Hangings Ahead Of Their Time

June 10 2014, 9:43am

Carlton Hobbs LLC This extraordinary pair of hangings, with unusual stylized orange tree and sunflower pattern, evoke the Aesthetic movement of the late 19th century. However, after close technical inspection, curatorial opinion has clarified almost beyond doubt that they are, in reality, from the early eighteenth century and possibly of Genoese manufacture. The elongated design of these hangings, whereby most of the panel is taken up by one large “picture,” is unusual in the early eighteenth century but not unheard of. Parallels can be drawn between the designs on the present hangings and on those made for Queen Anne’s Bed, now kept at Hampton Court Palace. Although traditionally thought to have been made by French Huguenot craftsmen working in Spitalfields East London, recent scholarly opinion has posited that that bed’s hangings may have come from Italy, from where it is likely the present examples also came. Figure 1 Although textiles produced in Europe at this time were generally woven at widths of around 21 inches, and the pattern on the present hangings is 26 inches, this does not mean it is impossible that they are European. An album of eighteenth century textile designs in the V&A drawn by James Leman, a leading Spitalfields designer and manufacturer of silk in the early eighteenth century, contains numerous details that are in a similar spirit to the present hangings (figure 1). The tassel arrangements in the upper sections are perhaps the most European aspect of the present pieces; these appear on French silks such as another slightly later example from the V&A (figure 2). Figure 2 There did exist looms in the early eighteenth century in Turkey and China producing fabric at this width, as can be seen in a cushion cover in the V&A (figure 3). Figure 3 Their unusual width, for European examples, may be explained by suggesting they were made in emulation of fabrics that were arriving from the East. There is evidence of such a phenomenon occurring in Amsterdam at this time. It is known that eastern and western producers of fabric were exchanging design ideas. Figure 4 For example, a French blue silk damask in the collection of the Musée des Tissus et des Arts Decoratifs in Lyon (figure 4) can be compared to a clearly related Chinese red satin damask in the Cooper-Hewitt in New York (figure 5). Figure 5 The intended use of the present hangings remains somewhat unclear. The Green Velvet Bed at Hardwick Hall (figure 6) is draped with green silk velvet panels and gives us some idea of how the present pieces could have looked if used in this context. Green, the color most associated with the goddess Venus, was indeed a popular color for beds at this time. However given the large scale of their design and the festoon arrangement in the upper section, experts have agreed that they were most likely intended to be hung on the wall; the effect of several of them placed next to one another would have been visually exquisite. Figure 6 Light exposure levels have clearly varied on different sections. During the conservation process differing colors of selvedge were found on the hangings, which are likely to have been caused by their production on different looms within the same workshop, as it was not uncommon for several to be used for large orders. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC. The hangings’ remarkable design in many respects prefigures the taste of late nineteenth century Aestheticism and the related Arts and Crafts style, which aimed to return to traditional modes of both depiction and production in the decorative arts. A renewed emphasis on textiles characterized the period, and the fruit tree motif similar to that seen on the present pieces appeared in the backgrounds of many Pre-Raphaelite paintings. We can be confident, therefore, that these hangings would have been much prized in the nineteenth century, perhaps explaining their survival in such excellent condition. Detail. Carlton Hobbs LLC.