Nelson Rockefeller’s Picassos: Tapestries Commissioned for Kykuit

December 20, 2014 – March 8, 2015

Between 1955 and 1975, Nelson A. Rockefeller undertook an ambitious project: commissioning eighteen enormous tapestries modeled after some of Pablo Picasso’s most important paintings, including Girl with Mandolin, Interior with Girl Drawing, Night Fishing at Antibes, and Three Musicians. Enormous in scale, these woven works of art each took between three and six months to complete. They reflect Rockefeller’s interest in the medieval tradition of French tapestry and his love of modern art, while appealing to his egalitarian spirit.

The eighteen paintings that were sources for the final Kykuit tapestries were chosen from over fifty years of Picasso’s work, from 1907–1960, and are a unique version of the world as Picasso saw it.

Fourteen of the eighteen tapestries—feats of imagination, craftsmanship, negotiation, and collaboration—have travelled from Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate in the Hudson River Valley, to San Antonio for exhibition at the Museum. Two other tapestries, one of which was also commissioned by Rockefeller, are on loan from private collectors in Mexico City. These tapestries have never been exhibited together outside the Rockefeller estate.

The tapestries were woven entirely by hand by Madame Jacqueline de la Baume Dϋrrbach in Cavalaire, France, in consultation with Picasso. First, a “cartoon” design was made by the studio and approved by Picasso. In most cases, a good set of transparencies would be sent to Dϋrrbach’s studio or color charts were prepared along with a narrative explaining the nuances of brushstroke, texture, and transition of colors. As another part of the process, yarns were often sent by Dürrbach's studio to be matched against paintings that were in New York. Yarns were dyed especially for the weavings by a color expert at Aubusson or Felletin. Picasso collaborated with the weaver about color choices and kept up a lively exchange of letters with Rockefeller until his own death in 1973.

A catalogue with color plates of the tapestries and essays treating the history of the commissions, the original paintings, and the correspondence between Rockefeller, Picasso, and the weavers has been published to accompany the exhibition. The San Antonio Museum of Art is the exclusive venue for this exhibition.