Versailles tapestry rolls out to attend France exhibition

This definitely wasn’t your typical removal job.

A tapestry that once hung in the Palace of Versailles was yesterday carefully removed from its moorings in Bantry House and rolled up for its return trip to France, where it will form part of an international exhibition of tapestries until this November.

Le Colin Maillard, or Blind Man’s Buff, has hung in Bantry House in West Cork since it was purchased by Richard White, the Second Earl of Bantry, in the mid 19th century, as he undertook a European tour which took him as far away as Russia.

The tapestry — one of a series of four and valued a decade ago at €25,000 — was among a number of pieces originally from Versailles and picked up by the earl. More intriguingly, the tapestry was originally a wedding present for Marie Antoinette — she of ‘let them eat cake’ fame — possibly from Louis the 15th.

According to Sophie Shelswell-White, general manager at Bantry House, it hung on the wall overlooking the bay ever since, apart from being taken down once so the walls could be painted.

“I’m nervous,” she admitted as three of her colleagues at the house joined British-based textile conservator May Berkouwer in carefully taking down the tapestry ahead of its trip to France and the Aubusson Museum.

John Albrow, one of those charged with lifting the tapestry from the wall, said he’d moved a few weighty items around the house lately, including a carpet that was so heavy it needed eight men to shift it.

Using scaffolding erected specially, the team in the house’s Gobelins Room concertinaed the tapestry, woven of wool and silk, before rolling it onto the floor on white sheets so it could get a running over with the vacuum cleaner and May could set about carrying out some minor stitching and “First Aid repairs”.

“Easy peasy” was the verdict on taking it down, and the rolled-up tapestry will now travel to France by ferry from Rosslare before being taken to the museum in the centre of France where it will be on display until Nov 2. It is believed the tapestry was manufactured in the same area in the 1770s, and now it will be joined in Aubusson by tapestries from the Louvre, Lisbon and elsewhere.

The exhibition is the brainchild of curator Bruno Ythier, who contacted Sophie’s mother Brigitte some months ago, asking for a loan of Le Colin Maillard. “I think it’s the first time we’ve ever loaned something,” Sophie said. “It’s an honour.” Dee Doyle, marketing officer at Bantry House, said of the West Cork donation to an international exhibit: “It’s probably one of the only [tapestries] in a private collection.”

Brigitte Shelswell-White intends to visit the exhibition while the other three parts of the set remain on the walls of Bantry House. Hoefully those in Aubusson are as handy with a scaffold and a ladder.

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