Jean-Baptiste Letourmy (1747–1800): block-cutter and businessman

Posted on 20th March 2024 by simonbeattie

Orléans was a major eighteenth-century centre for the production of both block-printed papers (papiers dominotés) and popular prints (imagerie populaire), cut from wood, inked, printed, then stencilled by hand.  Jean-Baptiste Letourmy (also Letourmi, 1747–1800), was both dominotier—‘un des très grands producteurs de papiers dominotés de son temps’ (Valérie Hubert, Les papiers dominotés, 2016, p. 34)—and imagier.  ‘He was the most prolific in Orléans …  Assisted by one or more skilled block-cutters, he produced numerous religious prints and traditional images, keeping up with current events when revolution broke out.  He produced at least 321 designs of patterned paper.  As a bookseller, he disseminated the “Bibliothèque bleue” … [and] presided over an army of chapmen: “His block-printing business prospered and his name was known throughout France.  He had over 100 agents spread across about 60 towns and cities.  In Tours, Blois, thanks to the commercial presence of his brothers, as well as Paris, Avignon, and Lille, by means of a solid sales network, Letourmy sent out bales of prints, 40–50,000 a time”’ (André Jammes, Papiers dominotés, 2010, p. 182, my translation). 

Letourmy’s block-printed decorated papers could look something like this:

I love coming across them. But this year at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, I shall be exhibiting some examples of his other work:

As an imprimeurlibraire (rather than just an imagier-dominotier), Letourmy also had the right to include printed text in his images, as here.  The first tells, in verse (to be sung to the tune ‘Belle bergère champetre’), the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria from John 4: 1–26.  The second perhaps satirises the mores of the time, its nine vignettes showing various couples at the Palais-Royal—by the 1780s, the place to be, thanks to its fashionable shopping arcades which attracted people from all walks of life—some of whom seem more interested in courting than others.  Together, they neatly illustrate the range of Letourmy’s output, and the audience(s) for which he was producing it, in the years before the Revolution.

For more details of the broadsides, and other things I shall be bringing to the fair, please click here.

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2 responses to “Jean-Baptiste Letourmy (1747–1800): block-cutter and businessman”

  1. Ann Marie Wall says:

    Simon, Did he consistently use the same paper – if so, what kind? Thanks in advance. Lovely pieces. Ann Marie

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