William Baumgarten Brought Aubusson Tapestries to America’s Industrial Age Elite
William Baumgarten & Co. was an American interior design firm that was the first to produce Aubusson tapestries outside of Europe. The factory was in production between 1893 and 1914. Aubusson tapestries were some of the most important in the history of tapestry weaving. They were first produced in the town of Aubusson France during the 17th and 18th centuries. The designs and techniques used in these workshops revolutionized interior design and took the artistic expression that was possible using this medium to a new level.
About Aubusson Tapestries
The technique for creating an Aubusson rug or tapestry involves creating a weaving cartoon (full-scale drawing) of the design. The cartoon is hung behind the tapestry and the weaver uses it as a pattern for placement of the colors. Aubusson tapestries were highly detailed and used subtle variations in shading to create a three-dimensional effect in the piece.
Baumgarten Brings Them to America
In the late 1800s, William Baumgarten decided to begin creating these masterpieces in America to complement collections for his interior design firm, William Baumgarten & Co. He needed to find someone who knew the process from start to finish. He traveled to France where he found the Foussadier family, who worked at the Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory form 1876-1890.
Baumgarten convinced the Foussadier family to travel to America to establish the factory. The men in the family did the dyeing and loom work, while the women did all of the needlework. The first piece produced was a tapestry chair seat cover with a floral design in the style of the French Aubussons.
Baumgarten used this piece for a display. His local competition had nothing like it. He was set for success, and the timing was right. The first generation of industrial moguls who built railroads and the first American factories had an influx of wealth. They were building mansions and flaunting their wealth. By 1896, the factory had 40 employees working to create these beautiful pieces. The factory was located in New York City. Eventually, the factory would have 80 employees.
The factory was set up like a medieval workshop with the weavers sitting side by side on a bench in front of large looms. They had a skill hierarchy that ranged from apprentice to master. This is the same system that was used in Aubusson, and this same system is still used to create tapestries today.
The Aubusson-style tapestries produced by the William Baumgarten & Co were used to complement his interior design work. Examples can be seen in collections at the Vanderbilt Mansion and Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is also said that the Rockefeller family also has some of his pieces.
William Baumgarten’s vision was met with great success. His pieces were used in several famous landmarks, including the William Welsh Harrison Grey Towers Castle at Arcadia University and the Plaza Hotel. In the year 1900, the price for owning a William Baumgarten & Co tapestry was between $500-$1,000, which is between approximately $15,000 to $30,000 in today’s prices.
Baumgarten created elaborately decorated homes and offices that resembled an updated version of Louis XIV style. They were lavish and exuded elegance and wealth. Some of his most famous clientele included names, such as Juilliard, Astor, Carnegie, Schwab, and Rothschild. Baumgarten’s tapestries became so popular that he had difficulty keeping up with the demand for his pieces among the socialites of New York.
The Museum of the City of New York has a collection of photos that show some of the tapestries and the rooms in which they were displayed. This collection gives you a sense of the opulent style of the décor that made Baumgarten famous. His designs were a statement of wealth and power. They were glamorous and defined an era of wealth for New York’s elite.
On occasion, Nazmiyal has the opportunity to offer some of these exquisite pieces of history for your home or office. We invite you to enjoy browsing these pieces that are a part of the evolution of the American dream.