The Beauvais tapestry manufacture was the second in importance, after the Gobelins tapestry, of French tapestry workshops that were established under the general direction of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister of Louis XIV. Whereas the royal Gobelins manufacture executed tapestries for the royal residences and for ambassadorial gifts, the manufacture at Beauvais always remained a private enterprise.
Beauvais specialised in low-warp tapestry weaving, though the letters patent of 1664, authorising the company and offering royal protection, left the field open for the production of high-warp tapestry as well.
The first entrepreneur, Louis Hinard (dir. 1664-1684, arrested for debts!), a native of Beauvais who had already established workshops in Paris, produced unambitious floral and foliate tapestries called verdures and landscape tapestries, which are known through chance notations in royal accounts.
Succeeded by Philippe Behagle (dir. 1684-1705), merchant tapestry-weaver. 21 years of director ship. New vigor.
The great period of Beauvais tapestry begins with the arrival of Jean-Baptiste Oudry (dir. 1726-1755) replacing the unsatisfactory Jacques Duplessis.
Oudry was simultaneously inspector of the works at Gobelins. At Beauvais he reorganized the training of the young workers and turned out designs and constantly renewed borders: the New Hunts, the suite of Country Pleasures, the hangings illustrating Molière's comedies, a renewed suite of perennially popular Metamorphoses. Sets of tapestry covers for seat furniture were introduced, and in September 1737 it was decided that the King of France should purchase two sets of tapestry each year, for 10,000 livres, for gifts to foreign ministers, an advertisement of French hegemony in the field of art and also a fine advertisement for the quality of the Beauvais manufacture.
The king had the entire production of Gobelins at his disposal, but as Edith Standen points out, they were rather large, rather solemn and definitely old-fashioned. In 1739, for the first time, cartoons for Beauvais were exhibited at the Paris salon, another way of keeping the tapestry workshops before the public eye.
Oudry turned to other artists to supplement the tapestry cartoons he was producing; from Charles-Joseph Natoire's designs Beauvais wove the suite of Don Quichotte, and from François Boucher, starting in 1737, a long series of six suites of tapestry hangings, forty-five subjects in all, constituting the familiar "Boucher-Beauvais" suites that embody the rococo style: the Fêtes Italiennes, a set of village festivals in settings evoking the Roman Campagna, the Nobles Pastorales, a further suite of six chinoiseries, now in a lighter, Rococo handling. Boucher's eight oil sketches for these Tentures chinoises were shown in the Salon of 1742
Oudry's death, 30 April 1755, and Boucher's defection to the Gobelins the same year, initiated a period of stagnation, while the old designs were repeated, and then decline. (Dir. passed to Charron--neo-classicism, heroic themes, grand antiquity style; then De Menou in 1780, added Savonnerie carpets).
Tapestry from the suite of "Bérain Grotesques" (detail), made under the Behagles, c.1700
La pêche chinoise, 1742, one of Boucher's chinoiserie designs woven at Beauvais (Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'archéologie de Besançon)
Le Cheval fondu from the series of Amusements Champêtres for which Oudry provided cartoons in the 1720s