French Rugs and Carpets

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French Rugs, Aubusson and Savonnerie Collection

French Rugs – The history of French rugs spans more than 300 years from the reign of Henry the great to the 20th century. In the 1600’s the royal carpet manufactory known as the Savonnerie established a baroque architectural style that inspired many textile centers to produce their own carpets with a French aesthetic. While the Savonnerie reached the height of production before the French revolution the carpet center of Aubusson increased production in the 19th century by introducing popular flat pile carpets woven with tapestry knots.

As early as 1536 France established diplomatic relations and trade agreements with the powerful ottoman empire. The Franco ottoman alliance brought many imported rugs to France inspiring a craze for Oriental fashions and furnishings that extended to the art produced by the renaissance painters and old masters.

In the early 1600’s Henry the great contracted Pierre DuPont and weaver Simon Lourdes to produce the first Turkish rugs exclusively for the royal crown. While the patterns were designed to copy imported carpets a new French style quickly emerged. Carpets produced by the Savonnerie before 1690 used designs produced by Charles Le burn who was the managing director of the Savonnerie and the court painter to Louis xiv.

French Rugs and Carpet Collection
French Rugs and Carpet Collection

In 1685 the French wars of religion reached a critical point when Louis xiv banned Protestantism forcing many protestant carpet weavers and tapestry weavers to emigrate to Belgium and the Netherlands  in the 1700’s carpet designs were dominated by elaborate scrolls and architectural acanthus leaf motifs found in English crewelwork.

‘Many of the most popular rococo designs from 18th century were based on works by artist and designer Pierre Josse Perrot. Perrot designed tapestries furnishing and carpets for the royal crown between 1715 and 1750.

French Rugs and Carpet Collection
French Rugs and Carpet Collection

Inspired by the designs of Perrot independent carpet weavers in the textile centers of Aubusson and Beauvais produced knotted pile and flat pile tapestry carpets known as Tapis Ras that were done in the rococo style using increasingly light and delicate motifs and color palettes. Flat woven carpets produced in Beauvais and Aubusson were extremely popular during the 1800’s. Many thin pile carpets produced at this time were made on draw looms similar to those used by tapestry weavers.

Carpets woven on these looms required an additional warp that is used to a produce looped or cut pile which is generally much shorter than hand knotted pile. Draw loom construction was extremely popular in the British carpet centers of Wilton and Axminster that were establish by renegade weavers who left the Savonnerie manufactory around 1750.

French Rugs and Carpet Collection
French Rugs and Carpet Collection

Looms invented by British weavers Thomas Whitty and Edmund Cartwright greatly increased production speed as did the mechanical jacquard loom invented in Lyon by Frenchman Joseph Marie jacquard and subsequently the steam powered loom invented by American Erastus Bigelow. Although French rug manufacturers did not use power looms until the 1880’s the domestic carpet industry saw a dramatic change following the French revolution.

The Savonnerie rugs that were once produced for the crown were available directly to the public as were the flat pile tapestry rugs from Aubusson and Beauvais which were gaining a dedicated following. After the rule of napoleon the Savonnerie became part of Gobelins tapestry conglomeration and the market opened up for independent producers particularly those in Aubusson who specialized in flat pile tapestry rugs.

In the 20th century French rugs left behind their flowery rococo beginnings in favor of abstract art carpets inspired Georges Valmier Wassily Kandinsky and the French cubists.

French carpets in the 20th century continued to evolve reflecting influences from art nouveau and bauhaus as well as the influential art deco designer Jacques Emile Ruhlmann and mid century modern pioneer Le Corbusier who popularized the minimalist Berber carpets of North Africa. Today, carpets produced in Aubusson and at the Savonnerie continue to inspire new designs and imitations.

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