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Genuine Aubusson rugs come from a little town in the south of France which has given its name to this type of carpet. In that picturesque place these rugs have been woven for centuries on the same hand looms that produce Aubusson wall tapestries. Aubusson rugs are, indeed, made today elsewhere than at Aubusson, for any weaver of tapestry may make a rug in the style of Aubusson. The best ones, however, still come from this little town, where for generations the art of weaving them has been passed down from father to son.
Aubusson rugs are not easy to get-not even those recently made. A single one of room size takes months, and sometimes years, to weave, and until lately the appreciation of this style of rug, distinctly French in design, was confined to a limited clientele. In texture the Aubusson rug has the ribbed surface of tapestry and also the pliability of a hand-woven product. It seems too thin for a floor covering, until one discovers that the rug is heavily lined and reinforced with felt when it is laid on the floor.
The best of the modern Aubusson rugs follow closely the designs made famous during the great age of decoration in France in the eighteenth century. They recall in the almost architectural arrangement of their patterns that one time the decoration of the room, together with its furniture, was more closely allied with architecture than it is today. Most of the patterns have a centre medallion, with the field between it and the border filled with floral motifs. On many the details of the medallion and border have an almost architectural formality, but it is relieved by the sprightly realism of the gay clusters of flowers woven here and there on the surface.
It is the formality of these rugs that enables them to fit so well into carefully planned eighteenth century rooms. Their color schemes are distinctive and recall the same period when soft pastel shades were used in hangings and sometimes on walls. The Aubusson rug that reflects truly its distinction cannot compete in brilliance with colors that are also in vogue today-although these rugs are remarkably colorful in their quiet, unassuming way. Light blues, soft greens, dull brownish reds and ecrus are some of the dominating hues found in these rugs.
Of course, while period rooms allow the full beauty of these rugs to be disclosed, any room containing what one might call well-behaved furniture will gain something from an Aubusson rug on the floor.
Its quiet tones will suit a bedchamber, although the Aubusson rug has been used successfully in living rooms of tranquil dignity. It is essentially a rug to be used almost room-sized, and in a room of dimensions somewhat elegant. The generally large scale of its design does not provide the sense of coziness desired in a small room.
Beside the scale of its pattern the question of type must also be considered. Some of the Louis XVI styles are too sedate for the room where a lighter mood is aimed at. For these the patterns of the Louis XV period-roses and garlands and ribbons supplying a light and delicate touch -are more suitable.
In this country 150 years ago and later Aubusson rugs or carpets were in high vogue. At Mount Vernon, Washington had two fine examples; he reflected the taste of the wealthy and cultured American of that day. No doubt the popularity of things French which developed at the end of the Revolution accounts for the numerous importations of Aubussons.
The popularity and prestige of the Aubusson rug in the early years of the Republic had influenced the native designs of woven carpets for long afterward. Some of the scrolls and garlands of the old-time hooked rugs are thought to have been suggested by Aubusson rugs which, in the homes of the wealthier persons of a village inspired the frugal and clever housewife to emulate them in her home rag-weaving.
The tapestry rugs, together with another French carpet weave, the Savonneries, are the only outstanding examples of French carpet designs which were not influenced by the art of the East. Reflecting the skill in design and the individuality of the great French period in decoration, the Aubusson rug owes all the motifs used in its design to indigenous influences. Nothing can be more French than a good Aubusson carpet. The little town where they are made long ago recognized the value of their individuality and for many years it has maintained the artistic standard of the carpets by a State art school located there in which designers and workmen are taught the traditions of this distinctive rug.