The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

Tapestry d’AUBUSSON

Friday 18 December 2015, by Barbara Cogollos

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The birth of French tapestry is, even today, subject to various theories. According to legend, it would be the Saracen warriors who were at the origin. Indeed, after their defeat at Poitier in 732, some of them had settled on the banks of the Creuse and have started an activity upholsterer and weavers. But for other authors, the term "Saracen carpet" carpet type produced in Aubusson who have influenced this legend.


The Tapestry

More certainly, the origins of the French tapestry are looking into immigration numerous Flemish tapestry (then capital of tapestry) fleeing the wool shortage hits Flanders in the fourteenth century.

The original tapestry is used to dress the walls of mansions but mainly to provide a minimum insulation in stone houses where the size of the parts does not allow fireplaces to provide sufficient heating. Moreover, tapestries adorn chests and furniture and are easily transportable.

Anyway, the first traces of Aubusson tapestries and Felletin (called Tapestry Walk, name of the massif of the Creuse where cities Aubusson and Felletin are located) date back to 1457. The first current aesthetic Aubusson tapestries is called "vogue thousand flowers". Indeed, the first tapestries depict figures or animals in a setting made up of hundreds of flowers. It is at this current belongs the famous Flemish tapestry The Lady and the Unicorn in the Musée de Cluny.

At that time, the tapestry is still largely a typically Flemish craftsmanship. It was not until sixteenth century and the throne of Henry IV to appear regulations to ensure the economic success of French tapestry. Indeed, Henry set up protection programs to competition from French art industries. These regulations prohibit the entry into France for foreign tapestries (edict of 11 September 1601). These edicts allow a revival of the industry marchoise tapestry (Aubusson, Felletin and Bellegarde) including giving these cities of privileges (no housing soldiers, no tolls for export to Paris tapestries etc. ). These new regulations revitalize a wobbling craft: in 1637 there were more than 2,000 upholsterers just to Aubusson.

With this success and this new protection one sees appearing tapestry of different kinds: the greenery contains a subtly populated vegetation wild or exotic animals, religious scenes also find success and mythological scenes, we also see the emergence of reproductions of paintings.

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Une des 6 tapisseries de la « Dame à la licorne », le 6eme panneau : « à mon seul désir » (Musée de Cluny)

But this growth was short-lived, since the second half of the seventeenth techniques get lost, the rise of marchoise tapestry freezes. We are looking increasingly to imitate painting, results in a blandness colors and loss of inspiration. Moreover, religious conflict tear the country apart.

In 1665, the Aubusson upholsterers alert Colbert and the King and obtain the title of Manufacture Royale. In 1686, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes escalates an already deleterious religious situation. In parallel, the creation of Gobelins and Beauvais is a blow to some Marchoises manufactures. In 1732, the manufacture of Felletin also gets the title of royal manufactory but while being placed under the control of Aubusson.

In the eighteenth, the modes of frivolous aesthetic integrate with tapestries, is the appearance scenes of Chinese fables, marine and hunting scenes. Hunting scenes are quite typical of this period, they are generally characterized by a rustic weaving, limited color palette and a typical virtual absence of perspective. Inspired by the Flemish models, these tapestries won considerable success.

Then comes the wallpaper mode which is a severe blow to the tapestry industry. Centralization and social misfortunes experienced by France in these troubled times is not conducive to the success or extending the tapestry marchoise industry. To counter this situation, the legislation that governed the manufactures becomes stricter: workers training last at least 3 years, 4 more years in the workshop of a master, in addition, the aspirants must realize a Head ’artwork. King also introduces visitors jurors who control the quality tapestries, the productions are systematically marked finally with the Letters Patent of May 28, 1732 King control a dyer expert to train workers from Aubusson.

Finally in 1798, the first exhibition of Industry honors the upholsterers workshops that are awarded prizes. With this new success, orders explode. Under the Empire and the Restoration orders flow and success does not dry up. Even today, the Aubusson tapestries is a great success in the auction house, such as in October 16 200th at Sotheby’s Paris where an Aubusson tapestry of the eighteenth, a hunting scene was awarded € 19,450.

