Rugs in Art History

Though oft-forgotten, textile designs and rugs have been the medium of self-expression for many of art history's great names. Artists such as Matisse, Bacon, and Arp have explored the unique place of textile design in the field of visual arts. 

True to his esteemed eccentrical style, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) designed a series of rugs to be hung as tapestries after his weakened health no longer allowed him to paint. Titled Mimosa after Cote D'Azur's abundant mimosa blossoms, the series of 500 hand-woven wool tapestries was produced by Alexander Smith Carpet Company. Matisse's rug design, much like his paintings, captured moods and lines in bold saturated colors. Two years before his death, he used paper cutouts to create the image for the rug he wanted to create. His inspiration at the time can be best portrayed by his own words:

"I want to recapture the freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth, when all the world is new."

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), drawing inspiration from the Bauhaus movement and Synthetic Cubism, has also gained critical acclaim for his rug designs. Having started his career in interior design, Bacon soon received recognition for his predominantly modernist work. Yet, his career in that sphere was rather short-lived, and only a handful of textile designs can be attributed to him with certainty. His work as an interior designer inspired him to start experimenting with other art forms, and some of the motifs found in his early rugs are also present in his later paintings. Bacon's rug designs offer valuable insight into his artistic development - they allow the viewer to explore the artist's perceptions of space, structure, and feeling. While his self-criticism led Bacon to destroy much of his early work, his rugs, fortunately, survived the purge in the safety of private collections. Bacon's distinctive geometric designs were produced at the Royal Wilton Carpet Factory.

Similarly, Jean Arp's (1886-1966) versatile artistic dexterity extends to textile design. The famous Dadaist often collaborated with his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp to create tapestries and rugs. Taeuber-Arp, much like Jean Arp, was an adaptable and eminent artist, known particularly well for her geometric abstraction. Woven from wool by Myrbor, an Algerian-Parisian gallery workshop, his 1938 rugs were sold in the Artek gallery and displayed in the Museum of Modern Art.

The modernist Catalan artist Joan Miró (1893-1983) worked in a time when tapestry and waving techniques were making a revival, and many of his paintings have been recreated as tapestries and rugs. Though Miró originally opposed the idea of learning weaving techniques, he ended up creating a variety of tapestries, often collaborating with the textile artist Josep Royo. Miró's interest in folk art and defying expectations regarding the use of materials is well depicted in the way he has combined the style of his paintings with the medium of woven textiles. Creating rugs allowed him to express his affinity for handcraft by providing him with the possibility of being in physical contact with the materials. His idiosyncratic approach to art can be seen in the Tapestry of the Fundacio, an example of his fruitful partnership with Royo.

 A key figure behind many of the most prominent artists' rugs is Marie Cuttoli (1979-1973), a pioneering French entrepreneur. Commissioning the most distinguished artists in her time (such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Le Corbusier, and Georges Braque), she revived the French tapestry industry and made Modernism more accessible to the general public. Cuttoli established schools and workshops in Algeria to teach locals to weave, selling the end-products in her Paris shop. After rebranding her fashion house as Galerie Myrbor, Cuttoli exhibited the works of numerous artists, frequently hanging the art rugs on the wall beside the paintings. During the Great Depression, she attempted to revive the tapestry industry in Aubusson, a weaving center devastated by the economic crisis. Cuttoli's role in the revival of the tapestry industry can be seen in the years following the Second World War, as leading artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and David Hockney made various experiments working with rugs.

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