In 2016, I was lucky enough to visit an exhibition presenting some of the most striking works of art I had ever seen: monumental pieces, several square metres each, all bursting with incredibly vivid colours. What surprised me the most was that these masterpieces were by an artist I had only vaguely heard of before, his talent apparently eclipsed by that of his more famous contemporaries. Perhaps this was due to the nature of most of his works: they were not paintings, but tapestries.
Tapestry in France was at its highest point in the late medieval period, with famous examples such as La Dame à la licorne and the Tenture de l’Apocalypse but was more or less a forgotten art by the beginning of the 20th century. A great admirer of this medieval tradition, Jean Lurçat, the artist whose works I was admiring, sought to revive it by borrowing many of its themes for his tapestries. The “mille-fleurs” for example, a style that consists in weaving hundreds of flowers, all different, around the main subject of a work, features heavily in his art. Fantastic creatures were a recurring theme in medieval tapestry and Lurçat created an entire bestiary in his main works. But he also enriched this medieval tradition by the addition of a surrealist twist, many of his tapestries presenting a disconcerting, oneiric, highly symbolical landscape. Continue reading