November 27, 2017
Above: Louis XVI chairs rest on an extraordinary Aubusson Directoire rug in the library. Stephen Sills: Decoration. Written by Stephen Sills, Foreword by Karl Lagerfeld, Photographed by François Halard. Rizzoli. Page 156-157.
The late 18th century was an age of revolutions, not only in politics and government but also in art and design. We can clearly see the seismic cultural shifts in the carpets of the late 18th century. These carpets were woven for the newly built town and country houses of Europe, where fashionable interiors took on new elegant simplicity. A sense of harmony, proportion, and informality seemed to sweep away the decades of Baroque and Rococo formalism and ostentation in favor of the lightness of the early neoclassical.
This was the era of the Grand Tour and the nascent science of archeology. The spectacular remains of ancient sites in Rome, Athens and Naples were being unearthed, and designers took inspiration from the newly discovered treasures there, incorporating the forms and motifs of the ancient world into their 18th century designs. The emerging fashion was a look more eclectic and global than it had been in previous decades and centuries.
The new neoclassical style varied in the capitals of Europe, taking on many different names. In France the years just after the Revolution are known as the Directoire period, and the carpets of this period reflect both simple elegant forms and the virtues and values of republican Rome. Other parts of Europe were heavily influenced by the works of the Scottish Adam brothers. The Adam style was popular not only in Scotland, but in England and Russia as well. European neoclassicism even made it across the Atlantic to influence the Federal style of the new republic of the United States of America.
BESSARABIAN. Russia ca. 1810. 15'1" x 13'10". Our Collection #02731.
RUSSIAN PILE. Russia ca. 1800. 10'11" x 8'8". Our Collection #03214
English carpets of the 18th century have a particular charm, freedom, and simplicity that stands in counterpoint to the grandeur and seriousness of French carpets. The informality of English Axminister carpets was internationally recognized—these carpets could be found as far afield as the collections of the King of Naples and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and in the elegant houses of Colonial America. Naturally, the graceful Georgian-style houses of England were the ideal settings for the gorgeous pastel palettes and lively designs of England’s famous carpets.
In the eighteenth century, Russia was one of the world’s great powers. The Imperial Tapestry Factory was established in 1716 near St Petersburg by Peter the Great, who brought in weavers from the Gobelins Manufactory in Paris to train Russian workers to carry out the ambitious projects of Russian patronage. In St. Petersburg, Scottish neoclassicism became truly international, which we can see in carpets such as the FJ Hakimian Bessarabian, with its Adam-style design, or the gorgeous imperial Russian pile carpet that blends international neoclassicism with a high, lively coloring particular to Russia.
18th Century Axminster (Adam Brothers). Interior design by the late Henri Samuel (Maison Jansen) in Bel Air, Los Angeles, CA. 875 Nimes. Perenchio, Jerry & Margie. Published by NP, Bel-Air, 1995. Page 47.
18th Century English Axminster (provenance Baron Guy de Rothschild) in a Long Island Estate designed by Stephen Sills (AD100). Stephen Sills: Decoration. Written by Stephen Sills, Foreword by Karl Lagerfeld, Photographed by François Halard. Rizzoli. Page 150-151.
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