“The sole gallery devoted to important European tapestries in North America” The Financial Times

The Financial Times has described Franses as “the sole gallery devoted to important European tapestries in North America.”

Tapestry Collecting in America since 1875

Important European tapestries have been collected in the United States since at least the last quarter of the 19th century.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired its first tapestry in 1892 followed shortly thereafter by the Memorial Museum (later the De Young Museum) San Francisco in 1895.  Other major museums first acquired tapestries in the early 20th century; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1917; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts 1923; the Art Institute of Chicago 1926.


Major collectors also developed interest in tapestries.  As early as 1880 Collis P Huntingdon was acquiring Gobelins and Beauvais tapestries.  In 1889 Charles M Ffouke purchased 135 tapestries from the  Barberini family in Rome.  In 1901 J Pierpont Morgan acquired the Mazarin tapestry for $500,000 and loaned it for the coronation of Edward VII at Westminster Abbey.  He went on to acquire 29 tapestries from Knole in Kent.


After 1909 New York City became the centre for tapestry dealing as the US Congress abolished import duties on works of art.  Among the leading specialists were Duveen Brothers, Jacques Seligmann, G J Demotte, Benguiat Brothers and, perhaps most important of all, French & Co led by Mitchell Samuels who bought Morgan’s tapestry collection in 1916 reputedly for $1.6 million and in the same year re-sold the Mazarin tapestry to Joseph E Widener for $600,000.  It was later donated to the National Gallery in Washington DC.


In 1923 John D Rockefeller Jr paid $1.15 million for six of the Unicorn tapestries from the Chateau de Rochefoucauld, which are today conserved at The Cloisters, New York.


All of these dealerships focused on the very best tapestries and in their research and publications presented tapestry as a fine art and the equal of painting and sculpture.  They also collaborated on making loans to museum exhibitions to develop public appreciation, including the landmark Retrospective Loan Exhibition of European Tapestries held in the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1922, curated by Phyllis Ackerman.  Landmark exhibitions followed in the US with Masterpieces of Tapestry in 1974 at the Metropolitan Museum.  The 97 assembled works attracted 377,000 visitors making the show one of the biggest hits in The Met’s history.  In 2002 the museum followed with the critically acclaimed Tapestry in the Renaissance and in 2007 with Tapestry in the Baroque.


Today there is growing interest in tapestry in the US and Canada from museums and discriminating collectors. The Franses gallery in New York is now the only gallery in North America devoted to important works and the presentation of tapestry as fine art.