Beauvais Tapestries and the Beauvais Manufactory
The gorgeous and opulent tapestries known as the Beauvais tapestries were woven at the Beauvais manufactory in the 17th and 18th centuries. Often considered the second most important tapestry manufactory in France after the Gobelin tapestry manufactory, the Beauvais tapestries were made for nobility and the wealthy bourgeoisie. Let’s take a closer look at the history and development of this iconic manufactory.
Founding of the Beauvais Manufactory
In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert was the finance minister of France. He was looking for a way to promote the French industry, and so that year he founded the Beauvais tapestry manufactory. Although established by Colbert, the manufactory was a private enterprise. While the similar Gobelin manufactory crafted tapestries for France for royalty, palaces, and ambassadorial gifts, the Beauvais manufactory remained private. Over the years, it was run by many different entrepreneurs.
The first entrepreneur to head the Beauvais manufactory was Louis Hinart. He was known for and developed the notoriety of his floral, foliate, and landscape tapestries. After his arrest in 1684 (he failed to pay his debts), the manufactory was taken over by Philippe Beghale, under whose management the workshop took off with success. Beghale was an experienced tapestry manufacturer and merchant from the nearby town of Oudenarde, with work experience in the traditional tapestry weaving center city of Tournai. While at the Beauvais manufactory, he created many well-known works. He was inspired by the Gobelin tapestries, as well as the cartoon paintings of the painter Raphael, and engravings of artist Jean Bérain. While in Beauvais, he created his most well known work, the series of Grotesques.
After Beghale moved to Paris, where he continued creating tapestries until the end of his life, he passed away and the manufactory was passed to his wife and son. By 1711, they had sold the manufactory to the Filleul brothers. Under their ownership, the Beauvais manufactory produced tapestries based on Greek mythology and Roman poetry, as well as a series of “Chinese” wall hangings. These Chinese style wall hangings are notorious in the history of chinoiserie design.
The Height of the Beauvais Tapestries
The Beauvais tapestries, however, are said to have reached their highest point when Jean-Baptiste Oudry replaced the most recent owner, Jacques Duplessis, in 1726. Jean-Baptiste Oudry was considered one of the greatest animal painters of the 18th century. At the same time that he took over making the Beauvais tapestries, he was also the inspector of works at the Gobelin manufactory. This was the first time the Beauvais manufactory was run by an artist rather than just a businessperson. Although Oudry was financially backed by Nicolas Besnier, Besnier did not make any of the creative decisions in the business or interfere with the artistic production. During Oudry’s time as head of the manufactory, he also notably made lots of productive changes to the company. He revamped the training system for the new workers at the factory, renewed designs, and created new, innovative designs. He also introduced the immensely popular tapestry covers for furniture.
Even the king of France, Louis XIV himself was mesmerized by the furniture tapestry covers. Even though the Gobelin manufactory specifically made any tapestries the king wanted, the king decided he would purchase two sets of these tapestries every year to use as foreign gifts. This was a huge testament to the quality of the works produced at Beauvais, as well as a boost to the manufactory’s notoriety and popularity.
The manufactory continued throughout the eighteenth century under Oudry, and he took on a partner, Francois Boucher. (The familiar “Boucher-Beauvais” tapestries are those rococo suites designed by him). They worked together successfully, taking on even more help and more royal support. Unfortunately, the Beauvais manufactory’s decline began with Oudry’s death in April of 1755. Furthermore, that same year, Boucher defected to the Gobelin manufactory. Without their leadership, the manufactory simply recycled old designs, ever declining in quality, until the French Revolution. During this war time there was animosity between the company’s administration and the weavers themselves, until the factory eventually shut down completely. Eventually, it reopened under State direction, now making only upholstery covers. The quality continued to deteriorate into the 19th century, and production declined.
The Legacy of Beauvais Tapestries
Although the Beauvais manufactory eventually came to an end, as everything must, it was iconic during its time and still is to this day. From the iconic, original designs to the pioneering of furniture tapestry covers, Beauvais was known for innovation and quality.