Thursday, 24 December 2009

American Abstract Expressionist Pile Tapestries from the 1970s. Have they been bypassed by Art Historians? The Case of the Works of Theodorus Stamos

Recently I have been consulted in order to provide information on a pile tapestry signed Stamos. The artist was of course already registered in my database. But data was unsatisfactory in providing a complete statement about the tapestry. So work had to be done as the dead time was too short for the sale, I will share the results in this present article.

Theodorus Stamos (1922-1997), was an American artist born in New York, whose parents were Greek immigrants. He studied sculpture under Simon Kennedy and Joseph Kouzal at the American Artist School, New York in 1936. He then worked as a teacher in a number of different institutions such as: Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the Art Students' League in New York, and Columbia University, School of Fine Arts in New York.

Tapestry design signed and annotated by the artist in Thedorus Stamos 1922-1997, a retrospective, no 116 p305, National Gallery of Art

In parallel with his work, he took up painting and exhibited his works for the first time in 1943. Influenced by Surrealism in the beginning, his style evolved towards abstraction after a trip to Europe. In the 1950s he joined the New York group called The Irascibles. In 1947 he met and became a close friend of Mark Rothko. He received several awards and became one of the youngest painters of the American Abstract Expressionist movement. In the 1970s he was involved in an important legal suit concerning the Rothko estate. Meanwhile, he repeated his travels in Greece and the Islands and finally moved there, where he organized a number of events and exhibitions with the local population. The paintings from this period belonged to the Infinity Fields series and followed the Sun-Boxes (1963-70). Theodorus Stamos works are now in numerous major private and public museum collections.

Soon Stamos became interested in textile art and began a collaboration with Gloria Finn lasting from 1954 to 1963, producing hooked rugs and tapestries. A work from that period was given by Gloria Finn to the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Later in 1968 he reinvested in this field with the E. Charles Slatkin Inc. Galleries. Two of his woollen works, Sunset 8 and Red Square, were illustrated in the catalogue of the exhibition entitled American Tapestries published that same year. These tapestries follow the Sun-Boxes style, very much influenced by Mark Rothko. In the book Theodorus Stamos 1922-1977, a Retrospective (Anna Kafetsi ed., National Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum, 1997), other details are provided for the tapestries that were produced between 1970-1975 in the Infinity Fields style, especially from the Lefkada series. The maquettes and preparatory designs donated by Regina Slatkin and her family to the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. and the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Plattsburgh, N.Y., ( were made in the form of collages as in his other paintings. Furthermore they were carefully annotated with comments about the colours, material and height of the pile. Sometimes several months were necessary to determine a satisfactory outcome for the artist. For that reason differences appeared between the original drawings and the final pieces. The woollen piled tapestries edited by Slatkin and hand knotted in India, bear the signature in the pile and were produced in limited numbers of 10-12 units. His largest work was a commission for the lobby of an office building at 150 East 58th Street, Manhattan.

After having looked through many reference books and catalogues of Theodorus Stamos, we have extended the search to other artists of the 1968 Slatkin exhibition such as Jim Dine, Robert Motherwell and Frank Stella. We have stated that generally the tapestries are not referenced by art historians and biographers even if they are not copies. So a lot still remains to be done in 2010 for the artists' foundations, researchers and The Carpet Index.

News and Auctions
1)Omega Workshops update: as we have referenced the carpets from the Omega Workshops in a previous article, we can now add a new one found in the collection of the Minneapolis Art Museum, US, by Roger Fry, 1914, 241.3cm x 185.4cm (95in x 73in), ref. 2001.56 (

2)Francis Bacon: post update. Thanks to the Tate exhibition on the early years of the artist, Clive Rogers and I have included a new rug in our reference catalogue. The rug is present in a black and white photo published in the Sphere magazine in 1933. The same design was represented as a painting in the background of a work by Roy de Maistre called Still Life from 1933, at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, reproduced in the Maistre biography. This example is the only one where we can compare a painting and the related rug of Francis Bacon. The global figure of rugs by Bacon can now be evaluated as 14. More details of our study will be available this week in the bimonthly magazine for Oriental and Classical carpets, Hali.

Article Written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Floor Experience of the Contemporary French Fashion Designer Christian Lacroix, or the Way to his 'Ideal Carpet': DRAG-IN-DRAG-ON

In December 2009 the French courts refused the last proposal of a buyer for the purchase of the fashion house of Christian Lacroix. Even if the designer is no longer to be the owner of the company, this decision clearly indicates the end of the haute couture collections of the last French baroque couturier of the twentieth century.

