The collection

Wetter factory, exterior view

Gabriel Maria Rossetti

1764, oil on canvas
Wetter room

This painting is one of many works displayed in the Wetter room, originally from a house located on Rue de la Fabrique in Orange. Mr Pinet, the owner of the house, wanted to show off the importance of this calico factory which the Wetter brothers had put him in charge of.

 

The City of Orange and Mont Ventoux provide a backdrop to a scene of intense activity under the owner’s authority, accompanied by the manager. Comfortable in his position of authority, Mr Wetter is giving the painter more attention than he is to the ragged child who is begging.  On the right, a man is pulling an empty wheelbarrow and in the middle view there are others carrying a stretcher.  In the background on the right, a hydraulic press is used to beat a large quantity of fabrics. This machine bears witness to these business leaders’ boldness in the quest for greater productivity, in the middle of the industrial revolution.  A couple have come maybe to admire this innovative machine or to choose some fabrics. 

 

In the foreground, right in the centre, three men have left their stone cutting tools and are having a drink together. Behind them there is a warehouse housing the boilers which scour the blank textiles before they are pressed. In the background, the workers are rinsing the fabrics in an offshoot of the River Meyne and are then spreading them out on lines or in a meadow where they are regularly watered. 

 

To the left, a bearded worker is making tubs for the printers, while a child is being told off.  Further away, the workers are taking a delivery of barrels of alum or madder dye and crates of textiles. At the back, there is a dyeing warehouse.  The men are busying themselves around the tanks, heated by a glowing red fire and outside, a dyer is using madder to colour the fabrics in a tank over a mill driven by two other employees. On the left-hand side of the painting, there is a two-storey building housing the fabric printing and painting rooms.  Something strange is happening which seems to have been inspired by the French folk song “C’est la Mère Michel”. 

 

This painting is one of a series which give a lively and accurate portrayal life in the Wetter factory in Orange which was opened in 1757. The Wetter brothers, originally from Switzerland were linen brokers who had already tried to set up a business in Marseille, a free port which often illegally handled printed cottons from the Indies.  After bankruptcy in Marseille, they set up a public limited company in Orange. The factory quickly became a large, modern and prosperous business whose calicos were recognised across Europe for their quality.  The factory employed over 500 workers.  Unfortunately, it eventually fell victim to fierce competition and glut on the market.  It finally closed in 1802.


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