"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
July 14, 2014
From Revelers to Vespers
by Lawrence Jeppson

Of all the modern French tapestry cartonniers, the only one to create stunning masterpieces in both figurative and abstract terms was Louis-Marie Jullien (1904-1982).

I have written several times about Mathieu “Mategot the Magnificent,” my very close friend who introduced abstract concepts to tapestry. In a way, Mategot had tunnel vision.

In earlier days Mathieu did some theatrical and interior design, and in later days he made a substantial name for himself as an avant-garde furniture designer. But his passion was tapestry, and he prodigiously created more than 600 cartoons. Tapestry was the center of his life. In the many times and places we were together I do not recall any conversations dealing with other art worlds.

On the other hand, a few hours spent with Jullien could be a heady, wide-ranging learning experience.

When he discovered that it had been years since my last visit to the Cluny Museum of the Medieval World, he hastened to take me there, not to ogle sculptures and other objects but to look closely at six tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn.

This cycle of Flemish tapestries was woven in the late 15th Century to depict sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and a mysterious sixth sense that is described only as “to my sole desire.” The latter has caused years of debate. The Cluny says, “Without excluding a significance in the register of chivalric love, it could designate free agency: the woman of diaphanous beauty renounces temporal pleasures.”

Each tapestry is suffused with symbols, many whose meanings are lost or debatable. Our visit was one of erudition, as Jullien slowly explained the myriad meanings of each tapestry.

The Lady and the Unicorn, Taste

On another occasion I happened to come to Paris when there was a major retrospective of the art of Fernand Leger (1881-1955) in the Petit Palais, a large exhibition venue just off the Champs-Elysees. I met Jullien at the entrance. As we walked through the massive exhibition, I was educated. Jullien was a natural pedagogue.

Fernand Léger, El Circo, 1918

It is interesting that both Jullien and Matégot at various times were named professors at the National School of Fine Arts at Nancy, France. This honor was a form of government support. I don’t know how much time either of them spent there or what they did while they were there. If I were a student, I would have learned from both of them, but I might have learned very different things.

I began representing the major French tapestry artists in the summer of 1958.

My favorite of all the tapestries I have ever seen or exhibited is Jullien’s figurative masterpiece Gaimusards/Revelers. In 1949, it was part of the first exclusive exhibition of modern French tapestries to be displayed in the United States. This collection began showing in the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City.

After we exhibited them in Washington, D.C., the collection was taken over by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services and shown in a sequence of other American museums.

I wince when I think that if I’d had a little money, I could have acquired Gaimusards!

Louis-Marie Jullien, Gaimusards/Revelers (The subtlety and genius of this tapestry cannot be seen in a small reproduction.)

Stimulated by Mategot and other artists who were turning to abstraction, Jullien moved from figuration to an abstract, symbolical world. He began limiting his tapestries to a single weaving of his cartoons.

He did a series of a dozen tapestries that he called Hymn to Joy. Each is called a song. (Première Chant, Hymne à la Joie is in my collection.)

I brought another collection to America for circulating museum exhibitions. Thanks to my friend Esthel Colwin, this show opened in the Philadelphia Art Alliance. This intimate showplace has a grand staircase that goes up to a large landing and then splits to two sides to go the rest of the way the way in opposite direction.

Across the entire back wall of this landing we hung Vesper, the most spiritually moving tapestry Frances and I have ever seen. Its beauty, though not its images, were like a blue stained glass window.

Sorry, I can’t find an illustration. In its stead, here is Impact. This unique weaving hangs on my office wall a couple of feet in front of me.

Impact, the unique weaving on Lawrence Jeppson’s office wall.

Jullien frequently acted as his own publisher. He created his cartoons and then paid his weavers out of his own pocket. As these tapestries accumulated they represented considerable tied-up capital. He asked if I could find a buyer for 17 tapestries. I succeeded. (Over the years I traded for or bought back several of them.) This sale had an interesting fallout.

Shortly afterwards a woman sued Bekins Moving and Storage for the loss of two small Jullien tapestries, for which she claimed an exorbitant value. Bekins did not know of my Jullien sale, but on the strength of my tapestry reputation, they hired me to appear on their behalf in the Honolulu court.

My precise knowledge of the market value of Jullien tapestries won the case for Bekins. I was on the stand for parts of two days. What pleased me more than winning the case was the post-trial remark by the Japanese-American judge, who said I was the best expert witness who had ever appeared in his court.

The Bekins lawyers were equally pleased. They picked up the tabs for another day in Honolulu and a day-long guided tour of Oahu.

A year or two before he died, Jullien approached me again. Could I find another buyer? This time his package included tapestries, documents, and a trove of oil paintings. I had no idea he did easel paintings. Unfortunately, this time I was not successful.

Jullien (his friends called him Brutus) lived about 12 stories up in a pre-WW2 apartment house. It had an elevator that only took people up. If you were above the ground floor you could not summon it to come get you to take you down.

I visited Jullien often, always taking the elevator up and walking down. On one of the earliest occasions when he invited me to dinner, he served his specialty: ratatouille. It was the first time I had ever eaten it, and it was a dish virtually unknown at the time at home. I enjoyed it so much that whenever I ate at his place, he made it for me.

I repaid by taking him to restaurants for dinner from time to time.

The last time I saw him was in his apartment. He smiled and said, “You don’t need to walk down all those steps anymore. The elevator has been changed. You can now summon it and ride down.”

I have missed his friendship.

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About Lawrence Jeppson

Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser. He is America's leading authority on modern, handwoven French tapestries. He is expert on the works of William Henry Clapp, Nat Leeb, Tsing-fang Chen, and several French artists.

He is founding president of the non-profit Mathieu Matégot Foundation for Contemporary Tapestry, whose purview encompasses all 20th-century tapestry, an interest that traces back to 1948. For many years he represented the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie and Arelis in America.

Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to or organizer of more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes and/or distributes multiple-original art. He was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors' Investment Fund.

He is the director of the Spring Arts Foundation; Utah Cultural Arts Foundation, and the Fine Arts Legacy Foundation

Lawrence is an early-in-the-month home teacher, whose beat is by elevator. In addition, he has spent the past six years hosting and promoting reunions of the missionaries who served in the French Mission (France, Belgium, and Switzerland) during the decade after WWII.

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