Born in 1951, Christian Lacroix has always claimed his attachment to his native town of Arles in Provence and to that of its culture, tradition and folklore. He studied art, especially the textiles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He then started working for the couturier Jean Patou in 1981. In 1987 he created his own company with the assistance of the French Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy Group and created collections of haute couture and pret-a-porter. Fascinated by the luxurious textiles and traditional embroideries of the past, his creative work always tended to contemporise all of these diverse aspects of art and craft in order to make them relevant to the modern world. During this period the collaboration with the designer's Garouste & Bonetti for the decoration of his show room, was widely publicised and commented upon by the press and general media. A fashion 'Jack of all trades', he even designed stamps, and also illustrations for Larousse. In 1995 he created a line of textile products for the domestic home. After 2000 Christian Lacroix diversified his activities, working for Pucci as a Creative Director (2002-5), designed the uniforms for the Air France airline company, collaborating with the industrial companies Compin & MBD Design. The high speed train TGV and the third trolley line for Montpellier count as amongst his commercial design successes. In 2004 he designed all of the interior decoration for the Hotel du Petit Moulin (Little Windmill) in Paris. He received an American award for the most influential fashion designer.

Christian Lacroix Drag-in-Drag-on carpet for Tools Galerie, Paris, Carpet Stories, January-March 2009. (Copyright Tools Galerie & Daniel Schweizer)

His floor experience is listed with the following:

1)Autumn-Winter 2007 and Summer 2008: the La Redoute Collection. Always ready to adapt himself to new challenges, he accepted an offer to work for La Redoute, a major retail company selling through mail order catalogues, and built up two colourful collections of articles for Winter 2007 and Summer 2008. Among the articles produced (garments, furniture, plates, etc), there were three tufted rugs at affordable prices at around 140 - 175 euros (180 - 230 USD), available in three sizes: 20cm x 180cm, 170cm x 230cm and 200cm x 290cm. The style recalled that of the work of Picard-Ledoux from the late 1960s, or that of Spanish embroidery work particularly with the black and white rug called Goyesca.

2)December 4 2007 - December 4 2008: The 'Suite' for the Parisian museum, Cite de l'Architecture & du Patrimoine, and that of the sponsorship of La Redoute, the magazine Elle Decoration and the Danish manufacturer Ege, for floor wall to wall carpets. He also decorated the apartment of Jean Carlu, called for the event La Suite Elle Decoration.

3)May 17 - December 31 2008: The Reattu Museum exhibition. He used all of the modern technology of the Ege manufacturer to produce floor coverings for an exhibition that mixed his works, collectibles and the collections of the Reattu Museum in Arles. A surrealistic sonorous atmosphere was created by the mixture of objects coming from different origins and periods, including contemporary works by Jean-Michel Othoniel and Daniel Firman.

4)January 29 - March 28 2009: Drag-in-Drag-on carpet. His last rug creation was for the Parisian design gallery Tools ( that exhibited eight designers' works in an event called Carpets' Stories. Christian Lacroix collaborated and realised the design of the Drag-in-Drag-on carpet. The creation of the rug took over six months and the communication between editor, designer and manufacturer was on a regular basis during its construction. It was tufted by Tai Ping, using both wool and silk, and employed different lengths of pile; it measured 200cm x 290cm. The edition was limited to eight pieces, two artist samples and one prototype, and was available for about 30 000 euros each. For the couturier it featured a Chimera, an abstract animal coming from the tradition that symbolised the permanent fight and obsessions of the author confronted by the never ending need for creation. In a corner of the composition, the rug began with a design inherited from the French baroque Savonneries. However, the classical lines very quickly were confronted with the invasion of images produced by the Chimera. Lacroix had not chosen to represent a finished classical western carpet with its symmetry and regular borders, but instead chose to feature his personal creative processes like an artist. Lacroix influenced by the flamenco culture, knew of course, about the tradition of bull fighting.

Personally I like to imagine that the carpet is rather like the skin of the dragon, killed in a mortal combat for creativity. Now it lies on the floor like a valuable trophy in the form of a 'Golden Fleece', therefore it is neither a tapestry nor a wall hanging. Here Lacroix achieved a real original and personal work of art that has nothing in common with his previous floor works. Unfortunately the illustration shown in this article does not allow us to show the different lengths in the pile and the silky sections that reinforced the unfinished, strange and precious effect of the carpet. It expresses all of the aspects of the creativity of the artist: an extravagant mix of diverse influences and colours. Our only observation concerns the shape of the rug. If he had wanted to enrich the idea of exuberance he could have left one corner and given an irregular shape to the piece, such as some structural threads in a fleece. Having chosen to remain rectangular, confirms the strength of his classical attachment; he did not cross the line. For all of these reasons I qualify this creation as his 'Ideal Carpet', in reference to an interview made where he describes his ideal house.

Such an involvement of a designer in this field is not at all common today and seems well worth a post, does it not?

