Francois Boucher wall tapestries – in pursuit of the idyll

Francois Boucher wall tapestries of the Louis XV period – Gobelins tapestry art celebrating the sensual Rococo style.

Francois Boucher wall tapestries are as respected today as they were during the Renaissance. This remarkable French tapestry artist and painter began his career engraving the works of Antoine Watteau. The son of a lace designer and Parisian painter he won the ‘Grand Prix de Rome’, a scholarship created during the reign of Louis XIV, which enabled him to spend four years studying at the Academy of France in Rome. During this time he was free to indulge his infatuation with the sensuality and frivolity of Rococo painting. After his return to Paris, Boucher was admitted to the prestigious Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. In 1765 he was appointed by the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour, to became Court Painter to the King.

Francois Boucher (1703-1770) loved to focus on women and mythological themes, his paintings and tapestries being considered quite erotic for those times. Although he is considered to be one of the most influential tapestry artists in history, especially with regards to figure tapestries, his academic training enabled him to master many styles and techniques.

From 1755 until 1770 Francois Boucher was art director of the Manufacture Des Gobelins in Paris, a tapestry manufacturer established by Louis XIV famed for producing tapestries for the French kings. Today ‘Gobelins’ is run by the French Ministry of Culture and it hand-weaves contemporary tapestry art for the country’s government institutions. (My wife and I have taken the fascinating tour there.) Many of Gobelin’s most impressive tapestries were created by Boucher and Maurice Jacques. They produced a famous series of wool and silk tapestries, over four metres high and almost four metres wide. Serenade Rouge is just one tapestry of this set of four which adorned the chambers of the Duchess of Bourbon. The tapestries were sold during the Revolution.

His Noble Pastorale tapestries were woven several times at Beauvais after he was apppointed Director. This set of six large idealized pastoral scenes show him in pursuit of the idyll; Rococo shepherds and shepherdesses rather remarkably dressed in silk. We have numerous smaller details from this series available today, such as the top image.

The Triumph of Flora tapestry - Francois Boucher wall tapestriesTapestries like Serenade Rouge with decorative surrounds first appeared during the eighteenth century. But it was Boucher and Jacques who brought this tapestry style to its peak of popularity. Most tapestries before this period depicted historical events, religion and mythology. During the eighteenth century people sought tapestries with less sombre subjects and were looking for a more light-hearted and decorative styling. They were feminine and elegant; their style was unique in that these tapestries sought to imitate a variety of decorative techniques. But they also reflect heavily on Trompe l’Oeil, a technique which had been used by many artists for centuries, a style which seeks to depict things realistically and in a three dimensional light. Combining various styles, along with a vivid use of colours, makes these tapestries a quintessential example of 18th century tapestry art.

Francois Boucher wall tapestries were admired for their romance and idyllic depiction. All his tapestry works, even landscapes, achieved the same three dimensional qualities so beautifully emphasised in the ‘Serenade Rouge’ tapestry. A Francois Boucher tapestry is no longer reserved for the boudoirs of the aristocracy, now we can all enjoy his fabulous creations in our own homes. If you appreciate the Rococo style, you will enjoy these Boucher tapestries.

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Elegant French tapestries

I’m in the mood to write about elegant French tapestries. I’ve often read that bloggers struggle with “what shall I write about?” but this really is no problem for us here – we have so many tapestries, each with a tale to tell.

Our Belgian, Italian and French tapestries are naturally very broad-ranging in their styles yet certain fundamental styles play a dominant role. A visit to France quickly reveals the influence of French elegance in tapestry art derived from the 17th and 18th centuries. The chateaux and museums shout out Louis XIV in particular. He commissioned them by the hundred for his royal palaces. I remember being stunned by a long hallway at the chateau at Blois whose walls were filled by wall tapestries showing his palaces. One of these, the Royal Palace tapestry (above), is very popular today.

Louis XIV was even followed into battle by an artist whose job was to depict the king directing his troops. These later became glorious paintings or tapestries … if the king was victorious. See the Capture of Lille:

Louis XIV tapestries - Capture of Lille wall tapestryHis successor Louis XV may have been less flamboyant but his patronage of Francois Boucher (1703-70) resulted in a distinctive influential style of elegant French tapestries. In spite of the republican vandalism of the French Revolution tapestries continued as status symbols to future emperors and kings. By then the more efficient Jacquard loom had been invented. This loom provides the basis of all tapestry weaving today. The tapestry below shows that French elegance remained in the 19th century when this was woven in Beauvais. The image shows The Mandolin tapestry in our home above an antique seven legged table (yes, seven legs).

French elegant tapestryOne has to conclude that the French will always have an elegant flair, certainly in Paris. I, for one, am glad of that.

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