France Tapestry Tour, Episode 3: Gobelins

The tapestry tour has been such a fantastic experience. The attached video blog is about our visit to the Gobelins while still in Paris. I have a lot of thoughts about this visit, but will wait until I get home and have time to digest it a little more. For now, here is the basic structure of these workshops.

There are three state-supported weaving workshops.

They are the Manufactures Nationales


Savonnerie makes pile rugs and we did not visit this workshop.

The mission of the Mobelier Nationale which runs these workshops as well as a conservation studio for tapestries, rugs, and furniture and a lace-making studio is first to furnish official buildings in France. So most of the work the tapestry workshops are doing go into a catalog and ministers of France can choose them for their offices or embassys. Occasionally they do commissions as well.

The potential of tapestry seems endless. It is not an art of replication but the transition from one language to another, with much of the creativity coming from the talent of the weaver. Going from the model to the woven piece you change format, you change material. It is an interpretation, in the musical sense of the term, a recreation. And this is a process that interests artists from all kinds of backgrounds, as much now as in the past.
— From Mobilier National publication: Manufactures Nationales Gobelins, Beauvais, Savonnerie

In the tapestry studios, artists create the cartoon to be woven. They used to be created only by painters, but now they are interpreting in tapestry many different art forms. Many of the cartoons we saw were digitally created. In the United States, tapestry weaving is now primarily done by artist/weavers so seeing these big workshops (Gobelins and Beauvais) where the imagery is created by someone else and the weavers interpret it into tapestry is interesting. My sense is that the tapestry weavers are highly trained and that they do have a lot of leeway in translation. They study for four years before they take an exam to see if they can get a job as a weaver. Their study includes things like art history which is important to the interpretation of the work. Each of these large workshops produces only a handful of tapestries in a year and it seemed to me like each tapestry took well over a year. One we saw was just started and the three weavers thought they might spend seven years weaving it due to the size and complexity.

I have further thoughts on the tapestry workshops in Beauvais and Paris and will put them down in a more comprehensive blog post at some point in the future. The video below is the third episode of the video blog.