News and Auctions
1)The Ruhlmann Archives from the Musee des Annees Trente in Boulogne Billancourt are classified as works of art and therefore not available to the general public.
2)Several times we have mentioned the French editor Art Surface (see Lichtenstein and Poliakoff posts). We have learned that the parent establishment of that company still exists and certain models can be ordered. For further information contact: Ste. Sedcome, 17 rue Saint Senoc 75017 Paris, France, or The Carpet Index.
3)December 16 2009: Christies London: a pile tapestry by Victor Pasmore.
4)December 16 2009: Sotheby's New York: three carpets by Jules Coudyser, Austrian Secession and C.F.A Voysey (Donnemara design).
5)December 17 2009: Dorotheum, Germany: a runner by Ege of Andy Warhol.
6)December 21 2009: three rugs by Calder (Mobile), Warhol (Flowers) and Yvaral (son of Vasarely).

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The 1960s 'Prince of Prints' Rug Collection of Italian Fashion Designer Emilio Pucci

We will finish this year with a series of lighter articles that will outline the creativity within carpet design in the second half of the twentieth century. The first is devoted to Emilio Pucci, Marchese di Barsento (1914-1992), a major Italian personality within the fashion industry. Known as the Prince of Prints, Pucci designed slacks, shirts and dresses in vivid and startling colour combinations. Born within an aristocratic and illustrious Florentine family whose ancestors had never had to work "in a thousand years", as he once famously explained to Life magazine, Pucci's life is well worth a Visconti film. He studied, graduated and then embraced a military career as a pilot during the Mussolini period. However, after having helped a member of the Mussolini family to escape to Switzerland, Pucci was imprisoned for a while and so managed to sit out the rest of the war in Switzerland, by which time he was financially ruined.

Emilio Pucci Rug in one of his Boutiques, 1970s

He began to design commercial clothing with new fabrics for winter sports in Zermat, Switzerland in 1947. In that same year a photographer for Harper's Bazaar magazine, took pictures of the outfits that he saw during his trip. These were sent to Diana Vreeland, who alerted a Lord & Taylor buyer, who then ordered a collection. This opened the doors of the American market to his business. The next success came with a swimwear line in 1949, created in his own plant and shop on Capri, the Italian island that became the popular jet set summer vacation spot of the 1950s. Creatively he introduced a real dimension of pleasure and libertine fashion, using silky materials and magnificent and personal coloured compositions. In 1966 he launched a perfume, Vivara created for his three year old daughter and promoted by the French film star Catherine Deneuve. He was one of the first to create a haute couture line of underwear in the United States. In the 1960s he continued to embrace new fields in design, ranging from the airline uniform market to the design of the official Apollo 15 logo.

It was during the end of this period that he conceived a line of carpets inspired by his collection of prints. Surprisingly the collection, containing about twelve models, was manufactured by an Argentinean company Dandolo & Primi in 1968-1970. It was based on a combination of five colour schemes: Hearth, Ice, Sun, Night and Rose tones. Before being shown in western markets, mainly Italian and American, the collection was exhibited in the Buenos Aires Museum of Decorative Arts in 1970, which produced the catalogue: Alfombras Argentinas de Emilio Pucci, Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, 1970. Through our research we have not been able to identify any other publication that presented the complete collection. The models bore names like Vivara and Lamborghini and presented a unique collection of colourful rugs in sweet and vivid colours, featuring elegant and fluid lines. The rugs were tufted and available in different sizes and shapes, both square and rectangular, and in a limited quantity of fifteen per model. They bear the signature Emilio set within the pile, which sometimes appears several times.

Pucci used his carpets for the decoration of his shops and also his Florentine palace, which was his family home. The innovation introduced by Pucci within carpet design was purely formal and artistic in both composition and colour palette. This explains why they were described as floor paintings in wool. We can only regret that the life that inhabited his garments was not expressed nearly as successfully through his carpet designs, perhaps due to either the use of new fibres or the unexpected shapes or sizes produced.

After this collection a reissue of several models in larger sizes and an industrial collection bearing the Pucci name seems to have been created. The lack of information prevents us from giving any further details. We have been able to trace less than fifteen carpets that have appeared on the market at various auctions.

News and Auctions
1)December 10 2009, Netherhampton Salerooms, UK: 1540 rug entitled Cercle by DIM; 1573 The Rose pattern C. F. A. Voysey.
2)December 12 2009, De Vuyst, Lokeren, Belgium: two rugs from Corneille.
3)December 16 2009, Christies, London: pile tapestry by Victor Pasmore.
4)December 16 2009, Sotheby, New York: two Donnemara carpets by C. F. A. Voysey; anon European carpet; an Austrian Secession carpet.
5)December 16 2009, Pierre Berge, Paris: two rugs by Ivan da Silva Bruhns and Emiel Veranneman.

