This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
Especially interesting from the historic, as well as from the tapestry point of view, is the set of 4 pieces in the Royal Swedish Collection woven for the King of Sweden, under the direction of Cron-strom mentioned above, after the battle painting of Ph. Lemke. The cartoons were painted at Beauvais by Jean Baptiste Martin, and the border cartoons by Vernansal after designs by Bérain. The subject of the series was the Battles of the Swedish King Charles XI: the Siege of Malmö, the Battle of Landskrona, the Second Day of the Battle of Lund, the Third Day of the Battle of Lund. The average size of the pieces is 13 by 16 1/2 feet, and all are illustrated in volume II of Boettiger Swedish, one of them in Badin Beauvais. The first is unsigned, the second and fourth are signed Behagle, the third D. Lacroix. The Delacroix is undoubtedly the Gobelin low warp contractor who, like many of the Gobelins weavers during the years that the Gobelin plant was shut down, sought work at Beauvais. All are enriched with gold and show the arms of the Swedish Crown in the top border with a Latin inscription in the bottom border, and Charles XI's monogram in the side borders. The contract price for weaving was 11,000 livres (135 livres an aune), a sum increased by extras later. Charles XI never saw the tapestries as the first was not finished until 1699, and he died in 1697. Originally it had probably been the intention to reproduce in tapestry the whole series of ten paintings that pictured the actions of the war waged by Charles XI against Denmark.
Among others who bought from Béhagle were the Duke of Bourbon, the Duke of Maine, the Duke of Bavaria, the Duke of Duras, the Duke of Saxony, the Archbishop of Reims. The prices varied from 45 to 100 livres an aune, and in an interesting memorandum Béhagle estimates his profit on each at from one-quarter to one-third.
When Béhagle died in 1706, he left the business in a flourishing condition. But his widow and sons were not equal to the task of keeping it up, and in 1711 the brothers Filleul succeeded. They, too, although they enjoyed the favour of the Regent, failed to put the business on a sound footing, and in 1722 were succeeded by Sieur de Mérou. Tapestries dating from the period of the brothers Filleul are the Chinese set in six pieces after Vernansal, Blin de Fontenay and Dumons, of which there is a splendid set in the Château de Compiègne; and the Metamorphoses in eight pieces, after Houasse. The subjects of the former are the Prince's Audience, the Prince Travelling (illustrated in Badin Beauvais), the Astronomers, the Luncheon, Gathering Pineapples, Picking Tea; of the latter, Io changed into a Cow, the Palace of Circe, the Fish of Glaucus, the transformations of Ocyrhoe into a Mare, Cadmus into a Serpent, Jupiter into a Bull, Acteon into a Stag, Hippomenes and Atalanta into Lions.
The important event of the twelve-year administration of Mèrou was the appointment of Jean Baptiste Oudry July 22, 1726, at a salary of 3,500 livres a year to succeed the painter Duplessis as art director of the Beauvais Tapestry Works. In return for the salary he was to furnish eight original cartoons 28 aunes long every three years.
Among new designs employed by Mérou were the Animal Fights in eight pieces after Souef; the Grotesques after Vernansal, Blin de Fontenay, and Dumons; Children Playing, in six pieces after Damoiselet of Brussels; Seaports in six pieces after Kerchooe and Campion; Cephale and Procris in four pieces after Damoiselet; Fine Verdures with Birds in six pieces after Firens, the Fair at Bezons with small figures in six pieces after Martin, the Temple of Venus in six pieces after Duplessis. The first cartoons delivered by Oudry were the New Hunts in six pieces (the Wolf, the Stag, the Fox, the Wild Boar, the Hound, the Deer); Outdoor Games in four pieces; the Comedies of Molière in four pieces (For illustrations of these see Kann Collection 1907). During the nine years from 1722 to 1731, Merou produced 38 sets of tapestries besides a few portières and furniture coverings. But of the 38 sets only 13 had been sold in 1731 and most at considerable loss. The Temple of Venus, that cost 28,755 livres to make, was finally, after vain efforts to find a purchaser, disposed of in Leipsic to King Augustus of Poland for only 13,755 livres. The selling cost at the Paris shop was 7 per cent. and at the shop that represented the works in Leipsic was 10 per cent., transportation and customs duties not included. Naturally enough Mérou could not go on for ever doing business at a loss, and in 1734, being unable to meet his financial obligations, was obliged to retire.
