François Dautresme, who amassed a huge collection of Chinese objects over his 77 years, will have his famed collection auctioned off at PIASA this October. With over 7,000 pieces, this Chinese pioneer was noted for creating his own private European museum. From straw to bamboo to silk and pietradura, one highlight in his cabinet of curiosities is his collection of Chinese ‘Ge Ba’; collaged strips of fabrics used to quilt the soles of people’s shoes from the mid-20th century. In Selvedge issue 77, Dr Sue Marks got up close and personal with these remnants of a culture passed…

Occasionally, one comes across something that has the ability to turn one’s idea about art on its head. When I first saw the images of the Chinese Ge Ba, they had an aesthetic quality that intrigued and excited me. It is rare nowadays to come across something about which so little is known, but I have been able to expand my knowledge by speaking to Françoise Dautresme, who, with her adopted Chinese daughter, is co-owner of a textile collection of which the Ge Ba are a part.

Visiting China for some 40 years, her cousin, François Dautresme, travelled extensively, even during the cultural revolution, and he amassed an astounding collection of Chinese textiles representing all levels of the social scale from peasants to high society. These particular pieces, probably produced in the middle of the 20th century or earlier, were discovered in 1965 in what we might call a rag and bone shop, but one that sold mainly cleaning items.

Looking to purchase a broom, François found these textiles not on display but tucked away, covered in dust, at the back of the shop. Thankfully for all textile lovers, he saw the beauty of them and carried on collecting them over the next 15 years, moving out into rural China to hunt them out in small towns and villages. He was discerning, only acquiring the best pieces, those that appealed to him aesthetically; for, despite the beauty of those shown here, there were many pieces that were quite ordinary. Some of his resulting collection is contemporary to the times, whereas others had been stored away, possibly for some years.

François obtained his knowledge first hand, asking his young translator to question the women about their practice of making these Ge Ba, a tradition that was to be found all over China. Using old garments and anything that had outlived its usefulness, they cut and fashioned the remnants of recycled fabrics into rectangular pieces, approximately 40x60cm in size. The rectangles are composed of anything between 10 and 15 layers of fabrics stuck together with rice glue…

To read this article in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 77 here.

François Dautresme Collection Mémoire De La Chine, Auction 10 October 2017.

118 rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré 75008 Paris, France.

Photography by Mark Eden Schooley

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