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

Sunday, 6 December 2009

An Example of Ruhlmann's Style: The c1932 Dubly Drawing Room with a Sourzac Round Carpet. Part 3 of 3

The c1932 Dubly Drawing Room with a Sourzac Round Carpet, Deco d'Aujourd'hui, Dec-Feb 1934. The Carpet Index Library

After 1927 Leon Dubly became an important customer for Ruhlmann who designed his apartment. Certain models of furniture, chairs and tables, are identified with his name. When Ruhlmann undertook the decoration of the drawing room, he was no longer in his 'aristocratic' period, one that had been much criticised. The overall result was of a much more delicate and elegant feel. The work produced in order to obtain this result was always impressive, as we will demonstrate.

The Basic Drawing Room Characteristics
As you can see in the illustration shown above, the room presented a high ceiling and an imperfect square shape. All the light derived from large windows that are not visible in the illustration, but were on the right hand side of the room. The first objective was to avoid the room having a 'box' feeling and to avoid anyone noticing the two entering angles on the left hand side, this breaks up the view when entering the room. Ruhlmann visually reduced the height of the ceiling by installing a wooden frame directly onto the walls. In using a large width for the vertical pilasters, in opposition to the thinner horizontal bands, he created a perspective and a visible architecture in the room that focused attention. If you look closely you will notice that the first pilaster covered the first angle on the left hand side, while the second the fourth. The pilasters were made of palissandre from India, one of the favourite woods used by Ruhlmann. They were devoid of decoration and were finished above in a delicate golden frieze. The latter easily resonated with the bronze work of the furniture, mirror frame and lights. To give unity to all the remaining walls, he used a clear blue silky upholstered tapestry forming a network of lozenges, in opposition to the massive straight pilasters. As a result the eye quickly forgot the angles and was smoothly invited to embrace the bright room space.

The Furniture
The selected furniture was reduced and placed in order to valorise their shapes and selected materials. The colour recalled that of the palissandre. It was centred along the walls and one forgot the corners. The legs of the furniture had bronze endings, which reinforced the feeling of lightness and separated the different visual levels: the floor from the furniture and the walls. A medium round table stood in the middle of the room, which meant that it was very easy to circulate in the room. From the furniture we can understand the function of the room; it is not the main drawing room, but that of a more private 'antechamber' or boudoir, to receive visitors or to ask them to wait in a pleasant surrounding.

The Carpet of Denise Sourzac
We have not found any information regarding Denise Sourzac, we only know that Ruhlmann regularly collaborated with Rene Sourzac on certain projects. She might well have been his sister, wife or daughter, which shows the familiar spirit of the company. Here Ruhlmann chose a very large circular carpet, about 3.5-4 meters in diameter (11-13 feet), to unify the room and to cover the walking zones. The circular shape echoed the mirror, the table top and the square initial volume of the room without creating a 'box' effect. In order to mix the different volumes, the carpet ran slightly under the secretaire. This also offered some comfort to the person sitting and preserved the plain carpet below from over usage.

This model was first presented in 1928 in the SAD exhibition (The box of the actress Jacqueline Francell), then in 1930 with a different background colour, In The Carpet Index Files we have photos of Dubly's furniture taken with this latter rug. We estimate that Ruhlmann leant the carpet to the customer while the final one was being woven. In fact the carpet from the illustration presents slight differences that show how Ruhlmann was attentive to all the details:

1)The centre of the rug was not symbolized by four concentric circles as in the other rugs, so the composition was much lighter and more dynamic, thus the radiating effect was reinforced. The eye was not stopped by the centre. The plain circle also revealed the shape of the table legs.
2)The border was composed of successive points orientated towards the centre. In the other rugs that was not the case, the design of the point was composed of three triangles in different colours and they were orientated towards the selvedge. The eye was conducted to remain in the centre of the room. The selvedge had been simplified and there was no relief effect or long fringes. This was done in order to overly attract attention.
3)The number of colours was reduced to two instead of at least three.
4)The radiating background contained two concentric thin circles which were very discreet because Ruhlmann did not use a dark colour. This was intriguing for the eye because the lines of the rug were 'incomplete', as if it was a mistake. It is very noticeable that the horizontal network of lozenges echoed the tapestry and broke the regularity of the linear quality of the room. The carpet was less 'perfect' that the rest of the furnishings and giving lightness to the massive rug which weighed about 40-50 kilos.

This example really illustrates how Ruhlmann liked to manipulate opposite concepts in a decorative scheme, dark and light zones, straight and circular lines, static and dynamic compositions, plain and designed surfaces, cold and warm colours. For these reasons there is a tension that is in fact transformed and then forgotten by the magic effect of the final result: a very delicate and elegant solution.

