Jean Lurçat

Tropiques, tapisserie d'Aubusson
1956
320 x 675 cm
Wool yarns (weft) and colored cotton yarns
© Académie des Beaux-Arts

Jean Lurçat and the contemporary tapestry Museum
4 Boulevard Arago
49000 Angers
Collection Académie des Beaux-Arts – Fondation Jean et Simone Lurçat

File editor : Mélanie Harlé, INMA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

« J’ai vu là-bas des formes gigantesques, presque inhumaines… Aussi bien dans les feuillages, les orchidées, les fleurs que dans les insectes, les papillons… Ce qui m’intéresse, par exemple, dans le papillon, ça n’est pas la réalité de cet insecte, c’est l’invention extraordinaire que constituent l’entrelacs des formes, le pétillement des coloris, ce côté gratuit – si j’ose dire – de la coloration… »

“I have seen gigantic shapes there, almost inhuman… in the foliage as well as in the orchids, flowers insects or butterflies… What I am really interested in a butterfly for instance, is not the insect itself but the amazing creativity in the interlacing of the forms, the sparkling of the colors and the randomness of the coloring if I may say so”.

 

Jean Lurçat dedicated himself to the tapestry’s art and developed a very personal style. He let his lyriscism have free play on monumental scales.

Jean Lurçat is one of the main protagonists of the postwar movement “French Tapestry Renaissance”. Yet in the 1910-1920, he took an interest in murals and in tapestry by making produce his canvas with needle. Postwar, he introduced the use of numbered cardboards, as in painting, on which the artist draws the artwork. The artwork is then made into tapestries by manufacture weavers as at Aubusson or by self-employed craftsmen. Yet the artist was called a cardboard-artist. Lurçat wished the writing and the outline of the drawing to be simplified. After that the big stitch weaving allowed the weavers in charge of the tapestry to well “transcribe” the cardboard. That technique has revolutionized the art of tapestry as well as the range of the possibilities that the tapestry’s specific language offers.

In parallel, he took up medieval weaving techniques as in the tapestry The Apocalypse of Angers.

 

Yet in 1913, he founded the journal « Les feuilles de mai » (The May leaves) which Bourdelle, Elie Faure, Vildrac, Rilke among others collaborated to.

In 1917, he organized a show at the Tanner Gallery in Zurich; his mother carried out his first tapestries with canvas stitch. In 1922, Jean Lurçat exhibited his gouaches, his oil paintings and his fourth tapestry Le Cirque (The Circus) in Paris for the first time. In 1936, his first tapestry woven at the Gobelins National Factory called Les Illusions d’Icare (Icare’s illusions) was commissioned by the French State and offered to the Queen of Holland.

Jean Lurçat is part of the generation after the great cubists as Picasso or Braque, a generation which has suffered from the consequences of the First World War. As a surrealist, he has kept for a long time a taste for the unusual and a sense of the fabulous. In his tapestries, he has placed mirroring texts and poems: his or his poet friends’ poems. Paul Eluard’s for the tapestry Liberté (Freedom) is probably the most famous example. Jean Lurçat took part to that movement but he has kept and developed a particularly seducing and colorful palette which characteristics and qualities have been praised in the 1920-1930s by art critics.

The discovery of the Angers’ Apocalypse in 1937, the biggest tapestry in the world woven in the XVth century by Nicolas Bataille, has turned out to be a major one for Lurçat. Deeply moved by what he considered as one of the best masterpieces of Occidental Art, he then undertook the Chant du Monde (The World’s Song), a modern replica of the Apocalypse. The Chant du Monde is a set of ten monumental tapestries (347 m2) that makes up an epic, poetical and humanist view of the XXth century. It is permanently exhibited at the Angers Museum.

Sometimes anxious because of the threat looming over our world, sometimes thrilled by the confidence he bears in the human being, Jean Lurçat has used his own language of forms, rhythms and colors in order to convey his message throughout that set of tapestries. Jean Lurçat regarded the Chant du monde as the “the combination of existential components: gall and honey(fiel et miel)

In 1939, he directed the fabrication of his first monumental artwork Les Quatres saisons (The Four seasons) in Aubusson. In 1945, under the impulse of Denise Majorel, the Association of tapestry’s cardboard artists (APCT) was founded and he was elected the president. That was the beginning of great exhibitions: “The French tapestry from Middle Ages to nowadays” was organized in Paris in 1946 at the Modern Art National Museum and then in Amsterdam, Brussels and London in 1947. An exhibition of tapestries including the Chant du monde, of ceramics and jewels took place in the Decorative Arts Museum of Paris in 1964.

On the 13th February of 1964, the election of Jean Lurçat to the Fine Arts Academy inside the painting category as a cardboard-artist consecrated the work of an artist who had been an impassioned defender of the tapestry. This election was the crowning achievement of the revival of an art that had been ignored for a long time before being reinstated by Jean Lurçat. Jean Lurçat has done his best to give back the weaver’s art its dignity. He has succeeded in giving the contemporary tapestry renewed meaning and language and he has inspired a whole generation of artists.

His tapestry work is huge, the most important left by a XXth century’s artist.