I was recently asked if I have information on two sets of transparent tapestries. Who designed and wove them? Where and when they were woven? I can’t identify them, despite the photos and clues provided by the owners.
The transparent tapestries were woven as portieres, and have been in the family for generations, acquired in Norway at the beginning of the 1900s. Two of the portieres feature angels, and have gold threads woven in with the wool.
The owner wrote:
The set of “Angels” in the garden of paradise is incredibly exciting in terms of composition and richness of detail as well as use of color to create depth. They can be seen as paintings made up of foreground, middle ground and background.
The image surface with the framing also has several surprising elements:
a) At first glance, the two portiere image surfaces seem similar, but on closer inspection they are also different attention to details in flowers etc.
b) The tree in the middle is asymmetrical and split into two trees.
c) Viewed from top to bottom, the image surface is three-part and can be read as a cartoon. At the top is a white stork with red legs, which is attacked by an eagle. One less “bird of paradise”/”fantasy bird” looks on – and in the background a sea with sailing ships is seen. After this, the stork is seen in process of claiming two hungry chicks in a nest, and finally the stork is seen in the right corner standing alone on the ground in a hilly landscape and with the head bent backwards towards the left towards the nest with the two kids. The entire comic is framed. Below, two child angels are placed in each corner sitting on the edge of the frame. Between them they hold a banner with a Latin three-part inscription.
The inscription can be translated as: “not unfamiliar with evil, I learn to rush to the aid of the unfortunate” – or – “I have known need and have learned to help others in need.”
Here are several details from the angel portieres.
The current owner’s mother thought that the angel transparency had been shown at the Paris Exhibition in 1900. Here’s one more shot showing them as a whole:
The other set of four portieres features winding roses. There is a repeating pattern, but variations in the petals of the roses.
Here are detail shots.
These detail shots are interesting because they show the beautiful variation in the colors of the exposed warp. The warp threads also vary in their amount of twist.
There are no signatures on any of them, unless they are hidden by their sewn-on hanging bands. The owners plan to have them removed professionally. Perhaps something will be revealed? Or perhaps you recognize either of these patterns?
It’s interesting how these beautiful textiles come to light. The current owner of the angel portieres inherited them when her father died in 2021, and now she would like to learn more about their background. They had been folded in a suitcase, packed away since 1986. How many other transparencies might be discovered in Norwegian suitcases and attics, tucked away when owners moved or remodeled?
When I posted some of these photos on Instagram, an alert reader wrote that she had seen similar hangings in the Stockholm museum. (Perhaps she saw this tapestry at the Nordiska Museum: https://robbielafleur.com/2020/05/14/frida-hansens-beautiful-black-roses/) She suggested the transparencies could be by Frida Hansen.
Good catch! The pieces I posted are definitely in Frida Hansen’s signature wool transparency tapestry technique. However, Frida Hansen’s works are normally signed and these are not. Also, Frida Hansen’s designs were compiled in Anniken Thue’s catalog of Hansen’s works, published in 1973, Frida Hansen : (1855-1931) : europeeren i norsk vevkunst [Frida Hansen: (1855-1931): A European in Norwegian Weaving]. It is more likely that these designs were done by one of Frida Hansen’s students or followers in the early 20th century.