To the story of tapestries as it unfolds in the Institute, a new chapter has been added through the purchase of a Beauvais tapestry of Apollo and Clytie
designed by Boucher. This tapestry, formerly in the collection of Mrs. Henry Walters, in one of the famous series of The Loves of the Gods
produced at the Beauvais works during the years from 1749 to 1772. It was woven by André Charlemagne Charron, whose initials appear in the selvedge, and it measures a little over ten by twelve feet. The Apollo and Clytie
is the final tapestry in the set which included Bacchus and Ariadne, Pluto and Persephone, Neptune and Amymone, Jupiter and Antiope, Mars and Venus, Boreas and Orithia, Jupiter and Europa, and Vulcan and Venus. It is one of those charming, graceful, and delicate compositions which endeared Boucher to Pompadour and the court of Louis XV.The character of the king, who felt himself overwhelmed and depressed by the formal grandeur that had surrounded Louis XIV, brought about a complete change of atmosphere at the French Court. Great rooms, massive furniture, and rich decoration were wholly out of key with the spirit of a man who had need of delicacy, fragility, and prettiness so that he would not feel his personality blotted out by his surroundings. This circumstance, combined with the domination exercises by the Pompadour over almost every aspect of court life, and combined also with the superficiality and world-weariness in vogue at the time, brought about a change in French taste and decoration perfectly exemplified by the art of Boucher.The qualities of this art, which was predominantly decorative and designed to appeal to the senses of a jaded people, are as well displayed in Boucher's tapestry designs as in his paintings. Indeed, the tapestries of the eighteenth century had frankly become paintings in wool. For the first time they were incorporated into the actual architectural scheme of interiors, and were expressly woven for certain spaces. The painting character of the Institute's new tapestry is accentuated by its border, designed to suggest a frame. At the top of the border appear a royal arms of France-the joint armorial shields of France and Navarre surmounted by a crown and enclosed by collars of the Orders of Saint Michael and the Holy Spirit. The inclusion of the royal arms on this tapestry makes it almost certain to have been one of two of this subject woven at the command of the king. Like other examples of The Loves of the Gods
set, the Apollo and Clytie
was repeated several times. Perhaps the unhappy love affair it represented had a certain perverse charm for the courtiers who played so charmingly at love.The main figures in the story are shown on a bank of fluffy white clouds attended by three active and coquettish cupids. Apollo, draped in a red robe and holding his lyre in one hand, gazed rather absent-mindedly in the direction of Clytie, whose adoring face, framed in blond curls, looks up at him. Her white gown, cut even lower than the fashion of the day demanded, reveals the creamy flesh of her breast, and her blue cloak sweeps out in voluminous folds behind her. She represents the ideal of feminine beauty as it was envisaged at the court of Louis XV, and this daydream she sees herself in—she is actually making it all up as she mourns on the bank of the stream below—is a situation in which any lady of the court would have been glad to find herself.Unfortunately it was just the dream of a love-sick maiden, this meeting with Apollo. Things did not go well for Clytie, according to the Greek myth from which Boucher drew his inspiration. Clytie appears, in fact, to have been one of the first torch-bearers on record, for it is said that she was the only young woman whose approaches left Apollo unmoved. Eventually she turned into a sunflower, her face forever turned to the god who had spurned her.Although Boucher has indicated the unhappy outcome of the affair by the clump of sunflowers in the lower left corner of his composition, it is obvious that he was quite unmoved by it. He was concerned not with the emotions of his subjects, but with the emotions those subjects would arouse in others. In the story of Apollo and Clytie
he saw only another opportunity for presenting his delightful feminine figures with their pink and white flesh, his drifting clouds, his playful cupids, and the leafy banks of a stream. He did it with superb skill, endowing his composition with a gaiety and charm as captivating now as it was when Louis XV held court at Versailles. The result is a tapestry far removed from the Gothic ideal, but a splendid example of tapestry in the eighteenth century French taste, and a highly desirable addition to the collection.Referenced Work of Art
- Apollo and Clytie. Detail from Boucher's tapestry designed for the Beauvais manufactory and woven by Andre Charron.