Artistic Endeavors – Wear A Matisse

I came across mention of the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, and became excited about a possible road trip, but alas, it has shut its doors due to budget deficits. My interest was piqued by an article on Saatchi Art’s blog,  “Modern Artists and Their Textiles, “which talks about the museum’s 2015 exhibit of 20th century artist-designed fabrics.

Picasso, Calder, Dali, Matisse, and even Warhol worked with fabric companies along with many other artists. The TextielMuseum Tilburg in the Netherlands held the same exhibit in 2014. The exhibit is now at the New Lanark Visitor Centre, Lanark, Scotland, through April 29, 2018. Here’s a link to a short video about the exhibit. The individual designers aren’t identified, but you can get a feel for the clothing made with the fabrics. Fred Butler published a frustratingly unlabeled photo heavy post about the 2015 London showing of this exhibit.

Here’s just a few items that appealed to me.

According to the introduction to the Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol exhibit, “many turn-of-the-century artists looked for ways to make their work less elitist and more appealing to a broader audience. Like [William] Morris they discovered design, and in particular mass-produced textiles, as a means to achieve this…. Before the Second World War, many artists, mainly from the Fauvist, Futurist and Constructivist movements, turned to textile design. Like graphic design and book illustrations, printing their designs on fabric was a logical step. … French Modernist artists Raoul Dufy and Sonia Delaunay as well as Russians Liubov Popova and Vavara Stepanova were pioneers of this trend. They sought to eliminate the distinction between fine and applied art. ”

Apparently there was a vogue for such textiles in post-World War II United States. They showed up in scarves, draperies, upholstery, and clothing.

“In the mid-1950s, an ambitious collaboration between a textile company and artists produced to the ‘Modern Masters’ series. New York-based Fuller Fabrics released a line of Picasso prints, quickly followed by ‘Art by the Yard’ by Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall and Raoul Dufy. Even Pop artist Andy Warhol turned his hand to textiles in the early 1960s, designing food-related patterns that have only recently become widely known.”

Fun Fact: Picasso wouldn’t allow his designs to be printed on upholstery fabric as he didn’t want people to sit on his work.

Sonia Delaunay is my favorite artist who worked in textiles. Not only did she design fabrics, but she turned her hand to rugs and even clothing design. She doesn’t seem to have much in this exhibit. In fact, she is one of just two women in the show.

I don’t know if today’s artists are actively seeking to eliminate “the distinction between fine and applied art” in branching out beyond museums and galleries. In fairness to them, I suspect their names don’t have the same cachet as Picasso’s did in the 1950s. It seems celebrity name franchising is more the norm – athletic shoes and the like.


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14 responses to “Artistic Endeavors – Wear A Matisse

  1. Wow–wouldn’t you love to get to this show?! I think it’s neat that the artists looked for ways to apply their designs to fabric and housewares, and to make them accessible to all. I have small plates with a Calder mobile design that make me happy every time I use them. I, too, got ALL excited about the museum in Lowell . . . only to find that it had closed. I guess the contents have been dispersed–a blogger I follow said there was an auction and people were just taking things like spinning wheels home with them . . .

    • Seeing it would be great, but my budget doesn’t have a trip to England in it. Maybe it will return to the states in the future. I think some of the Lowell museum’s collection ended up with the American Folk Art Museum.

  2. I love the Sonia Delaunay designs too. And like Judy P. above, I thought that if clothing was made from a Picasso design, it would get sat on.

  3. Rosemaryflower

    Thank you for sharing this research! I love modern art! Well I love all art. I am just beginning to delve into making some modern pieces (sewing), small ones are an easy launching pad.
    Picasso was a funny guy. I do love these other artists that I am not familiar with at all!

    • I think you inadvertently clicked “send” twice, but I’m responding to this one. In the future I hope to feature digital collections of some art museums, so you could wander through their collections without leaving home, even choosing specific artists or periods. If you’re into modern art you might want to check out an online class Elizabeth Barton gives on abstract art and quilting. And modern quilts lend themselves to lots of small things – placemats, bags, etc.

  4. Rosemaryflower

    Thank you for this research! I love modern art! I am just beginning to delve into making some modern pieces, small ones are an easy launching pad.
    Picasso was a funny guy. I do love these other artists that I am not familiar with at all!

  5. Judy P.

    I had to laugh about the Picasso story. I guess if you made a dress out of his fabric, you were obligated to stand while wearing it. I wonder if there is any of this fabric sitting in a warehouse?

    • Good point about sitting in a dress made of his fabric. He also did quite a line in pottery. I suppose you could search under the fabric manufacturer’s name and see if anyone is selling it as vintage.

  6. Wow, thank you for this link rich post. Some of the images have me going down memory lane. I can understand why Sonia Delaunay is your favorite textile artist. Would I be correct thinking that she may have influenced some of your work… I’m thinking circles and transparency overlay (?).

    • Sonia Delaunay’s influence on me is more my memories of her work than a conscious effort on my part. It may be that she worked with motifs I love, like circles and transparency, so I paid attention to her work. I wish someone would reprint all this wonderful fabric, and that old Marimekko stuff.

  7. An interesting post, thank you for sharing your research.

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