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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image


The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 110 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 latter description was applied to all those exquisite fantasies of art that make the periods Louis XV and Louis XVI a source of transcendent delight to the lover of dainty intellectual design, and include particularly the work of Boucher. The mental and moral workings of the commission on art may be tested by quoting from their own findings on the Siege of Calais, a hanging by Berthélemy, depicting an event of the Fourteenth Century. This is what the temper of the times induced the Commission—among whom were artists too—to say: “Subject regarded as contrary to republican ideas; the pardon accorded to the people of Calais was given by a tyrant through the tears and supplications of the queen and child of a despot. Rejected. In consequence the tapestry will be arrested in its execution.” The models allowed in this benumbing period were those of hunting scenes, and antique groups such as the Muses, or scenes from the life of Achilles. A vicious system of pay was added to the vicious system of art restriction. And so fell the Gobelins, to revive in such small manner as was accorded it in the Nineteenth Century. Its great work was done. It had lifted up an art which through inflation or barrenness Brussels had let train on the ground like a fallen flag, and it had given to France the glory of acquiring the highest period of perfection. To France came the inspiration of gathering the industry under the paternal care of the government, of relieving it from the exigencies of private enterprise which must of necessity fluctuate, of keeping the art in dignified prosperity, and of devoting to its uses the highest talent of both art and industry. The Revolution and the Directory both hesitated to kill an institution that had brought such glory to France, that had placed her above all the world in tapestry producing. But what deliberate intent did not accomplish, came near being a fact through scant rations. Operators at the Gobelins were irregularly paid, and the public purse found onerous the burden of support. But with the coming of Napoleon the personal note was struck again. A man was at the head, a man whose ambition invaded even the field of decoration. The Emperor would not be in the least degree inferior in splendour to the most magnificent of the hereditary kings of France. The Gobelins had been their glory, it should add to his. Louis David was the painter of the court, he whose head was ever turned over his shoulder toward ancient Greece and Rome, who not only preferred that source of inspiration, but who realised the flattery implied to the Emperor by using the designs of the countries he had conquered. It was a graceful reminder of the trophies of war. So David not only painted Josephine as a lady of Pompeii elongated on a Greek lounge, but he set the classic style for the Gobelins factory when Napoleon gave to the looms his imperial patronage. It was David who had found favour with Revolutionary France by his untiring efforts to produce a style differing fundamentally from the style of kings, when kings and their ways were unpopular. Technical exactness, with classic motives, characterises his decorative work for the Gobelins. The Emperor was hot for throne-room fittings that spoke only of himself and of the empire he had built. David made the designs, beautiful, chaste, as his invention ever was, and dotted them with the inevitable bees and eagles. Percier, the artist, helped with the painting, but the throne itself was David’s and shows his talent in the floating Victory of the back and the conventionalised wreaths of the seat. The whole set, important enough to mention, embraced eight arm chairs and six smaller ones, besides two dozen classic seats of a kingly pattern, and screens for fire and draughts, all with a

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 111 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 red background on which was woven in gold the pattern of wreaths and branches of laurel and oak. The Emperor made the Gobelins his especial care. He committed it to the discretion of no one, but was himself the director, and allowed no loom to set up its patterns unsanctioned by his order. Even his campaigns left this order operative. Is it to his credit as a genius, or his discredit as a tyrant, that the chiefs of the Gobelins had to follow him almost into battle to get permission to weave a new hanging? Portraits were woven—but let us not dwell on that. That portraits were woven at the Gobelins (portraits as such, not the resemblance of one figure out of a mass to some great personage) brings ever a sigh of regret. It is like the evidence of senility in some grand statesman who has outlived his vigour. It is like the portrait of your friend done in butter, or the White House at Washington done in a paste of destroyed banknotes. In other words, there is no excuse for it while paint and canvas exist. Napoleon’s own portrait was made in full length twice, and in bust ten times. The Empress was pictured at full length and in bust, and the young King of Rome came in for one portrait. The summit of bad art seemed reached when it was proposed to copy in wool a painting of portrait busts, carved in marble. This work was happily unfinished when the empire gave place to the next form of government. It is unthinkable that Napoleon would not want his reign glorified in manner like to that of hereditary kings with pictured episodes, the conquests of his life, dramatic, superb. David the court painter, supplied his canvas Napoleon Crossing the Alps, and others followed. Copying paintings was the order at the Gobelins, remember, and that kind of work was done with infinite skill. Numbers of grand scenes were planned, some set up on the looms, but the great part were not done at all. Napoleon’s triumph was full but brief; the years of his reign were few. He interrupted work on large hangings by his impatience to have the throne-room furniture ready for the reception of Europe’s kings and ambassadors. And when the time came that another man received in that room, the big series of hangings which were to picture his reign, even as the Life of the King pictured that of Louis XIV, were scarcely begun. A CHAPTER XIV BEAUVAIS NOTHER name to conjure with, after Gobelins is Beauvais. In general it means to us squares of beautiful foliage,—foliage graceful, acceptably coloured, and of a pre-Raphaelite neatness. But it is not limited to that class of work, nor yet to the chair-coverings for which the factory of Beauvais is so justly celebrated. This factory has woven even the magnificent series of Raphael, the designs without which the Sistine Chapel was considered incomplete. But this is anticipating, and an inquiry into how these things came about is a pleasure too great to miss. The factory at Beauvais was founded by Colbert, under Louis XIV, in 1664. In that respect it resembles the Gobelins factory, but there existed an enormous difference which had to do with the entire fate of the enterprise. The Gobelins was founded for

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