The "Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins" commonly called Manufacture des Gobelins, is located in a superb “Haussmannian” building on avenue des Gobelins, in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. It brings together the “Mobilier National”, the “Manufacture de Tapisserie des Gobelins”, the “Manufacture de Beauvais” (workshops located in Paris and Beauvais), the “Manufacture de la Savonnerie” (workshops located in Paris and Lodève), the "National Lace Workshops of Puy and Alençon".
From the beginning to the 19th century
The Gobelins were a family from Reims, who in the 15th century had established a dyeing company in Paris. Jehan Gobelin settled around 1440 in the Mouffetard district, then settled in this hilly and green region, where the river flowed: the Bièvre, between the Butte-aux-Cailles and the Sainte-Geneviève mountain, not far from the Faubourg St Marcel. His specialty was the scarlet dye obtained from cochineals. This workshop was baptized: the Gobelins mill.
Henri IV installed two Flemish upholsterers there around 1600: Jean de La Planche and Marc de Comans. Louis XIII founded the Manufacture de la Savonnerie in 1627, located on the hill of Chaillot. Craftsmen were employed for weaving. It will be repatriated in 1826 to the main Gobelins factory, with all the low-beam trades.
Louis XIV gave it considerable impetus. At the origin of an edict signed by the king, Colbert thought of creating and manufacturing the appropriate furniture for the palaces of kings: he called on all the best workers in the kingdom and foreign nations in various fields: painters, weavers, sculptors, goldsmiths, engravers, cabinet makers. There were then 250 weavers. Fouquet, at the origin of this trade, inaugurated in Maincy a beam workshop (for his personal use) with Flemish labor. Louis XIV will take back to his service these weavers who will complete the tapestries. These different workshops scattered around Paris were centralized in this factory. The dyes will be made from natural dyes: indigo, madder.
The king thus created in 1667 the royal manufacture of the Furniture of the Crown. This manufacture was governed by a system of laws, under the administration of the king's superintendent of arts and buildings, subject to the authority of the first painter of King Charles Le Brun: the masters would be responsible for all actions and manufacturing processes, no work would be imported from any country, there would be a tax exemption for workers and maintenance of apprentices. Since that time, the Manufacture des Gobelins has remained the only company managed in this way.
Throughout Colbert's superintendence, the tapestries were created with a degree of perfection rarely inferior to what the English did. Some examples: the battles of Alexander, the 4 seasons, are true masterpieces.
From 1689, a period of great financial difficulty, the manufacture of these precious furnishings was slowed down, and the dismissed workers enlisted in the war. Jules Hardouin-Mansart restarted the establishment and entrusted its management to several controllers until 1782. On the eve of the revolution, it became Manufacture Nationale.
But in the middle of the 18th century, the manufacture experienced serious financial difficulties: the Treasury could no longer pay the orders, the reorganization of 1791 would prevent the ruin of this establishment.
At that time, the name of Gobelin was known in the courts of all Europe, the works of Haussmann slightly transform the facade.
It was Napoleon who revived the activity, the manufacture would no longer work except for the Emperor, the productions would adorn the imperial houses. Since 1826, the Gobelins have been practicing the high rail exclusively, having recovered all the trades scattered in other factories.
In the 19th century, part of the buildings were burnt down by the Municipality in 1871.
In the 20th century, a gallery was built on the facade of the Avenue des Gobelins to serve as a museum. In 1945, the manufacture was repatriated to Aubusson. In 1968, a building was created near Les Gobelins: the new manufactures of Beauvais. In order to get an idea of the existing buildings of this period, you have to go through the back of the Boulevard des Gobelins: rue Croulebarbe and rue Berbier du Mets.
Currently, the state is considering the restoration of the work buildings, the lissiers' accommodation and the museum. The so-called "northern" workshop nowadays presents high-grade looms: those of the 17th century designed by the king. The factory produces tapestries for the “National Furniture”, as well as “diplomatic gifts”.
Today, 20 weavers are working in Paris and 20 in Beauvais. The output is not high, the workers retaining the techniques of the past, still work on a high runner and make 1m2 of tapestry per year.
In 2009, an exhibition took place in the Galerie des Gobelins titled ALEXANDRE ET LOUIS XIV, TISSAGES DE GLOIRE: with around a hundred works on display. These monumental tapestries were made to the glory of the conquering king who saw himself as a new Alexander.
The different techniques
Unfortunately nowadays, the term GOBELIN is too often used for all kinds of tapestries, low smooth tapestry, high smooth tapestry, mechanical loom tapestry, needlepoint tapestry.
The high smooth or vertical loom: the fabric is collected at the bottom, the threads are installed at the top. The weaver works in front of the light on the reverse side of the work and checks the place with a mirror.
The smooth bass has been the specialty of the Beauvais factory since 1664, which produces smaller upholstery fabrics.
The lockstitch is a technique of the Savonnerie. To weave velvety rugs, with insertion of linen thread in order to obtain maximum strength (the rugs are necessarily made to walk on), the weaver mows any knots or loops visible on the surface, then untangles the threads with the point chisel: these operations were invented by the French and it is therefore not an imported oriental practice.
The Petit Point tapestry also called Saint Cyr point corresponds to our current tapestries. It was traditionally the favorite pastime of the Ladies of the Great and Small Nobility of the Ancien Régime and of the 19th century bourgeoisie who knew how to express with woolen and silk threads, and even precious metal threads like the gold and silver and the design of their canvas, all the shades of their souls. Embroidery on canvas is sometimes also called needlepoint.
The great painters have always been attracted to the Petit Point tapestry. In the 18th century: Jean Pillement was a watercolorist, landscaper, engraver, his works can be admired in most museums in large cities - Jean Baptiste Oudry painter, engraver, ensured the management of the Beauvais factory and at the same time, the inspection of the Goblins. In the 20th century, the two most famous were Jean Lurçat, painter influenced by Cézanne, and Jean Picart le Doux, creator of "man and thought".
Cushions, chairs, armchairs: the seat is one of those unique objects created for the pleasure and comfort of men and women, and sometimes for the sheer beauty of decorating the home.
The term "armchair" was used for the first time in 1636: to designate a chair with arms, it becomes a convenience for conversation. Sober in shape, it becomes very easy to move, the seat is padded, it is covered with fabrics, richly decorated tapestries or embossed leather. It was the LOUIS XIII style.
A little later, the LOUIS XIV style reveals a novelty: the flat backrest, called the “queen's backrest”, an elaborate decoration which makes it a ceremonial seat reserved for great people and according to the hierarchy: the armchairs with the princes, chairs for the most titled nobles, stools for courtiers, the cushion placed on the floor for ladies in waiting.
Finally, the REGENCE style marks the end of the rigid label of the predecessor, the shapes become more flexible, the feet curve, the armrests are recessed to make room for the dresses with baskets. Appearance of caning: light and resistant.
The tapestry is, from Penelope through Madame la Marquise de Sévigné, the most charming of symbols: a symbol of loyalty and ingenuity, but also of skill and feminine spirit.
- Les Gobelins 1662-1962, three centuries of French tapestry.
- the site of the Manufacture des Gobelins.
- The site of the tapestry of France.