Back in the 17th century, Louis XIV purchased this famed tapestry factory with the aim of furnishing his new chateau (Versailles) with the most splendid tapestries around. France’s most skilled workers created sumptuous carpets and wall-coverings using designs sketched by the top artists of the era (Le Brun and Boucher, to name just two). The workshop’s reputation has survived the centuries, and the factory is still active, using the same materials used in the time of Louis XIV (wool, cotton, silk). Still state-owned, today the factory operates under the auspices of the French Ministry of Culture, and produces modern tapestries to hang in some of France’s most grand public spaces. This is definitely not a mass-market operation—these tapestries take several years to finish. Highly skilled workers (they study for 4 years at the on-site school) work from paintings by contemporary artists to create enormous works of art; during the tour you’ll see the weavers in action at their giant looms. It is humbling to see how carefully and patiently the weavers work, tying tiny individual knots and/or passing shuttles of wool through a forest of warp and weft, all the while following an intricate design scheme. To visit the ateliers, you must take a guided, 1 hour tour (in French, Tues-Wed from 1–2pm); there is also an exposition space that offers temporary shows on design themes.
- Margie Rynn