Friday, 31 August 2012


This post has been a long time coming. In the late 1940s into the 1950s there seemed to be a plethora of tapestries of cockerels! (insert your own pun here) The first I noticed was Sax Shaw's Fighting Cocks (1950). It's a pretty gruesome tapestry, with large droplet of blood dripping from the cockerels' wounds and feathers flying. The brutality of the imagery is at odds with the delicate flowers filling the background.

Fighting Cocks, 1950, designed by Sax Shaw, woven by Ronnie McVinnie and Archie Brennan, Bute Collection.
Another can be found in the weird and wonderful Phases of the Moon, designed by Scottish artist John Maxwell and commissioned for the Scottish arts Council. It is currently in Dovecot's Weaving the Century exhibition if you would like to see the whole thing.

Phases of the Moon (detail), 1958, designed by John Maxwell, woven by Fred Mann and Harry Wright, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums.
Where were they all coming from? The answer was France. In their designs for tapestry, both Sax Shaw and John Maxwell were heavily influenced by French tapestries, particularly those designed by Jean Lurcat and Marc Saint-Saens. The cockerel, or rooster, is the national symbol of France. No surprise, then, that it became a feature of French tapestry design. But the relevance of the cockerel had a more personal meaning for Lurcat, who in turn had a great influence over his contemporaries.

Liberty (detail), 1943, designed by Jean Lurcat, woven at Picaud Atelier, Aubusson.
In his 1950 publication Designing Tapestry, Lurcat wrote poetically of an encounter he had with a cockerel in 1942:

On one of those resplendent mornings in the Lot region where I spent my 1942 exile, I saw in the meadow next to my studio, a cock, the most insolently cockish one to be found anywhere... The bird was overwhelmingly proud. The sun enveloped him, polished up his breast, made it shine, in fact made him a sort of Red God... This animal with its brilliantined crest and feathers, lunges like a fencer with each of his strides, and his claws come to ground like the wave of a marshal's baton. What glory! What splendour - an presents itself - a King! Versailles - the great monarch - the Roi Soleil! Hadn't I here the new poetic substance for a tapestry!... All that had to be done after that was to translate it into plastic form.
(Jean Lurcat 1950 Designing Tapestry (London, Rockliff) p.51-52)

One chance encounter was to have a significant effect on tapestry for the next two decades.

1 comment:

  1. I've just been to see the exhibition at Compton Verney and Phases of the Moon was my favourite tapestry. Any more pictures? I loved the owl in the border.


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