One of the most popular works in The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s collection, the suite of mid-16th century Bisham Abbey tapestries, will once again adorn the Gallery’s main foyer beginning November 29.
Illustrating the Biblical story of Tobit, the tapestries are attributed to the workshop of Bernard Van Orley (c. 1488-1541), one of the leading tapestry workshops in Brussels, a noted centre for such production. Tapestries were a common form of wall covering in wealthy homes, blocking drafts from windows and doors and lending visual warmth to dimly lit rooms.
Bisham Abbey, Buckinghamshire, was a country estate owned by Henry VIII and given to his wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement. The tapestries, however, did not become part of the Abbey until later when Anne sold it to the Hoby family. They hung in the Abbey until 1967 when they were purchased by Lord and Lady Gort who generously donated them to The Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1973.
The 17-year restoration of the tapestries from 1981 to 1998 was a significant undertaking with an average of 550 hours spent on each of the five tapestries, painstakingly cleaning and repairing the fragile textiles. After four centuries of use it is not surprising that the individual threads suffered damage resulting from dyes used, exposure to light, weight disbursement, and even earlier conservation efforts. The original brilliance and luxuriousness of the Bisham Abbey tapestries are revealed today for all to appreciate and enjoy.
“The Gort Tapestry Collection is one of the treasures of The Winnipeg Art Gallery,” says WAG Director Dr. Stephen Borys. “These beautiful tapestries are always immensely popular with our visitors, and we are delighted to be showing them again over the winter months.”