Sleepy Hollow, a small Hudson Valley town best known for its place in Washington Irving’s 1820 tale of the headless horseman, is also home to another lesser-known oddity: 15 incredibly detailed large-scale, hand-woven tapestries that painstakingly imitate Picasso paintings. Commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1955 for his family’s Kykuit Estate, the tapestries are the work of atelier Madame J. de la Baume Dürrbach, though they are often attributed to Picasso himself, who worked in collaboration with the studio, providing images of his paintings to replicate and authenticating the works upon completion.
The tapestries’ existence is a strange testament to the Governor’s pragmatism. Rockefeller preferred renditions of Picasso’s work in a more durable form than painting, one that might allow them to travel easily. In addition to their promising shelf life, Rockefeller was also attracted by their significantly low cost compared to the prices of Picasso’s original paintings (though they were paid for by the square centimeter). Despite their travel-ready medium, the majority of the tapestries will leave the estate for the very first time next month for an exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Photo: © Mick Hales
Usually, 15 of the tapestries are housed in the basement of the main house, which Rockefeller had transformed into one of the stranger art galleries I have ever visited. Sadly, you are unable to see them at your leisure, but rather as a small part of a guided tour of various aspects of the estate. I opted for the Classic Tour, but you can really ball out with the three-hour Grand Tour. The lecture blends details of the Rockefellers' political history, religious heritage, Ming dynasty ceramics, and a car collection. You will also be ushered past works by Alberto Giacometti, Constantin Brancusi, David Smith, George Braque, Alexander Calder, and Joan Miró, to name a few.
While the works are revered by some and casually dismissed by others, I found myself in a state of wonder looking at the translation of such famous paintings into these meticulous textiles, complete with Picasso’s signature woven into the bottom right corners. It is a relief that they will be freed from their basement home and accessible to a broader public in the San Antonio Museum of Art, even if only for a few months.
(Image at top: Kykuit Estate; Photo: Ad Meskens)
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