Marc Saint Saëns – The Foolish Virgins
“Les Vierges Folles”
Material : Wool
Dimensions : 252 x 180 cm ; 8 x 6 ft
Year : 1942
Aubusson tapestry woven in the Tabard workshop, with label.
Lurçat approached Saint-Saëns, originally a painter of murals, in 1940. And during the war the latter produced the first of his allegorical masterpieces, tapestries reflecting indignation, combat, resistance : “les Vierges folles (the foolish virgins), “Thésée et le Minotaure” (Theseus and the Minotaur). At the end of the war, as a natural development he joined up with Lurçat, whose convictions he shared (concerning a simplified palette, outlined cartoons with colours indicated by pre-ordained numbers, and the specific nature of tapestry design…) at the A.P.C.T. (Association des Peintres-cartonniers de Tapisserie). His universe, where the human figure, stretched, elongated, ooccupies an important place (particularly when compared to his companions Lurçat or Picart le Doux), pivots around traditional themes : woman, the Commedia dell’arte, Greek mythology… refined by the brilliance of the colours and the simplification of the layout. His work would evolve later, in the 1960’s, towards cartoons of a more lyrical design, almost abstract where elemental and cosmic forces would dominate.
After a brief flirtation in the 1930s, Saint-Saëns, encouraged by Lurçat, tried his hand again at tapestry design during the second world war. “Les Vierges Folles”, was, for a first try, a huge success. Using the gospel parable as a vehicle, Saint-Saëns illustrates in the dark night of the Occupation the Virgins expectant vigil for the Liberation. The very first version contains some slight differences : a third virgin, an owl, the moon, … and a different squarer format. This version, was incredibly succesful (abundantly reproduced and illustrated, cf. Bibliography) thus making Saint-Saëns, with the help of other popular designs (“Orion”, “le Verseau”, “Thésée et le Minotaure”,…), one of the most influential artists associated with the renewal of French tapestry in the 1940’s.
One copy of this tapestry figured in the exhibition « La tapisserie française du Moyen-Age à nos jours” which was held at the Musé d’Art Moderne in 1946 ; another is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.