For Ruhlmann the decoration of the furniture and carpet served several functions: to integrate all of the furniture and wall coverings in one space; to guide the eye to focus on the major characters of the furniture piece; and to give a personality to the object.

Now you understand why it is necessary to consider the environment of the rugs created by skilled decorators. When the rugs are presented alone, as in the majority of cases when appearing in auction, there is a huge loss of information. The carpet remains flat and isolated and the keys to decode its design are no longer available. The purpose of this blog is to reveal these aspects and to transmit them to the next generation, a task that no longer seems to be taught in contemporary design schools which focus on concepts, technology and functionalities.

Ruhlmann - Genius of Art Deco, E. Breon & R. Pepall eds., 2004.
Ruhlmann - Genie de l'Art Deco, E. Breon & R. Pepall eds., 2002. French first edition.
Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann Architecture d'Interieur, 2 vols, Flammarion, 2004.

News & Auctions
1)December 6 2009: LAMA, Los Angeles: a Jack Lenor Larsen carpet and a round American Modern Starburst rug.
2)December 8 2009: Christie's New York: several interesting rugs from Marion Dorn lot 354; Edward McKnight Kauffer lot 367; Bart van der Leck by Metz & Co, lot 383; attrb. Jules Leleu, lot 347; Vivienne Weastwood lot 479; and a Berta Senestrey flatweave, lot 368.
3)December 8 2009: Wright, Chicago: rugs by Herbert Bayer, Frank Stella and Davis Shaw Nichols.
4)December 9 2009: Sotheby's Paris: painting on a rug by Mai-Thu Perret.

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann's Carpets and Rugs, Design and Designers: Henry Stephany, Maurice Picaud, Emile Gaudissard, Leon Voguet and Denise Sourzac. Part 2 of 3

I will now answer some basic questions that will help you to understand Ruhlmann's works and methods. It will hopefully spare you a lot of time and energy in reading and searching, and hopefully you will enjoy and appreciate the article.

Question 1: Who designed the Ruhlmann carpets?
Ruhlmann selected a staff of designers to translate his ideas and draw all the necessary maquettes in different scales, including the final plain scale draft of the furniture and other products from the company. From the published archives we can estimate that this was also the case for the carpets. The inspiration came either from Ruhlmann's sketches, elaborated on previously, or from his collaborators depending upon the projects. For carpet design Henry Stephany and Maurice Picaud (also called Pico) were among the most talented collaborators that were mentioned in both catalogues and press articles. Others such as Porteneuve, Fontayne, Lardin and Rousseau might also have contributed, but the documents available do not mention either their names or initials. In practise, Ruhlmann had complete control over his design studio, and all decisions needed his approval. Contrary to the furniture that was usually stamped, it seems that the carpets did not carry any signature or monogram. They might well have had a label but I have never seen one or read about their existence. It seems that the carpets were woven by only one company in Aubusson: Braquenie.

Carpet designed by Stephany for Ruhlmann, NR 3056, presenting the Viennese influence, plate 46, in Tapis by Leon Moussinac, Albert Levy ed. A similar model was in the Ruhlmann's office and was sold to Mr. Nicolle

Question 2: How can we identify Ruhlmann carpets?
The furniture, when finished was stamped with the Ruhlmann signature; the carpets do not bear any logo, monogram or signature. The drawings do not bear initials or names either. We can attribute a designers name or a Ruhlmann origin through press articles, photos and exhibition catalogues. Of course we can try looking through the different archives but so far an exhaustive catalogue has not yet been produced. Rugs presented in auction invoices or certificates might joint the lot. Otherwise you will have to rely on the expertise of the seller or a specialist in order to fully identify them.

Question 3: How many carpets have been woven?
After Ruhlmann's death a collaborator was commissioned to produce and complete the classification of the archives. The documents donated to French institutions were studied and included in this project. All recent publications have benefited from that work. It appears now that the products from Ruhlmann have a new reference number, NR, instead of the previous AN. For the carpets, their number begins with 3XXX. The Carpet Index database has about 25 carpets identified by their number, from NR 3001 to NR 3205. We also have about the same number without a reference attribution, which makes a total of about 50. We have estimated that the Ruhlmann company produced at least 200 models (the sketches are not included), but at present I am not able to estimate how many were actually woven because Ruhlmann worked like a tailor and did not hesitate to personalise each order, as I will describe in the next post. Each model could have a combination of different colour choices and sizes, as well as some slight changes in the composition. As a result the rug sales seem to have been important, but have definitely been underestimated by a number of different art historians.

