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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. 158 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 See larger image BAUMGARTEN TAPESTRY. MODERN CARTOON It is a modern economy. The ancients knew not of it, and were willing to spend any amount on colours. More than that a port, or a nation, was willing to rest its fame on a single colour. Purple of Tyre, red of Turkey, yellow of China, are terms familiar through the ages, and think not these colours were to be had for the asking. They brought prices which we do not pay now even in this age of money. The brothers Gobelins—their fame originally rested on their ambition to be “dyers of scarlet,” that being an ultimate test of skill. It is a serious matter, that of dyeing wools and silks for tapestries, and one which the directors conduct within the walls of the tapestry factory. The Gobelins uses for its reds, cochineal or the roots of the madder; for blue, indigo and Prussian blue; for yellow, the vegetable colour extracted from gaude. In America there is a specialist in dyes: Miss Charlotte Pendleton, who gives her entire attention to rediscovering the dyes of the ancients, the dyes that made a city’s fame. It is owing to her conscientious work that the tapestry repairers of museums can find appropriate threads. It is interesting to trace the differing gamut of colour through the ages. Old dyes produced, old weavers needed, but twenty tones for the old work. Tapestries of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries were as simple in scale as stained glass, and as honest. Flesh tints were neutral by contrast to the splendid reds, honest yellows and rich greens. Colours meant something, then, too; had a sentimental language all their own. When white predominated, purity was implied; black was mortification of the flesh; livid yellow was tribulation; red, charity; green, meditation. An examination of the colours in the series which depicts the life of Louis XIV, reveals a use of but seventy-nine colours. So up to that time, great honesty of dye, and fine

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 159 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 decorative effect were preserved. The shades were produced by two little tricks open as the day, hatching being one, the other, winding two shades on the same broche or shuttle. Hatching, as we know, is merely a penman’s trick, of shading with lines of light and dark. It was when they began to paint the lily, in the days of pretty corruption, that the whole matter of dyeing changed. In the Eighteenth Century when the Regent Philip, and then La Pompadour, set the mode, things greatly altered. When big decorative effects were no more, the stimulating effect of deep strong colour was considered vulgar, and, only the suave sweetness of Boucher, Nattier, Fragonard, were admired. Every one played a pretty part, all life was a theatre of gay comedy, or a flattered miniature. So, as we have seen, new times and new modes caused the Gobelins to copy paintings instead of to interpret cartoons—and there lay the destruction of their art. Instead of four-score tones, the dyers hung on their lines tens and tens of thousands. And the weavers wove them all into their fabric-painting, with the result that when the light lay on them long, the delicate shades faded and with them was lost the meaning of the design. And that is why the Gobelins of the older time are worth more as decoration than those of the later. We are doing a little better nowadays. There is a limit to the tones, and in all new work a decided tendency to abandon the copying of brush-shading in favour of a more restricted gamut of colour. By this means the future worker may regain the lost charm of the simple old pieces of work. Another room in the factory of tapestry interests those who like to see the creation of things. It is one of the prettiest rooms of all, and is more than ever like a kindergarten for grown-ups. Or, if you like, it is a chamber in a feudal castle where the women gather when the men are gone to war. Here the workers are all girls and women, each bending over a large embroidery frame supported at a convenient level from the floor. On one frame is a long flowered border with cartouches in the strong rich colours of Louis XIV. On another a sofa-seat copied from Boucher. They are both new, but like all work fresh from the loom are full of the open slits left in the process of weaving, a necessity of the changing colours and the requirements of the drawing. All these little slits, varying from half an inch to several inches in length, must be sewed with strong, careful stitches before the tapestry can be considered complete. On other frames are stretched old tapestries for repairs. At the Gobelins as many as forty women are thus employed. The malapropos deduction springs here that the demand for repaired old work is greater than that for new in the famous factory, for only six or eight weavers are there occupied. Repairing is almost an art in itself. The emperor established a small school at Berlin for training girls in this trade. The studio of the late Mr. Ffoulke in Florence kept twenty or thirty girls occupied. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a repair studio under a graduate of the Berlin school. The factories of Baumgarten and of Herter, in New York, also conduct repairs; and the museum at Boston as well. We cannot make old tapestries, but we can restore and preserve them by skilled labour in special ateliers. Restoration by the needle is the only perfect restoration, and this is as yet but little done here, although the method is so well known in Europe. We deplore the quicker way, to use the loom for weaving large sections of border or large bits which have gone into hopeless shreds, or have disappeared altogether by reason of the bitter years when tapestries had fallen into neglect. But the quicker way is the

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