As long as rugs have been manufactured, they’ve been far more than just floor coverings. Throughout history, rugs and carpets have served as artistic statements, from the antique Dabeer Kashan rugs created for the Shah of Iran to French Aubusson rugs commissioned by Louis XVI and modernist designs from Scandinavia’s Ingrid Dessau. In some cases, rugs were created with no expense spared from materials such as pure cashmere, only highlighting their value as masterpieces in their own right.
When you consider the beauty, effort and detail that goes into creating a handwoven rug, it really is nothing less than a work of art. In the case of ancient carpet weaving, rug designers were reflecting their own artistic visions, creating textural and tactile works of art to adorn the floors of the global elite. More recently, rug designers have been manufacturing woven renditions of paintings by some of the world’s most iconic artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. While the artwork already exists, the effort that goes into reproducing this in a textile form should not be understated.
In this article, we’ll introduce some of the artistic trends that have left the biggest marks on the manufacture of rugs and carpets, from the mountains of modern-day Iran to the studios of globally-recognised painters.
Persian Kashan rugs
The Persian city of Kashan has long been renowned for the manufacture of carpets, silks and textiles, and the Dabir workshop had a reputation for producing some of the city’s finest rugs. Early Kashan rugs were made using high-quality wool sourced from the English city of Manchester. They were more expensive than other rugs due to their fine knotting and the time it took to create them. As a result, the production of Persian Kashan Dabir rugs was limited and they became highly-sought-after by the wealthy. While most of these rugs were never signed to indicate their origin, they are easy to recognize as they are distinct from other Persian Oriental rugs.
One of the rarest groups of Persian Kashan rugs is the Mohtasham Kashan, which were woven until the end of the 19th century. Finely knotted, they were manufactured using high-quality wool and featured intricately detailed blossoms and leaf patterns. Pastel and earthy tones usually dominated the designs, sometimes contrasted against an indigo blue. Early Mohtasham Kashan rugs sometimes demonstrate a technique of colour shading known as abrash, which gives the rug visual depth and the appearance of a watercolour painting.
French Aubusson rugs
With the Creuse River flowing through its heart, Aubusson has been synonymous with tapestries since the 15th century. Aubusson rugs are known for their elegance, soft colouration and timeless appeal, with designs ranging from Baroque to Neoclassical, depending on the royal trends of the period. Scrolling acanthus leaves and cabbage rose bouquets regularly appeared on these artistic rugs, which have continued to be a symbol of traditional European decor to this day.
It’s believed that the manufacture of Aubusson rugs began in the mid-18th century when the fashion for Oriental rugs began to shift in favour of Rococo designs. Louis the XV, Louis the XVI and Napoleon all owned rugs from Aubusson, with a 1786 inventory indicating that more than 100 Aubusson rugs were housed at the palace of Versailles. Because they were so popular with the aristocracy for decorating their castles and chateaux, Aubusson rugs are more abundant in large sizes. This gave them a sense of grandness to complement their grace and made them artworks in their own right.
Mid-century modern art rugs
In the early 20th century, there was a growing trend in carpet and rug art that immortalised the work of some of the world’s most famous artists in a new way. Rugs recreating the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro soared in popularity, particularly among art collectors and interior designers. Not only were they functional for the home but also decorative pieces that instantly made a statement.
Creating these art rugs and carpets required the collaboration between designers, illustrators and colour consultations to achieve a faithful replication. As most were limited editions, their value rapidly soared and they became in-demand as collector’s items. Other artists whose works were regularly depicted in mid-century modern art rugs include Gustav Klimt, Andy Warhol and Paul Klee.