Board d'ambiance of the Aerostat line inspired by hot air balloons and antique hot air balloons under Louis XVI

Like a wandering mirage, I float and travel.
Coloured by the dawn and the evening in turn,
Aerial mirror, I'm reflecting by the way
The changing smiles of the day.

Louise-Victorine Ackermann, The Cloud

In December 2017, the Aerostat line completes the Res Mirum collection.

Majestic aerostats, aerostats fascinate by their imposing silhouettes, but also because they evoke the journey of another time, the dream ... but above all, the first aerostats in history finally give us a glimpse of the possibility of realizing one of the oldest dreams of human beings: to fly! Thus, these first balloons mark the beginning of the conquest of the sky. Let's take a little leap back in time and retrace the epic story of the very beginnings of aeronautics through the history of these very first balloons.



Aerostats are machines that fly because they are lighter than air (Archimedes' thrust principle). Planes, helicopters, rockets... are aerodynes; they are heavier than air, and use a dynamic force to fly. Aerostats and aerodynes together make up the group of aircraft.



For a long time in history there have been references to experiments that were attempted to fly, more or less creative - not to say far-fetched, and not really effective - until 1782, when things took a more serious turn.

Two individuals see a light piece of cloth filled with warm air rising in the air, and think that there is something to be gained from this observation.

The idea would be to build a balloon with a cloth or paper envelope and fill it with hot air. It's a good idea, they have the technical and material means to build it, they own an important paper mill, located in Annonay, a few dozen kilometers south of Lyon: the Montgolfier paper mill. Our two protagonists are the brothers Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier, whose name will soon pass to posterity.

So they began to build a small balloon, one cubic metre in size, which they filled with smoke produced with damp straw mixed with wool and paper, because they thought that smoke is the material that makes up clouds... then they built a bigger one, 3m³, then 12m³, and as the experiment was conclusive, they moved on to the construction of an 800m³ balloon at the beginning of 1783. They will inaugurate the flight of this balloon in public on June 4, 1783, and it is this date which will generally be retained in History as marking the very beginning of aerostation.



Their experience reaches the ears of the Academy of Sciences, and the Montgolfier brothers are invited to come to Paris to demonstrate it in front of King Louis XVI. They then built an even bigger balloon on the spot. But for the time being, the tests have officially been carried out without humans on board; too dangerous... So to prove that it is possible, they attach to this balloon a gondola with a cock, a sheep and a duck inside. On September 19, 1783, in front of the astonished crowd and the royal family, the balloon took off, carrying its passengers to an altitude of 600m and covering a few kilometers. The flight is a success! The final step is to build a balloon that can carry humans; a new one, 2400m³, is therefore rebuilt. Two months later, on November 21, 1783, the first official manned flight took place, which will remain engraved in our memories. This aerostat, named New Year's Eve will remain famous, its image will cross the centuries; so much so that everyone knows it today, for reasons that you will discover.

Les frères Montgolfier accèdent à la reconnaissance, et reçoivent notamment le titre de chevalier.


If we can admire the creativity of the Montgolfier family, we must salute the audacity of the first men who embarked on board their invention, thus becoming the first aeronauts: the Marquis of Arlande, who is already one of the precursors of parachuting, and Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, an intrepid conqueror of space who became the first iconic aeronaut by making several flights by the followingyou. A little later he developed his own aerostat, a different technology, called a hot air balloon or rozière, in which he lost his life trying to cross the English Channel.

Just a few months later, on June 4, 1784, a young Lyonnaise named Elisabeth Tible took her place aboard the aerostat. La Gustavebecoming the first female aerostat operator.

Other famous people come to enamel the history of aeronautics: Let us mention in particular Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the first professional aeronaut in History, who would cross the Channel a few months later and perform hundreds of ascents; let us also mention his wife Sophie Blanchard, the first professional aeronaut in History in the early 1800s, who received the title of official aeronaut of the Restoration; André-Jacques Garnerin, who would be the inventor of parachuting, and his wife Jeanne Labrosse, one of the very first aeronauts and the first woman to jump by parachute in 1799.



Were the Montgolfier brothers innovative forerunners, or did they just get carried away by circumstances? Undeniably, the two Ardéchois were inventive technicians; but what popular memory remembers from History is not always full of nuances. However, several concomitant events, sometimes even much older, deserve consideration.

For example, about 2000 years ago, the Chinese had already invented the celestial lantern, small rice paper balloons that rise into the air with burners that heat the air inside.

The numerous inventors who took an interest in the question in this Enlightenment, the discoveries and scientific advances, particularly in chemistry and physics, made the emergence of this invention propitious. In 1766, for example, the properties of a gas that was much lighter than air, hydrogen, were highlighted.

So when he heard about the very first tests of the Montgolfier, a chemistry professor named Jacques Charles began to build an aerostat himself, except that he preferred to inflate it with this new gas. He will thus play an important role in this adventure; his "aerostatic machine" is much more accomplished than that of the Montgolfier, and its flight is much more efficient. But the official demonstration of his flying machine, named "charlière", was a few days ahead of schedule by the papermaking brothers...



To see these immense globes take flight is at the time something extraordinary, a real feat. The ballomania broke out, balloons were fashionable, and they were represented everywhere: trinkets, art objects, measuring instruments, jewellery, tableware, earthenware and porcelain, decoration, illustrations, and even clothing fashion, which was adorned with balloon sleeves and dresses. Aerostats will deeply mark popular culture through literary works such as those of writers Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, and until today still through the steampunk movement ...



Very quickly, we will try to control their flight, because it must be stressed that until now these flying machines are totally subject to air currents, they can only go up or down and glide with the wind. But it will take no less than 50 years for the français Henri Giffard found a way to steer these balloons using a steam engine, thus creating the first airship, and more than 100 years to see the first zeppelin emerge.

In the second half of the 19th century, the possibility of flying heavier-than-air machines began to be seen... but that's another story.



The Montgolfier paper mill, which in 1784 was awarded the title of Manufacture Royale by King Louis XVI, became a few years later, through inheritance and marriage, the Canson company.

L’entreprise se spécialisa peu à peu dans les papiers de qualité pour les cahiers à dessin et les arts graphiques, et utilisa sur ses produits l’image du fameux premier aérostat du 21 novembre 1783 sujet du premier vol humain.

Over time, the image became simpler and more stylised, to the point of simply becoming the logo of the brand... and it is in this form that we all know today, without necessarily knowing it, this historical balloon.

Evolution of the Canson logo since the Montgolfiers brothers



It is through the very first balloons of the end of the 18th century, reproduced from period illustrations, that Res Mirum retraces the epic of the conquest of the sky.

Hot-air balloons and charlières are thus reproduced in volume, in a cameo style, with the details with which they were richly ornamented. They appear on a surface whose texture evokes a cloudy sky. The symbols of meteorology are engraved on most of the elements; sun, cloud, lightning, rain and rainbow.


Sources :
Marie Thébaud-Sorger, A history of balloonsTemps & espaces des arts, 2010ête-du-ciel-en-montgolfière


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