From Essex house to Nunnington Hall country pile for Grayson Perry’s tapestries

The Essex Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) , by Grayson Perry, on the drawing room wall of Nunnington Hall from February 8

GRAYSON Perry will be Stitching The Past Together with his tapestries at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, from February 8.

Out go the National Trust country house’s 17th century Verdure tapestries for conservation work; in come the Essex transvestite artist, potter, broadcaster and writer’s typically colourful and thought-provoking pair of Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015).

Hanging in an historic setting for the first time in the drawing room, this brace of large-scale, striking works tells the story of Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman” created by the irreverent Chelmsford-born 2003 Turner Prize winner.

The tapestries illustrate the key events in the heroine’s journey from her birth during the Canvey Island floods of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on a Colchester street.

Rich in cultural and architectural details, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that “everyone can relate to”. 

These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life’.

In Its Familiarity Golden: a close-up of one of Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015)

Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors. Perry, by contrast, however, has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with contemporary concerns of class, social aspiration and taste.

To write Julie’s biography, he looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual. 

Laura Kennedy, Nunnington Hall’s visitor experience manager, says: “It’s extremely exciting to have The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope Tapestries on the walls that would usually display the hall’s Verdure tapestries.

“The tapestries will hang in the drawing room amongst the historic collection, and nearby to the hall’s remaining 17th century Flemish tapestries telling the story of Achilles.”

Laura continues: “The genuine and relatable stories told through Grayson Perry’s artworks are a rich contrast to the demonstration of wealth and status reflected through many historic tapestries, including our own at Nunnington Hall.

“We’ve worked closely with the Crafts Council to bring the hangings to Nunnington and observe how these contrasting sets of tapestries are a beautiful contradiction in design, colour palette, storytelling and manufacture, illustrating the evolution of tapestries over the past four hundred years. It will also be the first time that The Essex House Tapestries have been hung in a historic setting.” 

One of the Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015), by Grayson Perry

Nunnington’s three Verdure tapestries were brought to Nunnington Hall more than 350 years ago by the 1st  Viscount Preston, Richard Graham, following his time as Charles II’s ambassador at the Court of Versailles.

Graham was appointed by King James II as the Master of the Royal Wardrobe because of his style and knowledge of Parisian fashions. He would have used these tapestries to demonstrate his good taste, wealth and status in society.

Welcoming Perry’s works to Nunnington Hall, Jonathan Wallis, curator for the National Trust, says: “It’s great to be able to show these wonderful tapestries at Nunnington. It continues our aim of bringing thought-provoking art to rural Yorkshire.

“The Life of Julie Cope is a story that we can all relate to and one which will delight, surprise and engage people. Digital devises accompany the tapestries exploring Julie’s life experiences and the reveal much of Perry’s inspirations.”

This is the first of two opportunities to see work by Grayson Perry in North Yorkshire in 2020. His earliest works and “lost pots” will be showcased in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years from June 12 to September 20 at York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).

The touring exhibition, developed by the Holburne Museum in Bath, is the first to celebrate Perry’s early forays into the art world and will re-introduce the explosive and creative works he made between 1982 and 1994.

The 70 works have been crowd-sourced through a national public appeal, leading to the “lost pots” being on display together for the first time since they were made.

Cocktail Party, 1989, by Grayson Perry, on show in Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years at CoCA, York Art Gallery, from June 12

The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition begins with Perry’s early collaged sketchbooks, experimental films and sculptures, capturing his move into using ceramics as his primary medium.

From his first plate, Kinky Sex (1983), to his early vases made in the mid-1980s, Perry riffed on British vernacular traditions to create a language of his own.

The themes of his later work – fetishism, gender, class, his home county of Essex, and the vagaries of the art world – appear in works of kinetic energy.

Although the majority of his output consisted of vases and plates, Perry’s early experiments with form demonstrate the variety of shapes he produced: Toby jugs, perfume bottles, porringers, funeral urns and gargoyle heads.

Perry says: “This show has been such a joy to put together. I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties. It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”

Grayson Perry’s The Essex House Tapestries: Life of Julie Cope (2015) will be on display at Nunnington Hall, Nunnington, Helmsley, from February 8 to December 20. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30am to 4pm.

Nunnington Hall’s Verdure Tapestries: away for conservation work; back on display from January 2021

What’s happening to the Nunnington Hall Verdure tapestries? 

ALL three tapestries at Nunnington Hall have been taken off the walls. At various times they were sent to Belgium to be cleaned and each is being worked on by a selected conservator.

At each studio, the tapestries have been placed on to a frame with a linen scrim. The conservators are working across each tapestry, undertaking conservation stitching.

This includes closing the gaps that have appeared and replacing worn historic threads and previous conservation repairs. These stiches are placed through both the tapestry and the linen to provide extra support.

One of the conservators has estimated this work will take 740 hours. The work should be completed in the middle of 2020 to be placed back on the drawing room wall in January 2021.

Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015) at Nunnington Hall

The story behind Grayson Perry’s Essex House Tapestries

THE Essex House Tapestries were made for A House for Essex, designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture, as featured on the Channel 4 programme Grayson Perry’s Dream House.

The house was conceived as a mausoleum to Julie Cope, a fictitious Essex “everywoman”, who was inspired by the people Perry grew up among.

The tapestries are the only pair in a public collection, acquired by the Craft Council.