Question 4: Which Ruhlmann rugs were famous?
The most famous carpets were presented in several exhibitions, the most important being the ones that took place in Paris:

1)1925, the International Decorative Art Exhibition: carpets designed by Gaudissart and Voguet NR 3175 for the Pavillon du Collectionneur, respectively for the dining room, large drawing room and for the Ambassade Francaise, the Stephany NR 3107.
2)1926, SAD, The collector's office, a carpet by Fontayne called Mouvement Perpetuel, NR 3057.
3)1927, carpet for the Tea Room of the liner Ile de France, NR 3015, AR 2512.
4)1928, SAD, La Chambre d'Apparat, the Pomp Room, carpet by Stephany, NR 3180.
5)1929, SAD, L'appartement d'un Prince Heritier des Indes du Prince a la Cite Universitaire, one sample is exhibited at the Chateau Gourdon Museum, France.
6)1930, SAD, the box of the actress Jacqueline Francel, carpet by Denise Sourzac.
7)1932, SAD, Rendez-vous des Chasseurs de Truites, two carpets by Sourzac and Picaud, NR 3058.

One must not forget that Eileen Gray, who also produced very expensive furniture for a selected international clientele, survived thanks to the rug sales in the 1920s. I hope to have demonstrated that carpet deserves to be considered as being on the same level as any other piece of furniture. It is time to end the habit of using the name of the artist in order to sell their rugs and to ignore the latter productions in referenced biographies for their unclear reasoning.

The context has been established. In the next post I will try, through the use of an example, to express the excellent choices Ruhlmann made in both decoration and carpet design and to convince you, if you still have any remaining doubts as to his genius.

News and Auctions
1)November 26 2009, Christie's, Paris, lot 30: a round carpet from Ruhlmann (part 2/2). The result was below the estimate. On December 5 2000, a large round carpet with a similar background but much wider (4m diameter), was presented in Paris by the auction house Le Mouel & Le Mouel, lot 82. The result was among the highest obtained for an Art Deco rug (2 215 280 FF, over 300 000 euros, premium included), but there is an explanation as to the high auction price, the rug was part of Ruhlmann's private furniture collection.
2)December 7 2009, Piasa, Paris: three rugs from modern artists on sale: Statmos Theodorus, Andy Warhol (Flowers) and Mark Rothko.

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann's Carpets: Biographical Notes and Basic Concepts in Rug Design. Part 1 of 3

I had not planned to write about Ruhlmann's carpets in 2009, but the publication of an important book of over 500 pages on this major personality of the Art Deco period has provoked a reaction from this rug documentalist. In Ruhlmann by Florence Camard, published by Monelle Hayot, ISBN 978-2-903824-66-2 (sold for about 130 euros), the author has portrayed Ruhlmann's life and productions on a chronological basis. Carpets are illustrated intermittently, but like many biographies of designers, there is no specific chapter on carpet and rug design, nor are there any extra notes devoted to the subject at the end of the book. For other interior products that were produced by the Ruhlmann company such as general textiles and wallpapers, the situation is similar. As would be expected with a biography of Ruhlmann, furniture takes a privileged position in the book. Unfortunately, the absence of any index reduces the usefulness of this massive publication for research and documentary purposes, but perhaps the book should be seen as a good introduction to the work of Ruhlmann, rather than as a detailed reference guide.

An exhaustive reference catalogue still remains to be written of the Ruhlmann archives available in the French National Library, BNF Departement des Estampes Paris, and the museums: Musee des Arts Decoratifs Cabinets des Dessins, Paris, Musee des Anees Trente, Boulogne-Billancourt and the Institute of Architecture, Paris still remains to be written. Meanwhile I will provide some complimentary information in three articles starting with this one.

Ruhlmann's Boudoir from the Hotel d'un Collectionneur for the 1925 Paris International Exhibition, plate no.2, Interieurs en Couleurs, Leon Deshairs, Albert Levy ed., 1925. The Carpet Index

To present Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1879-November 1933) as a major cabinet-maker, the Art Deco Riesener, is of course correct, but technically he never actually produced any furniture himself. Another point is that by concentrating on the furniture output from Ruhlmanns' company, it can prevent us from appreciating his talent as an Architecte Decorateur (Architect Designer), a term he used to describe himself and one that is really an appropriate one to describe his work methods.

In the three posts dedicated to Ruhlmann I will consider the carpets produced by his company, even if there was no actual weaving workshop for textiles or rugs connected to the company. Like many other designers' studios, the company sold carpets from other independent artists such as Ivan da Silva Bruhns, Leon Voguet and Emile Gaudissard, some of whom were registered with a reference number. However, the majority of the carpets sold by the company were in fact conceived by the Ruhlmann design staff and studio.

