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Art Deco Rugs of France – The Magic of Flowers and Color

France always has and still does the lead the world in production of luxury goods. This phenomenon was fostered by the Societe des Artistes – Decorateurs, which sought to improve the status of the decorator. Its policy of defending solely the rights of interior designers ran counter to that of the Arts and Crafts society ot the Werkbund.

Manufacturers and artisans were only permitted associate membership and it was not compulsory to indentify the manufacturers of objects displayed at the exhibitions organized by the socety from 1906. The creation of the Salon d’Automne in 1903 further improved the status of the decorative arts, which accorded this section the same status as painting and sculpture in its exhibitions.

 Although the sources of the Art Deco style are rooted in Austria and Germany, from 1910 the French again reasserted their superiorty as designers. French Art Deco cannot be termed a movement, as it had no founders and no manifesto to speak of: its only raison d’etre crystalized by the privations of the First Worls War, was an unabashed indulgence in the production of luxury goods for the privileged. The style reached its peak at the first International Decorative Arts Exhibition held in Paris in 1925. The stands and pavilons at this event were dominated by the work of interior designers. The most famous were Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and the couturier Paul Poiret. 

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The aim of the new generation of interior designers was to create a new, purely French style, rooted in the classical tradition. The pastel shades and undulating curves of Art Nouveau were abandoned in favour of brightly colored floral patterns and medallion compositions, frequently in the new form of wreaths and floral swags, posies and baskets, motifs that had been used in carpet patterns for centuries. New life was infused into this traditional repertoire, combining trelliswork and chequered patterning with a fresh approach to the drawing of floral motifs, including the tightly budded so-called „Cubist” rose. The term is misleading, however, since the roseball, a leitmotif of French Art Deco, owes nothing to the Cubist movement, as a preliminary sketch of the carpet laid in the dining room af the Palais Stoclet proves. From a range of floral and geometric designs at its beginnings, Art Deco evolved in the late twentie into Modernist abstract and figurative patterns and then into muted, subdued noeclassical designs or textured surfaces in the thirties.

 The majority of the carpets made during this period were either produced in small craft studios scattered all over France of were woven to order in the workshops of manufacrurers. Firms which enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for the quality of their weavings included Lucien Bouix, Brunet-Meunie, the Maison Hamot, the Etablissements Lauer and Braquenie. Powerloom carpeting was mostly produced in the north, at Abbeville, Roubaix and Tourcoing although and began producing strip carpeting in the late 1860’s.Few designer carpets made in the Manufacture de la Savonnerie, a carpet -weaving workshop founded in Paris in the 17th century, have ever reached the market, but the prestige of the workshop with which it was merged in 1825, are justly famed for the high degree of realism achieved in their interpretations of of plants, figuresand architectural forms. Yet by the end of the 19th century, theproduction of the Savonnerie was confined mostly to weaving screens, wall-hangings and panels in the pile technique rather than carpets and had come under firefrom reformers who followed British example in advocating the use of flat patterns that were better suited, they claimed, to flat surfaces than attempts to represent relief. At one point it was suggested that the atelier be closed altogether. 

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Research into dyestuffs was judged to be partly to blame. New mordants had multiplied the number of shades that could be obtained from any given natural dye, so that the wavers had in theory over 30,000 shades at their disposal. Many of them were created by Michel-Eugene Chevreul, chief chemist of the Gobelins dye laboratory. Quick to realize that this number was unmenageable and therefore a handicap rather than an advantage, Chevreul then worked to reduce the number. By the time the scientist had developed his theory on color contrasts, La Loi du Contraste Simultane des Couleurs, the number had been reduced by half, althaugh this is still a sizeable figure when compared with the twenty shades or less used in the classical Persian carpet.

 The Savonnerie nonetheless sirvived. The workshop and its annexe in Lodeve still continue to produce small quantities of handwoven carpets destined to furnish state institutions or to serve as diplomatic gifts.