TheTapestryBook, byHelen Churchill Candee. http://www.justdogstrollers.com/26151-h/26151-h/26151-h.htm 172 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 DAVID INSTRUCTING SOLOMON IN THE BUILDING OF THE TEMPLE Merton Abbey Tapestry. Burne-Jones, Artist Beauvais, with its low-warp looms, is more celebrated for its small pieces of work than for large hangings. The tendency toward the latter ended some time ago, and in our time Beauvais makes mainly those exquisite coverings for seats and screens that give the beholder a thrill of artistic joy and a determination to possess something similar. The models of Béhagle, Oudry, Charron are copied with fidelity to their loveliness, and it is these that after a few years of wear on furniture take on that mellowness which long association with human hands alone can give. It is scarcely necessary to say that antique furniture tapestry is rare; its use has been too hard to withstand the years. Therefore, we may with joy and the complacency of good taste acquire new coverings of the Don Quixote or Æsop’s Fables designs for our latter-day furniture or for the fine old pieces from which the original tapestries have vanished. ENGLAND The chapter on Mortlake looms shows what was accomplished by deliberate importation of an art coveted but not indigenous. It is interesting to compare this with England’s entirely modern and self-made craft of the last thirty years. I allude to the tapestry factory established by William Morris and called Merton Abbey. Mr. Morris preferred the word arras as attached to his weavings, tapestry having sometimes the odious modern meaning of machine-made figured stuffs for any sort of furniture covering. But as Arras did not invent the high-warp hand-loom, nor did the Saracens, nor the Egyptians, it is but quibbling to give it arbitrarily the name of any particular locale. It seems that enough can never be said about the versatility of William Morris and the strong flood of beauty in design that he sent rippling over arid ground. It were enough had he accomplished only the work in tapestry. It is not too strong a statement that he produced at Merton Abbey the only modern tapestries that fill the primary requirements of tapestries. How did he happen upon it in these latter days? By worshipping the old hangings of the Gothic perfection, by finding the very soul of them, of their designers and of their craftsmen; then, letting that soul enter his, he set his fingers reverently to work to learn, as well, the secret of the ancient workman. It was as early as 1885 that he began; was cartoonist, dyer, tapissier, all, for the experiment, which was a small square of verdure after the manner of the Gothic, curling big acanthus leaves about a softened rose, a mingling of greens of ocean and shady reds. Perhaps it was no great matter in the way of tapestry, but it was to Morris like the discovery of a new continent to the navigator. His was the time of a so-called æsthetic school in England. Watts, Rossetti and Burne-Jones were harking back to antiquity for inspiration. Morris associated with him the latter, who drew wondrous figures of maids and men and angels, figures filled with the devout spirit of the time when religion was paramount, and perfect with the art of to-day. The romance of The Holy Grail gave happy theme for the work, and three beautiful tapestries made the set. The Adoration of the Magi was another, made for Exeter College, Oxford. Sir Edward Burne-Jones designed all these wondrous pictures, and the wisdom of Morris decreed that the Grail series should not be oft repeated. The first figure tapestry woven on the looms was a fancy drawn by Walter Crane, called The Goose Girl.
TheTapestryBook, byHelen Churchill Candee. http://www.justdogstrollers.com/26151-h/26151-h/26151-h.htm 173 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 See larger image TRUTH BLINDFOLDED Merton Abbey Tapestry. Byram Shaw, Artist The most enchantingly mediæval and most modernly perfect piece is by Burne-Jones, called David Instructing Solomon in the Building of the Temple. (Plate facing page 257.) In this the time of Gothic beauty lives again. Planes are repeated, figures are massed, detail is clear and impressive, yet modern laws of drawing concentrate the interest on the central action as strongly as though all else were subservient. The Passing of Venus was Burne-Jones’ last cartoon for Merton Abbey looms. (Plate facing page 260.) Although a critique of the art of this great painter would be out of place in a book on the applied arts, at least it is allowable to express the conviction that more beautiful, more fitting designs for tapestry it would be difficult to imagine. Modern work of this sort has produced nothing that approaches them, preserving as they do the sincerity and reverence of a simple people, the ideality of a conscientious age, yet softening all technical faults with modern finish. An unhappy fact is that this tapestry, which was considered by the Merton Abbey works as its chef d’œuvre, was destroyed by fire in the Brussels Exhibition of 1910. Alas for tapestry weaving of to-day, the usual modern cartoon is a staring anachronism, and a conglomerate of modes. An “art nouveau” lady poses in a Gothic setting, a Thayer angel stands in a Boucher entourage, and both eye and intelligence are revolted. The master craftsman and artist, William Morris, alone has known how to produce acceptable modern work from modern cartoons. Other examples are Angeli Laudantes, and The Adoration. (Plates facing pages 261 and 256.) A false note is sometimes struck, even in this factory of wondrous taste. In Truth Blindfolded (plate facing page 258), Mr. Byram Shaw has drawn the central figure as Cabanel might have done a decade ago, while every other figure in the group might have been done by some hand dead these four hundred years. Morris’ manner of procedure differed little from that of the decorator Lebrun, although