Biographical Notes
1879 Birth in Paris.
1900 First drawings produced during military service.
1901 Works in his Father's company that dealt with house-painting, wallpaper and the manufacture of mirrors.
1907 Marriage. After his Father's death, starts to manage the family firm.
1911 First participation in the SAD, Salon des Artistes Decorateurs.
1912 First office established at 27 rue de Lisbonne.
1919 New association with a partner and founding of the Etablissement Ruhlmann & Laurent that allows him to concentrate on his decoration business.
1923 First workshop at the rue d'Ouessant. Purchase by the MET of furniture.
1925 International recognition during the Exhibition for the Pavillon du Collectionneur.
1927 Second workshop.
1932 The company is affected by the economic situation.
1933 Death of Ruhlmann. Laurent continues the painting business. Alfred Porteneuve, Ruhlmann's nephew, in charge of the closure of the decoration department.

Ruhlmann never officially studied art or design. He began by drawing intensively after 1900, and learned progressively from the partners of the Faubourg Saint Antoine who started producing his furniture before 1923. He established his own very high standards in order to try to perpetuate the excellence in cabinet-making that had been achieved in the Golden century. Before the 1920s his decoration business did not show a profit and was indeed visibly unprofitable, it was the other more commercial activities that sponsored the artistic projects. Ruhlmann was talented enough to have accumulated many occupations including that of: sketcher, designer, cabinet maker, architect and manager. As a visionary he always wanted the best and accepted that he had to pay the price for that stand, even if it meant losing money. Therefore he could be very demanding towards both collaborators and suppliers and insisted on controlling all of the details.

Ruhlmann could of course produce furniture in his own right, but he excelled in finding the right proportions between the furniture and the space that it was intended for. To achieve the objective of an elegant and seemingly effortless balance, he was ready to question all aspects of composition, colour and shape. He refused to apply systematic rules and looked for innovative solutions, even if they were not necessarily immediately noticeable at first sight. Each project was unique.

This was also true for his carpets. For him the rug was a total experience, including all aspects of the carpet from fringe, to selvedge, to pile, all were considered equal parts of the same object and the decorator had to play with each element in order to achieve the decorative aim. This is also true when considering the inner composition of the floor covering. Ruhlmann clearly refused to follow the traditional oriental models of composition and preferred rugs with all over designs and with thin or even nonexistent borders. He had a special attachment for round concentric rugs that were very complicated to compose and weave. He was very attentive to the nature of the material used for the pile and had a preference for very silky wool (mohair or merinos?), that once felt cannot be forgotten. These requirements were also true for the dye. Black for example, which seems a fairly basic standard colour to use, worked spectacularly well on a Ruhlmann carpet. The obsession with all the details makes these carpets unique and impossible to reproduce correctly through common photos.

News and Auctions
1)November 26 2009, Christie's, Paris, lot 30, a round carpet by Ruhlmann. Even if the first items of the sale belonged to Lord Rothermere's Parisian apartment, who also purchased carpets, this lot is from another origin. The carpet is composed of 15 concentric circles with different geometrical motifs, including curvilinear and broken lines. I imagine that it was inspired by Berber rectangular weavings that commonly used successive horizontal bands of geometrical motifs, but they never made a circular version. The rug has a diameter of only 250cm (98 3/8in). The knotting is coarse, about 4 to 6 Turkish knots per square cm, and they use about 6 to 7 threads of wool for the weaving of the pile, the large Ruhlmann carpets can have a lower density of knotting. The lot probably comes from Braquenie in Aubusson. I am convinced that once the pattern was transposed for the weaving it was a nightmare to weave. The weaver could not have afforded many mistakes because the concentric lines had to remain proportionate and very regular, otherwise the mistakes would be immediately perceived as it was so small in scale. It was first presented in 1925 and not 1930 as mentioned, in the showroom rue de Lisbonne, and I imagine this design had been chosen to give the firm impression of the high standards of the studio to visitors. Living in Paris I have actually seen and touched the rug, the sensation of which is of a unique combination of softness and thickness. The two brick colours are gorgeous. The carpet has been cleaned and it presents two sides like a silk carpet, due to the quality of the wool and the general good state of the piece. The estimated price of 40 to 60 000 euros might well be a little high for the present period. Do not hesitate to have a look:

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

Friday, 20 November 2009

Present day Common Shaggy Rugs: The Ground Level of Creativity and Cultural Recognition, or How to Duplicate Scandinavian Rya Research from Ritva Puotila and Gunilla Lagerhem-Ullberg without Limits

If you look on the internet today for any cultural information concerning shaggy rugs, you will find an overwhelming number of commercial sites that will promote the fantastic decorative possibilities of these products for your interior. In the stores, sellers might well have difficulties in answering precise questions. Globally, you will find relatively few areas of information about their origin or history. A misleading comparison with the Greek flokati is sometimes presented, but in reality the development of the shag texture in floor covering is to be found in the Scandinavian tradition and the rya weavings that became popular in the late 1950s.

