• Looking underwater for design inspiration

    Kimberly Glassman

    A wealthy amateur botanist and philanthropist, Augustin Balleydier de Hell had developed a passion for seaweed and marine plants, which he saw as a source of renewal for the decoration of fabrics and industrial products.

    He collected specimens in the Mediterranean, on the shores of the Atlantic, the English Channel and the North Sea, then glued them in albums that he gave to French manufacturers as models for their designers. In this way he offered nearly one hundred thousand plants to artists. In 1856, Balleydier de Hell was commissioned by the famous French Jacquard weaving factory to create an “Album Jacquard” of flora featuring marine life as part of their 12-year project to provide a source book for designers.
    Plant prints from different stems.
    Two flower prints.
    Together, Balleydier de Hell and the printing office Imprimerie Marie (Susse Frères) combined nature printing with lithography to capture the beauty of seaweed and starfish.

    In some cases, they used two lithographic stones to build up the artwork, one for each individual colour. Fitting for such a dedication, the unique publication of printed marine plants was presented to Napoleon III in 1853 on the occasion of the Exhibition of the Imperial and Central Horticultural Society by Balleydier de Hell himself.
    A big flower print.
    Two starfish prints.