Raison d'etre

I am enthusiastic about home design and love French antique and vintage treasures.

This blog is about the things I find and use.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

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Tapestry...Cartoons...La Fontaine

I have always been interested in Aubusson cartoons (see earlier post), the resulting tapestry and their inspiration.  To illustrate a case in point I recently bought a nineteenth century cartoon for a chair back or seat which features the fable of the Wolf and the Lamb from la Fontaine - the seventeenth century French poet renowned as a fabulist .  

Many of his fables tell moral tales or reflect on aspects of human nature.  In this case the message is quite dark and was seen as commenting, not only on the inhumanity of man, but also on the political landscape he - la Fontaine - inhabited:

That innocence is not a shield,
A story teaches, not the longest.
The strongest reasons always yield
To reasons of the strongest.

A lamb her thirst was slaking,
Once, at a mountain rill.
A hungry wolf was taking
His hunt for sheep to kill,
When, spying on the streamlet's brink
This sheep of tender age,
He howl'd in tones of rage,
'How dare you roil my drink?
Your impudence I shall chastise!'
'Let not your majesty,' the lamb replies,
'Decide in haste or passion!
For sure 'tis difficult to think
In what respect or fashion
My drinking here could roil your drink,
Since on the stream your majesty now faces
I'm lower down, full twenty paces.'
'You roil it,' said the wolf; 'and, more, I know
You cursed and slander'd me a year ago.'
'O no! how could I such a thing have done!
A lamb that has not seen a year,
A suckling of its mother dear?'
'Your brother then.' 'But brother I have none.'
'Well, well, what's all the same,
'Twas some one of your name.
Sheep, men, and dogs of every nation,
Are wont to stab my reputation,
As I have truly heard.'
Without another word,
He made his vengeance good--
Bore off the lambkin to the wood,
And there, without a jury,
Judged, slew, and ate her in his fury.

The image for the cartoon was probably derived from a painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry:

It was common for cartoon painters to use paintings and other visual media to create their designs.

In the nineteenth century the firm of Braquenie based in Aubusson produced hand woven tapestries for seat furniture (among other things) and I believe this,  now a cushion, is an example.  it was fashionable at the time to produce tapestries for suites of furniture in these muted monochromatic colours.

I haven't yet found an example in the vivid shades of the cartoon but it will be out there somewhere!

Friday, 14 August 2015

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Badly Damaged but Worth Saving

This is the bottom section of an eighteenth century tapestry fragment.  It is very badly worn and damaged but I wanted to save and preserve what was possible.  There are many birds and animals among the verdure landscape:

The colours are vibrant and little faded but there are tears and losses leaving it in a fragile state.

I selected a major section and supported it from the back with woven fusible interlining - see below:

I shall line the whole and bind the edges.  It is a good size at 52 x 26 ins so will take its place on a wall when finished.

Further progress in a later post!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

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Tapestry Border with Historical Record

Recently I was able to buy a wonderful long and wide 18th century tapestry border with a rare document showing it had been repaired and restored in 1902

Measuring 364 cm wide and 50 cm deep it is the top border  of the tapestry and composed of a central cartouche with a countryside scene flanked by flowers and architectural elements.

On the back is this label:

Worked in cross stitch on canvas the label has remained in good condition because it would have been between the tapestry and the original lining and therefore not subject to wear or light degradation.

Wardour Street, Soho, London was home to many antiques and curio dealers at the end of the nineteenth century  and, interestingly, in the late 1700s, Thomas Sheraton had his furniture showroom there. They were superseded by film and theatre companies in the early part of the twentieth century.

Soho was also, of course, the location of the Soho tapestry works of the early 18th century.

I have had some difficulty in finding evidence of Georges Herpin & Co. except for one or two vague references but, it would seem that tapestries bearing a similar label have been found in America.

As for the work itself it is now very evident which parts were repaired - notably around the brown border:

The repairs, using a somewhat gingery brown wool, stand out in contrast with the original darker wool.  The original would have been dyed with natural pigments whereas, from the middle of the nineteenth century, synthetic dyes became possible and commonly used.  One assumes that M. Herpin chose a wool which approximated the original colour, so it is startlingly evident how much the original natural dyes have faded and mellowed in the more than a century since he carried out the work and, even when he was working on the tapestry, it was already more than a hundred years old.

Looking at the reverse it can be seen that the colour of the border is much closer to that of M. Herpin's repairs.  It is always startling to see how vibrant some of the colours are when they have not been exposed to light.

As for the source of the tapestry it is, as always, very difficult to ascertain without detailed provenance.  I incline to it being produced in the Marche - the area around Aubusson and Felletin (Felletin was supposed to use brown borders and Aubusson blue but these rules were not always kept).  However, it could equally well have been produced elsewhere in France, or even be Flemish.  As the weavers moved so frequently between different tapisseries, and even different countries, and designs and ideas were exchanged or copied - it is difficult to be certain.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

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Antique Tapestry Fragments & Cushions

It is becoming more and more difficult to find good tapestry fragments with which to make cushions - well, affordable ones anyway!  However - New Year - New Determination - I shall have to be more assiduous in searching out these lovely remnants and plan more frequent visits to France in the ensuing months.

The difficulty in sourcing good original tapestry also serves to remind me of the preciousness of each piece and the fact that it is surely unrepeatable.  Fortunately I can sometimes find a good long tapestry border which will yield several cushions - some motifs repeated, of course - but once used up it is highly unlikely I shall come across another the same so they are all unique.

The greatest rarities are those with figural elements - animals, birds, people and chateaux.  Here are a few I have, or have had, and they are always among the most expensive pieces to buy.

Firstly birds - all eighteenth century:

Chateaux - 18th century


Figure and Angels  - 18th century

Creatures - 17th century

Now the winter solstice is well and truly behind us the lengthening days engender renewed excitement for the hunt!