Collecting modern tapestries

With textiles increasingly seen as covetable artworks, these postwar pieces offer both collectors’ cachet and accessible prices, says Jenny Dalton

Les Musiciennes I, 1953, by Le Corbusier, sold for €190,000 by Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour
Les Musiciennes I, 1953, by Le Corbusier, sold for €190,000 by Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour | Image: Marie Clérin/Laffanour Galerie Downtown, Paris

People, on the whole, don’t get textiles,” says Gary Kemp, actor, musician and design collector. “It’s seen as a domestic art form, but the amount of work that goes into it is incredible.” Among Kemp’s collection are two intricately stitched wall hangings by Marian Stoll from the late 1920s, one a landscape that Kemp describes as resembling “Van Gogh in its use of colour”. 

But it seems the tide is turning, with a growing appreciation of textile art. And prices are beginning to reflect this, particularly those for textiles from the period after the second world war, the heyday of 20th-century tapestry.

Painting in Wool, c1927, by Marian Stoll, bought by collector Gary Kemp for £8,000
Painting in Wool, c1927, by Marian Stoll, bought by collector Gary Kemp for £8,000 | Image: Courtesy Paul Reeves

A Paris advertising executive, who owns an abstract 1960s Mathieu Matégot tapestry bought from Galerie Chevalier, says, “Having a curved wall, a ‘textile painting’ was an obvious choice, but I hadn’t realised how rewarding it would be to live with a tapestry. Because of the colours, texture and weaving effects, I can cast my eye over and over it and never be bored.” Amélie-Margot Chevalier, co-director of the gallery, adds, “the visual effect is really unexpected – tapestries can be both monumental and warming; they’re neither two- nor three-dimensional but somewhere in between.

“The most sought-after tapestries,” Chevalier explains, “are those by big-name artists, but to me they are woven paintings – though with artists who were interested in the interaction between tapestry and, say, architecture, such as Le Corbusier, there’s a real dialogue in the work.” At last December’s Design Miami fair, Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour exhibited a large-scale wall hanging by Le Corbusier, dated 1953, of semi-abstracted musicians in bold hues, which was snapped up on the first day for €190,000.

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The gallery also had a monumental piece, Claire’s Tapestry (1965; €180,000), by Jean Lurçat, the darling of French postwar tapestry who created dense flora and fauna motifs. Chevalier is a fan: “He is the father of the rebirth of tapestry in France after the war and converted a lot of artists to it, including Marcel Gromaire. And Mathieu Matégot is the father of abstract tapestry, even though people know him more for his design work.” Chevalier has a dramatic black-background 1960 Matégot called Le Parkhor, while in New York, Lavender Oriental Carpets has a small but distinctive Lurçat floral tapestry ($6,500) on ochre background from 1940. 

Eddy Keshishian of London’s Keshishian gallery is, like Chevalier, most interested in those artists who worked specifically in textiles. He currently has a 1960 Matégot featuring abstracted martial arts figures in a palette of browns, called Karate, plus an Yves Millecamps, Diaphone II, c1970 – a geometric, quasi-futuristic study (both price on request).

Equateur, c1970, by Sonia Delaunay, $65,000
Equateur, c1970, by Sonia Delaunay, $65,000

What is of increasing importance is the recognition of the tapestry maker – the intermediary who brought painters and weavers together. These include Gloria F Ross, who “translated paint to wool”, as she put it, to create tapestries for Frank Stella and Jean Dubuffet among many others; Yvette Cauquil-Prince who, from the 1960s when she was engaged to weave Picasso tapestries, worked directly with artists such as Chagall and Max Ernst; and Caron Penney who has made tapestries for Gillian Ayres, Martin Creed and Tracey Emin. An after-Chagall tapestry, La Danse, conceived in 1950 and executed in 1997 by Cauquil-Prince, sold at Christie’s in 2015 for £200,000 against an estimate of £100,000.

Vojtech Blau gallery in New York currently has a rainbow-hued abstract Sonia Delaunay tapestry, c1970, for sale for $65,000 – a painting by Delaunay would cost almost 10 times as much. Gallery owner Simona Blau says that Delaunay’s work, although not intended for weaving, “translates so beautifully”. Her clients are often “wowed”, and, she adds, “It’s a growing market to discover.”

Le Parkhor, 1960, by Mathieu Matégot, sold for €25,000 by Galerie Chevalier
Le Parkhor, 1960, by Mathieu Matégot, sold for €25,000 by Galerie Chevalier | Image: Galerie Chevalier

At Christie’s last year, a number of tapestries created after designs by Alexander Calder netted significantly more than their estimates. These included one of his six American Revolution Bicentennial tapestries from 1975, a swirling geometric design in primary colours created by the Aubusson-based Pinton Frères workshop, which sold for $8,250 against a $4,000-$6,000 estimate (despite being in an edition of 150).

“Buyers are interested in modern wall textiles as a celebration of the techniques, subject matter and era,” says collector and dealer Paul Reeves. “There’s less and less doubt today that textiles can be art.”

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Someone who appreciates “the content and method” of wall hanging is Oscar Engelbert, founder and CEO of property development company Oscar Properties. As a collector of Rosemarie Trockel’s tapestries – politically charged, large-scale knitted artworks – he was instantly attracted to her 1990 o.T. (Death’s heads), with yellow tartan and skull symbols, that he bought at New York’s Skarstedt gallery. He recently took it out of storage for his renovated Stockholm apartment, as it had the strength of colour and scale to unite the yellow rug and Pierre Jeanneret chairs in his dining room above any other artwork he possessed. “The combination of the beauty of the image and aesthetics of the textile just hits me in the guts.”

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