Lurcat’s Tapestry Revival, part three
In the book French Tapestry (1946) Pierre Veret recalls, in reference to the revival of tapestry in the 20th century, “the determination of a few painters, led by Jean Lurcat and Gromaire, hard at work during some of the darkest years our century has ever known, has done more than give us hope for the future, it has given us a lesson to remember” (Elek,1946)
There are many things about tapestry that Jean Lurcat is sure of, like the emphasis of content and the importance for tapestry to continue to thrive as a partner to architecture, ie tapestries should be designed for one specific wall with pre-arranged dimensions. But, the most recurring themes in his book, Designing Tapestry, is that of the strict design guidelines of which should be followed in order for the weaver, who is presumably not the designer, to have no artistic freedom so as for the designer, as a result, to be able to design a tapestry cartoon and achieve exactly what they had envisioned. In essence Lurcat recommends a non-interpretive code in which the weaver would have no question as to what the designer requires of them. Additionally, Lurcat designates that the idea of fashioning a tapestry after a painting, especially one that had originally been painted with no intention of becoming a tapestry, was unrepresentative and disrespectful to the art form. An important point of note is that fashioning tapestry after paintings does not allow for a scale of pre-arranged colors, in fact tapestries woven from paintings during the Renaissance had no limit to color range, allowing for an innumerable amount of colors – which didn’t pay respect to the ‘means of economy’ ie. slowed the process of weaving. Furthermore, Lurcat believed that this characteristic was responsible for distracting from the emotional content of the piece.
By the 1940’s Lurcat had concocted a design method that he believed to be fool-proof. To start with, an artist designing for tapestry should decide on their scale of pre-arranged colors, between 20-40, dyeing their yarn accordingly and then numbering them, each shade of red chronologically numbered followed by each shade of the next color, and so on. Lurcat believed this method is sure to keep the designer from falling into the tendencies of painting. This approach is also more cost effective in terms of dyeing while allowing for a multitude of combination possibilities. Only then can the artist proceed to design the tapestry cartoon in black and white adding numbers to indicate color, placing contrasting values in juxtaposition, an element characteristic of tapestry. After a long winded technical explanation (3/4 of his book), Lurcat asserts that, “Technique and poetry are completely tied up and are essential to each other”, and continues to explain that emotional content is essential to a successful design. He later proclaims, “What counts, and it is the only thing that does, is the actual wall hanging and its impact on the spectator”.
Thank you for reading this series. If you haven’t read them yet here are part one and part two. Stay tuned for when I offer the series as one downloadable essay with citations and footnotes (they are really fun). I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment below if you like. I’d love to chat
To echo the repetitiveness in his writings, I’ll leave you with a final comment by Lurcat where he asserts that tapestries which are made after paintings are neither, “fine, rich or great”.
I don’t personally follow Lurcat’s guildelines when designing my tapestries, do you? I’d love to hear about your design process. Until next week, weave on!