Hyde Cabinet #13: Thorns in Time

Charles Hippolyte Aubry trained as a pattern designer but brought the relatively new mode of photography to his work in the early 1860s. Self-taught late in life, the French designer and photographer began producing albums of images depicting flora and foliage for textile manufacturers and design students, who would model the decorative ornamentation of objects from these references. Despite the aesthetic limits of these instructional guides, Aubry’s American Beauty (Study of Roses) can be read as artistically sophisticated but also, for today’s viewers, politically thought-provoking in its presentation of an arguably Orientalist subject.
This photograph of a bouquet of French-Chinese hybridized roses paradoxically seems both dreamily imaginary and tangibly realistic. The nonspecific backdrop and hazy lighting idealize the blossoms as if re-creating a dream whose contents can be filled in by the viewer. Although these popular roses were best known for their vibrant tints, the black-and-white palette—determined by the period’s available technology—allowed the viewer expansive imaginative freedom. Perhaps the dream was about a certain exoticism for foreign, especially Asian, objects, graphics, and motifs that were fashionable at the time. Such Orientalist ideas were part of an imperialistic attitude that pervaded this age, but which in retrospect appears as what we today call cultural appropriation. The parched petals, spindly thorns, and insect-eaten holes remind viewers of the imperfection of even cultivated nature—an imperfection that reveals injustice and death. Not even the printing chemicals and industrial techniques can preserve an ideal beauty; acidic drips speckling the print echo the flaws in the subject matter. In one photograph, history’s complex layers unfold: the imaginary and real play out the contradictions of the Orientalized imperialism that underlaid and undercut French culture—as well as many other Western cultures—then as now.
Exhibition Name
Hyde Cabinet #13: Thorns in Time
Exhibition Type
Student Curated
Solo Exhibitions
Hyde Cabinet
Jul 20, 2021 - Sep 26, 2021
Hyde Cabinet #13: Thorns in Time is organized by Madeleine Ward-Schultz ’22
Charles Hippolyte Aubry
Student Staff
Madeleine ward schultz
Madeleine Ward-Schultz
2021-22 Charina Endowment Fund Endowed Intern, Student Advisory Council
Past related events
Pattern by Emma Fritschel ’19
Inspired by the exhibition Twice Drawn
The Tang Pattern Project celebrates the Museum’s 20th anniversary. Organized by Head of Design Jean Tschanz-Egger, past and current Tang Design Interns created patterns inspired by the Museum’s exhibition and event history.