125 Treasures: Don Quixote Gobelins Tapestry



Gobelins "Don Quixote" Tapestry

“Don Quixote Freed of Folly by Wisdom”
Maker: Gobelins Manufactory (Manufacture royale des Meubles de la Couronne)
Designer: After cartoons by Charles Antoine Coypel and borders by Claude Audran
French
ca. 1787-1794
10’6” x 7’2”
Silk and wool
Bequest of James and Sallie Dooley, 1925
Maymont Mansion Collection, 25.196

In 2018, one of Maymont’s most important treasures was the focus of well-deserved attention. The tapestry “Don Quixote Freed of Folly by Wisdom,” according to a 1926 document in Maymont’s archives, tells us that it was among James Dooley’s most prized acquisitions. It was made by the famous Gobelins manufactory (The Royal Factory of Furniture to the Crown) in Paris, which was established in the 1660s to supply Louis XIV’s palaces with all types of furnishings of the highest quality and magnificence. At the outset, tapestries were the principal concern. Often the tapestries were designed in a series on a selected theme, intended to cover all the walls of a given room (e.g. The Story of Alexander). In 1714, Gobelins produced its first tapestries on the Don Quixote theme after cartoons by Charles Antoine Coypel. This initiated Gobelins’ production of a series of tapestries in which the figural scene was dominated by elaborate alentours (borders) with floral garlands and simulated gilt-wood frames. Each series is differentiated by the design of its alentours. The Maymont tapestry dates to the last Don Quixote series with the border designed by Claude Audran, indicating that it would have been woven sometime between 1787 and 1794.

Maymont’s Gobelins tapestry presents a dramatic scene in Baroque style, depicting an episode in which Don Quixote dreams of the armor-clad Minerva, goddess of wisdom, who descends in a cloud with her left arm extended to dispel his madness, his folly, which is here embodied by a voluptuous young lady. His companion, Sancho Panza, gazes at the hovering figure of Folly, who carries in her right hand a model of a castle and, in her left, a pole with a fool’s cap.

The Getty Museum Curator of Decorative Arts, Charissa Bremer-David, states that “the Maymont example is of special significance, being one of the few representatives in the United States of Gobelins production dating from the era of the French Revolution.” Only about twenty tapestries were produced in the final series.

According to a note in a 1926 document of the Maymont museum (Mansion Archives #0013, Hostess Daily Journal), the famous international art dealer Duveen sold the Gobelins tapestry to James Dooley. (1) Duveen Brothers’ records owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art include the Client Summary Book 1894-1918, which lists J. H. Dooley purchasing the tapestry in 1910 for fr. 75,000. The Richmond Times-Dispatch on August 5 of the same year tells us that the Dooleys were traveling in Europe from May through September: “Major and Mrs. Dooley are now in Paris, having traveled down the Rhine, and expect to remain in France for some time, motoring through the chateau country the later part of the month. They will also spend some time in England before returning to Richmond in the fall.” (2) Now with information from the Duveen records, we can add to that picture of leisurely Gilded-Age travel the image of James Dooley visiting the Paris showroom of Duveen and acquiring yet another treasure to bring home to Maymont. Perhaps Cervantes’ enormously popular romance was already a favorite of James Dooley when he first viewed the tapestry for we find in his library one copy in Spanish, published in 1839, and the other, published in 1850 – both volumes inscribed with his name.

Because of its condition, and to protect it from damaging UV and visible light coming through the large stained glass window, it was placed in collections storage in 1981. Finally with light protection installed and conservation funding secured, conservation began many years later. Through the generous donations of the Peachtree House Foundation and Mrs. June H. Guthrie, its conservation was completed in 2018 by the Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. It has been reinstalled in the Second Floor Living Hall – the area of the house museum large enough to accommodate its size and show it to best advantage. Display of this important tapestry achieves a higher level of authenticity for Maymont’s Gilded Age interiors, expands our understanding of the Dooleys’ taste and collecting experience, and gives public access to an important eighteenth century work of art.

You also can visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to see examples of an earlier eighteenth century series of Gobelins’ Don Quixote theme.

Notes:

  1. Another purchase from Duveen Brothers in the Maymont Mansion Collection was identified in 2018, the richly carved cabinet in the Dining Room (25.164) near the fireplace.
  2. Richmond Times Dispatch “Social and Personal” August 5, 1910

Written by Dale Wheary, Maymont Curator and Director of Historical Collections and Programs, this post is part of a blog series commemorating Maymont Mansion’s 125th anniversary. Each post in the series will detail significant objects, from sculptures and paintings to furniture and fine porcelain, in the Maymont Museum Collection. Read all posts in the series here.

Visit Maymont Mansion to see the Don Quixote tapestry and more from the mansion collection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *