Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Recent Acquisitions at National Museum of Decorative Arts

A few weeks ago I attended the official presentation of the new exhibition at the national Museum of Decorative Arts here in Madrid, which displays a selection  of the more than seven thousand items the museum has acquired, has received in donations, or has been assigned since the start of the millennium.Unfortunately I found it hard to follow the explanations given by the museum director and the experts, so I was glad to be able to attend this guided tour in a smaller group.

Our guide Javier explained the different mechanisms that allow objects to be acquired, such as payment in lieu of taxes, or an irrevocable offer of sale submitted to the Junta de Calificación (Board of Classification, Valuation and Export of Historical Heritage Assets). Giving in lieu of tax liabilities has declined since the economic downturn in 2008 left the Spanish government (and many others) more in need of liquidity than art objects.

There is only very limited space for display at the museum so most pieces will sadly have to join their 60000 odd brothers and sisters in the museum's different warehouses and at other museums.
One of the most notable pieces for me is the huge Ezekiel tapestry made in Flanders for the Medicis, and purchased a few years back by the Spanish government. Spectacular for it's size and even more for its remarkable state of conservation and not having suffered the distortion that so often spoils the figures, and which no restoration can cure.

Amongst the more recent items are furniture and fittings from the from the iconic Torres Blancas (white towers) apartment building seen by visitors arriving in Madrid by car from the airport. These are classic seventies design that must seem like antiques to young people today, but can serve as an inspiration to contemporary designers. There's also a prototype plastic mop-wringer bucket from the 1950s, now a design classic.

Yesterday was the first tour of the exhibition, but it is available again. I'll give the details here, although the event, like all the labelling and signage, is in Spanish. It's at 12 noon on Tuesdays and in the afternoon at 17:30 on Thursdays in January and February, booking required (telephone 91 050 57 55 from 9:30 to 14:30). Otherwise, you can just go there and explore the exhibition by yourself; it's on the first floor.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Ballet Le Corsaire at Madrid's Teatro Real

Last night we went to see this production of the ballet Le Corsaire (The Pirate) by the Wiener Staastballett. There is  more information about Le Corsaire on the Teatro Real website, including a video trailer. I enjoyed the costumes, but the set design was rather spartan, I thought. Unfortunately I found it impossible to follow the plot even though I had read a synopsis beforehand.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Visit to the Royal Tapestry Workshops in Madrid

Yesterday I visited the workshops of the Real Fábrica de Tapices (Royal Tapestry Workshops). This is quite close to where I live (behind the Atocha mainline train station) but until now I'd never been there.

The Façade of the Workshops

The workshops were founded 295 years ago by King Philip V in another area, and moved to the present site in 1888. Until 1995 it was a family-run business, but since then it has been managed by a consortium comprised of the Ministry of Culture, Madrid regional government and the city council. It has had severe financial problems for many, many years, but the workshops were saved from financial ruin a few ago by a series of commissions for restoration of existing tapestries, and creation of some new ones. One is to recreate thirty-two tapestries for the Elector’s Palace in Dresden, Germany, which were destroyed by allied bombs in 1945 (the biggest order in 250 years). Another is tor create 32 for the government of Saxony, also in Germany.

But perhaps the most notable commission has come from Palestinian businessman and collector of Arab art, Ramzi Dalloul, for whom the workshop are to transform a large drawing by Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982 into a wall hanging. The original drawing was bought by the Tate Gallery in London in 2014. There are plans to display the completed tapestry in the Reina Sofía Museum alongside Picasso’s “Guernica.”

Other workshops have either stopped production or produce work of inferior quality (or so I was told). There are samples on display, one from this workshop and one from Aubusson in France that were produced for the Dalloul commission, which show very clearly the superiority of the work of the Madrid workshops.

I also saw the work on the restoration of large carpets, and the embroidery workshop. It was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited in Spain, and something not to be missed if you get the opportunity. It’s a guided tour only, once an hour, and you should book in advance. And only €5. Thank you to to our volunteer guide.

Some references for further reading:

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Bargello Sampler Panel Six

Panel six is now complete, so only seven more to go. The sampler is from a twelve-page leaflet from 1977 called "Bargello Basics" that my mother had stored away in a wardrobe (thanks Mum). I'm really pleased I chose to do this as my first project as I'm learning new patterns and techniques and at the same time producing a very impressive piece of work (to my eyes, at least). There's a kind of magic in following the instructions and see how the whole piece gradually materializes panel by panel. The illustration on the cover isn't very large and colours seem to have faded with time, so each panel is a revelation.

The five coloured bargello embroidery in the context of the other panels.
The stitching is 4-2 step: stitch over four threads, and step up or down two threads at a time. It has two kinds of motifs, with shared sides. It's done using DMC tapestry wool yarn, 7452 (light medium camel in the instructions) , 7027 (light blue), 7303 (dark rust), 7823 (dark blue) and 7746 (light camel).