The tapestry that we propose is quite typical of the eighteenth, is what kind of tapestry that is the most sought after by collectors. The subject, touching frivolity, is served by a flawless composition. The density of foliated decorations are reminiscent of the greenery, the characters are represented with a particularly pronounced worries detail (especially in the costumes and postures) typical of the large Aubusson tapestry in the eighteenth. The richness and subtlety of the composition are underlined by a frieze decorated with beautiful flowers and foliage. This tapestry is the perfect illustration of the auspicious period of an art industry that is still one of the symbols of French know-how in the field of art objects and decorations.

The Tapestry Cartoon

In 1884 a national school for the decorative arts (ENAD Ecole Nationale d’Art Decorative) was finally opened. The school consisted of a large room where instruction was given in weaving along side art classes. 122 boys and 88 girls over the age of twelve were instructed in the various stages of tapestry manufacture. The following year a museum of tapestry was opened under the same director, where cartoons and tapestries were displayed Aubusson is particularly known for large verdure tapestries, the cartoons for these large wall hangings have a depth and calm reminiscent of the woodlands of central France, which were their inspiration. Identifiable plants, and views of distant chateaux all have a great decorative appeal. Roses, lilac and poppies abound on the designs for the seats of chairs and sofas, smaller fragments that were pinned over the centre of these designs when weaving tapestries for sets of chairs show scenes from la Fontaines fables, luxuriant bunches of flowers and simple farm yard animals. All of these paintings have an undeniable charm and quality, all of which makes them highly desirable for their decorative appeal.

Tapestry cartoons are the life size models from which tapestries are woven. Painted in oil on canvas or gouache on paper, these paintings gave life to the smallest cushion to the largest of wall hangings. The wools and silks were dyed to match the painting, and the weaver then copied it. Working with the cartoon under the warp threads of the loom, at a rate of approximately two square metres per month, per worker, the final tapestry slowly appeared. The quality of the finished tapestry was largely dependant on the artistry of the cartoon painter combined with the skill of the weaver.

The earliest cartoon painters were usually local artists designing for the local manufacturers. Cartoons could be simple full size line drawings, where the artistry of the weaver was left to fill in the colours, or full size, full colour paintings, where the weaver copied exactly what was before him. Often different painters specialized in landscapes, flowers, animals or figurative subjects. Several painters could have been employed on a single cartoon. The cartoon painter’s job was to create a cartoon, from what might have been a great painting, for the weavers to work on. However, a famous painting might be entrusted to a master weaver.

The earliest centre for the weaving of tapestries in France, can be traced back to 1457 in a small town situated on the banks of the river Creuse, Aubusson is now associated the world over for its tapestries.

In 1665 Louis XIV gave the title "Manufacture Royale d’Aubusson" to the various manufacturers working in the town of Aubusson.

In 1731 a painter arrived in Aubusson, appointed by Louis XlV to the service of the Manufacture of Tapestries. Jean-Joseph Dumons, born in 1687, worked the in Aubusson until 1755. It was at this time that a school was opened to teach painters working for the tapestry industry. Dumons was followed by Jacques Juillard, a pupil of Francois Boucher, considered by some to be a greater designer of tapestries than a painter.

1731 became a turning point in the history of Aubusson. It was a time when the great painters of France were working with the industry. Jean-Baptiste Oudry had been appointed both painter to, and artistic director of Beauvais in 1726, Le Brun, Boucher and Dumons were working in Aubusson. The 17th and 18th centuries saw some of the greatest French tapestries produced. Scientific advances in the 18th century saw the introduction of many new colours for the dying of the wools. From an original palate of very few colours with the wools dyed with natural dyes, the quest for a greater number of colours reached a height in the mid 19th century when Michel-Eugene Chevreul the colour physicist who directed the Gobelins dyestuffs laboratory composed a palette of 14,400 colour tones. However, it was becoming apparent that these new colours were not light resistant and in 1919 Marius Martin director of the regional Decorative Arts School, suggested that the weaver’s range should be reduced to simple and above all durable colours.

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