His successor was Nicolas Besnier, a practical man of affairs who took up his residence at Beauvais, and splendidly seconded the efforts of Oudry whose academic duties and position as chief inspector of the Gobelins (1733-1755), obliged him to live in Paris, visiting Beauvais but seldom. Any tapestry signed Besnier Et Oudry in the bottom selvage is worthy of careful attention. With the accession of Besnier prosperity arrived. Oudry continued to turn out cartoons that enjoyed immense popularity, some of them being reproduced ten or a dozen times. Among these cartoons were new subjects from Ovid's Metamorphoses in eight pieces, ten Fine Verdures (the Pheasant, the Eagle, the Fox, the Wild Duck, the Bittern, the Clarinette, the Bustard, the Charmille, the Dog and the Pheasant, the Lion and the Boar); and the Fables of Lafontaine (the Dog and her Companion, the Two Hares, the Lion and the Boar, the Fox and the Grapes, the Wolf and the Fox), that were constantly on the looms at Beauvais for forty years and were copied and recopied by most other tapestry factories French and foreign. Not content with what he accomplished himself, Oudry invited the co-operation of the artists then most in vogue. Incited by the success of Charles Coypel's Don Quixote series for the Gobelins, Charles Natoire designed a set of ten Don Quixote tapestries for Beauvais. These tapestries, ordered in 1735 for M. de Durfort, are now in the Archbishop's palace at Aix-en-Provence. Several of the cartoons are in the Château de Compiègne, and one of them is illustrated in Badin Beauvais. Most famous of Oudry's collaborators was Francois Boucher who supplied him with designs for six sets of tapestries in forty-five pieces. In 1736 the Italian Fêtes in fourteen pieces, some of which were reproduced sixteen times (113 tapestries in all); in 1741 the Story of Psyche in five pieces reproduced seven or eight times; in 1743 the Chinese Set for which Dumons painted the cartoons after Boucher's sketches; in 1749 the Loves of the Gods in nine pieces; in 1752 Opera Fragments in five pieces; in 1764 the Noble Pastoral in six pieces for the apartments of the Dauphine at Fontainebleau (the Fountain of Love, the Flute Player, Bird Catching, the Fisherman, the Luncheon, all illustrated in Kann Collection 1907).
One piece of the Psyche set sold not long ago for $60,000, and the Vertumnus and Pomona tapestry from the Loves of the Gods series, illustrated in colour as the frontispiece of this book, is valued at $120,000. Rather different that from the 8,835 livres 12 sous 8 deniers paid in 1745 by the King of Sweden for an entire set without borders of the Story of Psyche (the livre being before 1795 the name of the coin now called the franc). The set is still in the Royal Swedish Collection and is illustrated in Boettiger Swedish. There are a number of excellent examples of Beauvais-Boucher tapestries in New York private collections.
Just as Louis XIV visited Beauvais under Béhagle, so Louis XV visited it under Oudry. Voltaire spoke of it as "le royaume d'Oudry" (Oudry's kingdom). Oudry's arrangement with Besnier was very favourable, for, in addition to his fixed salary, he shared in the profits, but not in the losses.
Besnier's death in 1753 preceded that of Oudry by two years. He was followed by André Charlemagne Charron (1753-1780), who was able to continue his successes. New designs woven while Charron was manager are Scenes from the Iliad in seven pieces after Deshays, bought by the King for 575 livres an aune; the Story of Astræa in three pieces, after Deshays; the Russian Games in six pieces after Leprince; Country Sports in eight pieces, the Bohemians in six pieces, the Four Ages in four pieces, after Casanova The King bought regularly from Charron, paying him, from 1754 to 1779, no less than 450,000 livres for sets of tapestries complete with furniture coverings to match, sent as presents to foreign courts. Very interesting is the story of the adventures of a Chinese Set that went to China in 1763, and finally returned to France. The expenditure for cartoons, from 1754 to 1780, was 63,956 livres.
In 1780 Sieur de Menou, a tapestry manufacturer from Aubusson, successfully introduced the making of pile rugs of the savonnerie type at Beauvais. Among new designs woven by him in tapestry, were the Pastorals with Blue Draperies and Arabesques in eight pieces after J. B. Huet; the Conquest of the Indies in three pieces after Lavallée Poussin; Military Scenes in six pieces after Casanova; the Sciences and the Arts after Lagrenée; the Four Parts of the World after Lebarbier; the Story of Alexander in four pieces after Lavallée Poussin; Aristotle drawing Aspasia's carriage Surprised by Alexander, and Alcibiades discovered among the Courtesans by Socrates, two pieces after Monsiau; two pieces illustrating the Story of Achilles after Desoria.
Menou's success is shown by the increase in the number of workmen from the 50 of Charron's time to 120. But when the Revolution came they demanded higher pay and finally took their grievances to the National Assembly. Menou declared himself unable to meet the demands and retired in 1793. Then the works were shut down for a year, and when reopened were put under State control, with wages for piece work tripled, and six men employed. At the Gobelins day wages had already been substituted for piece work. This example was followed at Beauvais in 1825.
To-day the Beauvais Works confine their efforts for the most part to the production of furniture coverings and use the improved low warp loom designed by Vaucanson for Neilson at the Gobelins. Since 1854 the smaller looms at Beauvais are of iron, which makes them lighter and easier to manipulate, but the large looms are still of wood, because wood alone gives the elasticity necessary to preserve uniform tension in a very wide warp. The use of high warp looms was practically dispensed with at Beauvais in the time of Oudry, and the last high warp looms there were sent to the Gobelins in 1827, when the Gobelins sent its last low warp looms to Beauvais.
The City of Beauvais is 55 miles by rail north of Paris, and the tapestry works are open to visitors every week day from 12 to 4. There is an interesting museum, and a school of design and tapestry weaving. The annual budget for salaries and materials amounts to about 115,000 francs. Among picture wall tapestries woven at Beauvais in recent years is a scene from the Story of a local heroine, Jeanne Hachette, designed by M. Cormon for the Beauvais Lyceum. I saw it on the occasion of my visit to Beauvais in March, 1906, and liked it much.