What is this?
Length of woven fabric with a brown ground and a bold pattern of orange flames and swirling gold clouds of rising smoke forming paisley-like forms; salamanders move among the flames. Le Feu is one of a series of silks representing the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) exhibited at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, 1925.
Why is this important?
This fabric, with its rhythmic pattern of meandering flames and smoke, is one in a series of four woven fabrics which together represent the four basic elements of nature: earth, water, air and fire. The Four Elements was a popular theme throughout the history of decorative arts, but this textile reveals another motif that may be less familiar - the salamander.
The brave little salamanders woven into this design face the fierce flames and billowing smoke plumes head on. For centuries in France, the salamander was associated with courage and thriving. The allegorical motif was especially important to King Francis 1, who reigned from 1515 to 1547.
This fabric was designed by Yvonne Clarinval and manufactured by Tassinari & Chatel in Lyon specifically for the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs. Clarinval’s use of the nationalistic amphibian recalls the decorative schemes of King Francis’s châteaux at Fontainebleau and Chambord, and would have conjured up memories of the grandeur and power of French tradition, an important theme at the 1925 exposition.