Monday, July 14, 2014

What Nifty Little Rugs

Cecil Beaton's circus-themed bedroom has long amused me, so much so that I discuss the room's attributes in my In with the Old lecture.  But until I read the July issue of World of Interiors, I had never seen the photograph that captured the room's fireplace wall.  (See below.)  Yes, the fanciful murals are enchanting as are the drum side tables.  But what especially caught my eye was the small leopard-pelt motif rug in front of the fireplace.  It reminded me of a similar rug that appeared in the Martin Battersby book, The Decorative Thirties.  (You can see a photo of that rug below as well.)

These trompe l'oeil-style leopard rugs fascinate me because I've always been curious of their origins.  Could they have been inspired by the now highly-collectible Tibetan Tiger Rugs?  Tiger rugs, whose designs feature simulated tiger pelts, hail from Tibet, where the large cats and their skins have long symbolized power.  Tiger rugs were traditionally given as gifts to lamas, who did their Tantric meditations on them.  Little was known about these rugs until the latter part of the twentieth century, so perhaps their existence was not widely enough known to have been a contributing factor in the design of those 1930s-era faux leopard rugs.  And of course, I do realize that the Tibetan rugs feature tiger pelts while the Beaton and Battersby rugs depict leopard skins, but the stylized images of their pelts are rather similar.

By the 1960s, it was Piero Fornasetti's faux leopard pelt rug that was all the rage, gracing the floors of some swank European residences.  And the stylized leopard skin rug is still going strong today, as evidenced by Diane von Furstenberg's "Climbing Leopard" rug design for The Rug Company.  But still I wonder, just who created the vogue for these chic and amusing leopard rugs?  

Images at top: You'll find two examples of Tibetan Tiger Rugs above.  The top photo shows a 19th-century Khotan Tiger Rug from Turkestan, while the second image is of an early 20th-century Tibetan rug.

Cecil Beaton's Circus Bedroom was decorated with murals painted by the likes of Rex Whistler and Oliver Messel, drum side tables, and a leopard-pelt motif rug.

Amongst this grouping of Syrie Maugham-designed furniture, Martin Battersby, author of The Decorative Thirties, placed a stylized leopard rug. Unfortunately, he made no mention of it in the book's text.

By the 1960s, Fornasetti's leopard style rug could be found in stylish halls and baths, for example.

And most recently, Diane von Furstenberg designed "Climbing Leopard" for The Rug Company.

Beaton image, World of Interiors, July 2014; Battersby photo from The Decorative Thirties; Fornasetti rug photos from Nouvelles réussites de la décoration française, 1960-1966; Climbing Leopard photos courtesy of The Rug Company.


  1. I had just assumed that the leopard pelt rugs were inspired by the Tibetan tiger rugs, and had not given thought to a possible timeline discrepancy. I'll check back and see if any other readers have additional insight.

  2. Jennifer,
    Love your post and John's laser like comment. We are reminded of the rugs Albert Hadley sometimes used which were I believe hand made in Maine? to look like a zebra hide - he had brought one down to the Naples cottage, and it was a sensation on the pale grey lacquered floor, near the door with the plexiglass mirrored panels, which then reflected the zebra in a most magical manner.

  3. Jennifer I am fascinated with the history of the earlier rugs,(would love to know more) and delighted of course with the latest styles!

    The Arts by Karena

  4. What a fascinating journey down the design history rabbit hole. Thanks so much for posting this piece. I just love the rugs you have shown here. They remind me of the Fabulous Furs pieces, just with a little more flair.

  5. Thanks Jennifer for such a beautiful post.

  6. Jennifer, what a great blog! Unfortunately I found you this morning because my house flooded and I am in the process of inventory the damage we open. We opened up some rugs that I had had carefully protected this morning and of course they were before photo leopardskin rugs that were given to me by my aunt who knew Cecil Beaton. They look like the One that the detective writer had in his office. Now I have to value them for the insurance company. Although I'm so heartbroken to lose them. Any ideas? Thanks AliciaIMG_6658.JPG

    1. Alicia, I'm afraid I haven't a clue as to the value of your rugs. However, 1st dibs has similar rugs for sale (at least, they have in the past,) so you might want to see what dealers are selling them for. Good luck! So sorry to hear about the flood.