It became quite common then to see Chinese motifs featuring pagodas, temples and oriental country folk on French faience.

Chinoiserie is a generic French term referring to an artistic style characterised by elaborate decoration and intricate patterns of oriental or Chinese influence.
European adaptation, in general, of oriental designs became popular during the late 17th century French, Rococo and Regency periods and Chinese-style ornamentation could be commonly seen not only in faience but also wallpaper, fabric and most importantly, furniture. Motifs commonly used include caricatures, pagodas, landscapes, and rivers.

French Folk Art - Antique Chinoserie Bin

An antique Chinoiserie bin.

In decorative painting today, motifs and elements common in French folk art are commonly painted on wooden items and given glossy coats of varnish to imitate a porcelain or japanned look.

French Folk Art - Oriental Japanned Roses

Gold roses on a rich burgundy background imitating the Oriental look of Japanned lacquer.

Also popular among decorative artists today are hand painted signs and menu boards - these originated in upmarket 19th century restaurants in Paris, as well as boulangeries (bakeries), boucheries (butcheries) and delicatessens around France. They were either made of tin or wood and naturally would utilise images and elements that reflected the kind of establishment it was hung at.

French Folk Art - Deli Menu Board

A menu board decorated with textured vegetables - a conversation piece for guests!



Books to help you

Tole-Painted Outdoor Projects: Decorative Designs for Gardens, Patios, Decks & More
Areta Bingham

Traditional Tole Painting: With Authentic Antique Designs and Working Diagrams for Stenciling and Brush-Stroke Painting, Adaptable for Trays, Boxes
Roberta Ray Blanchard

Tole Painting Made Easy
Ondori (Paperback - November 1996)

The Art of Tole Painting
Masuo Ikeda (Paperback - July 1997)

Tole & Decorative Painting
J. Nelson-Kjenstad, S. Nelson, Honsho Ueda

Tole Painting
B. Kay. Fraser


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