A wooden rack with bundles of wool dyed in different colours hanging and drying.

A journey to Le Mobilier National

Navigating between contemporary creation, traditional know-how and conservation

Juliette Pokorny (Michael Culture Association / Museu)

The Mobilier National is a French public establishment with the objective of supporting and promoting art and creative crafts. It does so by overseeing the creation and conservation of tens of thousands of pieces of furniture and objects intended to supply French public buildings, including those abroad. The Mobilier National ensures the conservation and restoration of its French national collections, thanks to its workshops. It perpetuates and transmits know-how by training craftsmen, as well as promoting contemporary creation and French decorative arts. The pieces of furniture designed by Mobilier National are not museum pieces, but pieces of furniture for use.

The Mobilier National is rooted in the French royal Garde-Meuble. This was a special administration started by Henri IV (1553-1610) and developed by Louis XIV (1638-1715) and his minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who stands at the origin of the Manufacture des Meubles de la Couronne (Manufacture of the Furniture of the Crown). It temporarily became the Mobilier Impérial and took the name of Mobilier National with the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870.

The Mobilier National is now attached to the French Ministry of Culture and has added new workshops. The arts and crafts are distributed among various workshops, which have developed over time in Paris and the French regions. Today, more than 340 employees work for Mobilier National: the Gobelins tapestry workshop, the Beauvais tapestry workshop, the Savonnerie carpet workshop, the lace workshop of Puy-en-Velay, the workshop of research and development, and seven restoration workshops.

The Gobelins haute-lice (high-heddle) tapestry manufacture was founded under the reign of Henri IV and transformed by Colbert in the 1660's. A few years later, Colbert founded the Beauvais basse-lice (low-heddle) tapestry manufacture in the eponymous town. The Savonnerie carpet manufacture is located in Paris, in an old soap factory from which it takes its name, and was created under Louis XIII. In the 1930s the three historic textile manufacturers Les Gobelins, La Savonnerie and Beauvais were united within the Mobilier National.

These workshops are associated with a dyeing workshop, also located in the Enclos des Gobelins in Paris, which is in charge of treating and preparing the wool.

The lace workshop of Puy-en-Velay in Alençon preserves the tradition and manual techniques of lace. The lace-making activity developed in Alençon thanks to Colbert, but it was threatened with disappearing in the middle of the twentieth century due to the rise of machine-created lace. In 1976, the Mobilier National created two state-funded workshops whose work has been included on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2010.

Since the 17th century, Mobilier National has supported contemporary art and craft creation. The Research and Creation Workshop (ARC), is in charge of contemporary design and manufacture. Created at the initiative of André Malraux (former minister of Cultural Affairs), it allows talented designers to emerge, enabling them to produce ambitious pieces and to supply French national institutions.

Mobilier National also relies on seven restoration workshops divided by different specialities of wood, metal and textile. They allow the conservation of the ancient collections of the Mobilier National.

Training is at the heart of Mobilier National's activity and responds to the need to transmit know-how. In 2020, the Mobilier National launched the Campus d'Excellence des métiers d'arts et du design - Paris Manufacture des Gobelins, Composed of several establishments, the Campus brings together excellent training in the fields of design and arts and crafts. It brings together courses, institutions, companies, foundations and sponsors.

This blog was written as part of the CRAFTED project, which aimed to enrich and promote traditional and contemporary crafts.