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Our History

Portugal has a long tradition in textiles, and although many of the Portuguese nation’s great deeds have been depicted in tapestries, these were always commissioned from France or Flanders. In fact, Portugal had no tradition in tapestry production until the eighteenth century.

Following the earthquake of 1755, witch destroyed many of those pieces, the Marquis of Pombal set up one tapestry factory in Lisbon and another in Tavira. However, neither factory survived beyond his death.

Portuguese tapestry was only reborn some two centuries later, in 1948, in Portalegre.

In 1946, two friends called Guy Fino and Manuel Celestino Peixeiro, decided to produce hand-knotted carpets in Portalegre. However, competion was fierce and the business was not doing well. It was then that Manuel do Carmo Peixeiro, Manuel Celestino’s father, challenged the two friends to start making hand woven tapestries using a stitch that he had developed years before while a student at the textile school in Roubaix.

They put their hearts and souls into the project and the first tapestry, based on an original by João Tavares, was produced in 1948. Other artists – Júlio Pomar, Maria Keil, Guilherme Camarinha, Renato Torres and Lima de Freitas – were among the first to work with the Tapestry Factory.

Times were hard and some “old stick-in-the-muds” did not believe that Portuguese tapestry was a viable project. To their minds, tapestry had to be French or Flemish.

Portalegre tapestries only gained widespread recognition and acceptance in 1952, thanks to French tapestry-makers who came to Portugal for a major exhibition called “French tapestry – from the Middle Age to the Present”. Guy Fino took advantage of the opportunity to contrast the two techniques, exhibiting two large Portalegre tapestries based on originals by Guilherme Camarinha that had been produced for the Regional Government of Madeira Island. And, for the first time the originals were shown side by side with tha tapestries. The French experts who were invited to visit the exhibition admired both the technique and the perfect results that the Portalegre stitch produces. Portalegre tapestries had been launched.

One thing was missing. To interest Jean Lurçat, the renewer of French tapestry, in the Portuguese tapestry. After a first contact during 1952, Guy Fino manages to convince him to visit the works in Portalegre where he is shown two tapestries:

- one woven in France and that Lurçat himself had offered Guy Fino’s wife some years before,

- and its copy woven in Portalegre with Lurçat’s authorization.

Asked witch one was his, he preferred the one woven in Portalegre.

Subsequently, Jean Lurçat himself said that he considered Portalegre’s tapestry weavers to be the best in the world. In fact from 1958 until his death, he had many of his tapestries produced in Portalegre.

This fact, together with Guy Fino’s determination largely contributed Portalegre tapestry internationalization.

Attracting new artist from many and diverse countries – France, Belgium, Suisse, England, Sweden, South Africa, Australia, Brasilo, Spain, among others – Portalegre Tapestry travel the world and can be found in worldwide known institutions, besides many private collections. Just as a few examples we may mention in Australia the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in Germany the bad-Wurtemberg Government, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the Government Palace in Brasília, Brasil. In Portugal besides the many Government Departments, official institutions and large national banks we may refer Culturgest and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

During 1974 the April revolution originated a worldwide mistrust towards Portuguese economy, especially towards a hand made production. As a consequence a flourishing export market, specially towards the United States, ended from one day to the other with the cancellation of on going orders.

The Portalegre Tapestry Manufacture has continued to position itself as a manual producer of artistic contemporary tapestry, attracting new contemporary artists. It is at the moment in the midst of an internationalization process.

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