French magazine advertisement for a shag rug, woven by Balsan, Maison & Jardin, 1965. The Carpet Index Library

In Finland, Norway and Sweden traditional weaving generally had a composition that entailed borders and motifs. They were intended to be used as tapestries, covers or sitting mats, but not as floor coverings. In the 1960s and 1970s Danish manufacturers began to integrate plain rya rugs into their catalogues, using rectangular and circular shapes such as Ege Rya and their Island collection. This example was very quickly followed by many others, which enabled the development of the shag into many different product lines including wall to wall carpeting. These shaggy rugs were generally woven mechanically using the Axminster technique and were either made using wool or synthetic materials such as nylon or acrylic. Their commercial success in the US and Europe for example, was visible in the Sears' catalogues and in the advertising campaigns of the manufacturers, see illustration. By the 1960s they had already been able to mix colours within the pile, the wool having been treated for protection against moths, and certain backings were also treated in order to avoid slippage.

After the 1970s, industrial production decreased rapidly but research among textile designers continued. Finnish artists such as Maija Lavonen and Ritta Makinen, were the first to consider the use of different fibres such as linen, artificial silk, or even sisal mixed with wool. In 1987 Ritva Puotila further developed this research and produced, with her company Woodnotes Oy, the following collections: Woodnotes (using paper fibre) and Aapa. For Puotila, walking on her rugs produced the feeling of walking on soft sand. Later in the 1990s, the Swedish designer Gunilla Lagerhem-Ullberg developed for the Kasthall manufacturer, new lines of rug design such as Moss, Tekka and Fogg, which can still be purchased today.

All these products offered a large variety of colours and took their inspiration from Scandinavian traditional rural culture, with its respect for nature. Today when you purchase the coloured 'new' shaggy rugs in the shops or through the Internet, all of these aspects are treated as negligible. The cheap products exported from China, India and the Middle East bear no designer's name, and not even a manufacturer is mentioned. In the best case the quality of the fibre for the pile is noted, but concerning the backing which is hidden by a glued textile, no specifications of the chemicals used are provided, neither is a description given as to how the rug was looped or tufted. With time, the backing might well dry out and then the cleaning of the rug will become impossible. In comparison, the Finnish ryas are both hand woven and knotted, and use natural dyes. As a result the product will be both long lasting and the pile will be strong and resistant.

With the cheap mass manufactured rugs the quality is ultimately sacrificed. However, it is clear that in our 'modern' world economical model, there is almost no means for a European artist to have their creativity protected from Asian or any other type of copyist. Perhaps the most difficult attitude to explain is that of the silence engendered by public authorities that seem willing to accept this state of the present market as natural, leading to the ultimate demise of any form of local European production. This situation clearly reveals that attitudes within Europe concerning the decorative arts has come to such a low level of estimation and respect towards creativity, that today the context is very much one that is not at all favourable towards any form of creative product for the floor.

The invasion of cheap rugs will, in the long term, be devastating for all concerned. It is really a short term approach to imagine that the customer will not react at all. At the present time the trend in France seems to be one whereby the customer considers the purchase of a rug as being part of a fashionable act, and therefore must not be too expensive because of the constant changes in fashion. However, if this short sighted system does not change the result might well be one where we see the disappearance of the desire to own a rug and the incapacity to identify quality when it appears because the product will have so much depreciated as a creative entity, that the dream of owning a quality rug will have gone forever. With the absence of creativity the low quality and prices may well progressively impoverish this sector and discourage any design newcomers and carpet lovers into entering the profession. To illustrate my point I recently purchased in a Parisian sale at the beginning of this year, a modern hand woven rya from Ritva Puotila produced in the 1990s, measuring 1.4m x 2m for only 200 euros! The rya is like a Rothko painting, mixing linen and wool in blue tones. For me it represents the reflecting sun on the water of the Finnish lakes.

With this article I wanted to highlight the need to protect both designers and their creations, and in order to show that there is something fundamentally wrong with our model of the world economy, something in fact that is making this field of creativity completely ineffectual. I refuse to remain inactive and want to wholeheartedly support innovation and quality, irrespective of whether it comes from either East or West, but absolutely excluding all copyists.

News and Auctions
1)November 21 2009, Damien Leclere, Marseille, France: Ivan da Silva Bruhns, lot 30 (370cm x 4025cm); Paul Follot.
2)November 23 2009, Cornette de Saint Cyr, Paris: lot 10 Pupsam (David Puel and Thomas Libe) single woven by Cogolin and Corneille.
3)November 24, 2009, Dorotheum, Germany: a circular carpet, very rare, by Gabriel Englinger for Studio Aran.

Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha