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The beauty of fine art tapestries

For centuries we have enjoyed fine art for its creativity, its beauty and its celebration of human endeavor. It has occupied a privileged place in our scheme of things and even now, in the age of mass production and easy availability, it still occupies a special place in our homes. Conversely textiles have long been a mainstay of the human experience. From basic woven cloth to more elaborate decorative fabrics, they have often been seen as, and used as, an everyday commodity.

Nowadays many people are looking for home décor choices that bring together both of these elements: the versatility of textiles and the appeal of fine art. Wall tapestries are an elegant fusion of these two important strands of the visual arts; a perfect marriage of good taste and tactile luxury. Nowhere is this more evident than in the beauty of fine art tapestries which combine the appeal of elaborate textile design with the refinement of fine art.

Although art based tapestry wall hangings have been with us for centuries recent advances in technology, and a growing appreciation of textiles as something more than just practical objects, have helped fine art textile design to flourish and become an important part of our home décor armory.

Much of this renaissance in wall tapestries stems from their ability to capture the drama and excitement normally only found in canvas based art. With their texture, depth and warmth more and more of us are beginning to reappraise tapestry wall art and are looking toward it to enhance our homes.

An alternative to traditional fine art
In particular people are looking at tapestry wall hangings as a direct alternative to traditional fine art. An impressive range of art prints are available nowadays, some of the most popular being traditional paintings from the old masters; everything from famous classic works to 19th century portraits. More recently stretched canvas prints and reproductions have become popular and affordable, again offering a vast array of options.

Although prints enjoy a unique position in home décor these popular paintings are increasingly available as wall tapestries. The woven nature of wall hangings adds depth and texture to these already impressive works and makes a distinct alternative to framed art. A growing number of works from almost all established art movements; Medieval and Gothic, Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Baroque and Pre-Raphaelite art, amongst many others, are now available as tapestries.

Examples include great Renaissance masterpieces, like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Both of these, like many works of fine art, transfer well to tapestries and capture the drama and excitement of the originals. In particular great romantic works are very popular. François Boucher’s pastoral art from the 17th century was amongst the first style to be transferred from canvas to textiles. These have been persistently popular for three centuries and, due to the success of tapestries capturing the subtlety of fine art, continue to impress audiences now with their depth, color and seemingly effortless skill.

Floral and still life art tapestries
Another popular form of traditional art found in tapestries is floral art. Long since a staple in painting movements, floral still life's have always enjoyed a strong following amongst art lovers. The combination of the range of styles available in floral art combined with the texture of woven textiles is proving tempting to many art lovers. Many well-known still life artists from history, such as Corneille van Spaendonck and Severin Roesen from the 19th century, have had their original works successfully make the jump from traditional mediums to tapestry wall hangings.

Echoing this is the demand for still life art tapestries. The range of still life art, encompassing a broad palette of subjects, colors and textures makes them an ideal basis for art based wall tapestries. With their ability to capture vivid hues and warm tones, wall tapestries often do an impressive job of capturing the essence of this ever popular branch of fine art.

Artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gaugin are famous examples of still life artists whose work has made the transition from canvas to tapestries. Their distinctive work blends well with the weft of textiles, adding an extra dimension to the already vivid compositions. Less well known are contemporary artists like Malenda Trick and Stewart Sherwood who continue to embrace still life’s. Like classic paintings these have successfully made the transition to wall tapestries. Their vibrant and detailed imagery works well with the textile finish and, when executed by skilled craftsmen, helps bring the art alive.

Even from the earliest examples of tapestry art we see examples of the richness of detail available when woven by master craftsmen. The Medieval motif known as mille fleurs (thousand flowers) was popular because of the richness and vibrancy it added to wall tapestries, hence the reason it formed the backdrop of so many tapestry designs woven during the Middle Ages. It is this ability to capture fine detail that makes wall tapestries an ideal medium for fine art and it is no wonder it has been so successful in capturing the majesty of still life art.

Scenery & Landscape art tapestries
Like still life’s landscape art is a mainstay of almost all art movements. From Leonardo da Vinci’s detailed background work in his many portraits, to Constable’s evocative paintings, landscapes have proved a popular and lasting element of all art movements.

Many famous landscapes have been successfully reproduced as tapestry wall hangings. One of the earliest examples were Verdure tapestries which depicted lush, green landscapes. These successfully used the richness found in quality tapestry weaving to create a vitality and energy that did an impressive job of capturing nature in all its glory.

Another popular example stems from the Flemish renaissance during the 17th century. Famous painters like Bruegel did much to move the focus away from traditional European art to capturing real life; in particular landscapes. His striking and famous works often contained a broad palette of features including expansive countryside backdrops, and a myriad of detail that made it stand alone when compared to art of its day. Famous works like Hunters in the Snow are now available as very high quality wall tapestries and demonstrate that textiles, woven by skilled craftsmen, can capture even the most demanding of subject matter.

Another example of the virtuosity of landscape art tapestries stems from the popularity of Oriental style art. These were popular from the late 17th century onwards, a result of Europeans traveling east to China and Japan. They brought back tales of exotic lands and strange cultures that captivated audiences back home. With this interest came a flush of art know as Orientale that gave full flight to artistic license.

Many of the works faithfully reproduced aspects of eastern culture, in particular the unusual plants and wildlife. The art itself is very colorful and distinctive, and has been enjoyed as wall tapestries for centuries. Even today they continue to delight art lovers with their depiction of flora and fauna, and their impressive use of color and hue to add drama. Again the richness of the weave and the distinctive texture of wall tapestries adds much to what is already a vivid and striking branch of art.

Because of the popularity of landscape art there are many wall tapestries available that are based on reproductions of its most famous works. The success of woven fabrics in capturing the detail found in many of the best landscape art is often what catches people unawares. This unusual mix of a familiar branch of art rendered using a rare and luxurious medium allows landscape tapestries to compliment a range of interior designs making them an adaptable basis for home accents and accessories.

A lasting beauty
Wall tapestries, because of their unique one-off manufacturing process, are distinctive works of art – each one subtly different from all others. Other options, such as fine art prints and even canvas based reproductions, can have a mass produced quality that is hard to shake. Conversely art lovers can often be surprised at how striking a tapestry wall hanging is compared to other options.

The variety and elegance of traditional fine art is enhanced by the texture of the woven fabric, often achieving a depth not found in traditional prints. The detail now available from modern weaving methods can be impressive and often does justice to some of fine arts’ finest works.

Despite their long history tapestry wall hangings, which for so long occupied a unique place in the homes of the select few, are once again asserting their importance in today’s modern home décor choices. With an ever increasing range of options available the opportunity to own one of these distinctive works of art has never been better.

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About the Author: Godfrey Bazalgette writes on a number of subjects, including history and tapestry & textile art.

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