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Aubusson Tapestries: Weaving a Story at Skinner’s October European Furniture & Decorative Arts Auction

Aubusson Tapestry of The Fisherman’s Surprise (Lot 663, Estimate $3,000-4,000)

There was a time when courtly life unfolded ceremoniously in rooms adorned with vibrant, grand and lavish tapestries, displayed as large woven murals often depicting scenes conjured from dramatic paintings, particularly mythological and battle scenes. Such tapestries served both as a function to help insulate a room, but most importantly, provided a very powerful political statement of the noble classes.

Historically speaking, tapestries held significant value for centuries. In the latter half of the 17th century, workshops in France and Brussels developed methods to make tapestries that soon rivaled those already being produced in Flanders and at Mortlake, the latter of which had been established in England under James I.  By the 18th to early 19th-century, preferred decorative designs swayed tastes toward genre scenes and often to a state of rather confectionary decadence. French Rococo artist Francois Boucher (1703-1770) whose paintings are often associated with pastel pastoral scenes of figures in an idealized garden landscape, was a successful designer at Beauvais, and eventually became a designer at the Gobelins factory from about 1755-1770. Boucher’s designs were often of amorous couples in bucolic settings, much like the paintings the French artist is known for, as some of the best-known examples of his paintings depict Venus, Diana, and other goddesses in various states of dishabille.

Aubusson Tapestry Depicting The Audience of the Chinese Emperor (Lot 665, Estimate $1,000-1,500)

During the 18th and 19th-century, the new undercurrent of French taste, as was the case in much of the world, was laden with the influence of the Chinoiserie-inspired. In the 19th-century, one decorating publication referred to the growing interest in collecting ceramics, many of which were Chinese or Chinese-inspired, as “China-mania.”  Though this phrase was originally used to refer to ceramics, there is no doubt to the impact the China Trade had globally, and in the design of tapestries, there was no exception. Jean-Joseph Dumons’ designs for five Aubusson tapestries, after Boucher, of Chinoiserie-style scenes are featured in Skinner’s October 13 European Furniture & Decorative Arts auction, and each is sold as “Property from the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Sold to Benefit the Acquisition Fund.”  Two of the elegant tapestries depict scenes of “The Audience of a Chinese Emperor,” and the others depict “Two Chinamen Taking Tea;” “The Fisherman’s Surprise;” and “Two Men Fishing.”  In addition to the Boucher-inspired tapestries, Skinner will also sell several Continental tapestries from other consignors, featured in Lots 687, 705-707, and 715 with estimates ranging from $600-$4,000.

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