Ingenious Mr Leman

All images: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

James Leman created some of the most fashionable Spitalfields silks of the early 18th century. The V&A’s new display, The Ingenious Mr Leman: Designing Spitalfields Silks, reveals the museum’s latest findings about Leman’s designs, and brings one of them together with its recently discovered corresponding silk for the first time in 300 years.

This display is part of ‘The Leman Album: an Enhanced Facsimile’, a V&A Research Institute project into one of the museum’s greatest textile treasures. The album is early 18th century and contains 97 vibrant designs by Leman on paper for woven silk fabric, many on fold-out pages and in colours that look as fresh as the day they were produced. They are Europe's earliest dated silk designs.

The drawings are too delicate to ever be put on permanent display. The V&A’s interdisciplinary team aim to create a digital facsimile prototype of the designs, giving worldwide access to the rich information held within.

James Leman was born in 1688 into a weaving family of Huguenot descent. In 1702 he was apprenticed to his father, Peter, and lived in Stewart Street, Spitalfields, with his family. Peter was described as a 'natif de Canterbury' and the family is possibly descended from one which fled to Canterbury from Tourcoing to escape religious persecution in the late 16th century. James Leman trained as a designer as well as a manufacturer, which was unusual for weavers at that time.

The latest designs known to be by Leman are dated 1722, but it is likely that he continued to work after this time. Part of the canopy used at George II's Coronation in 1727, now in the V&A's collection, was supplied by the mercer George Binckes who was known to have bought designs from Leman. It is very similar in style to his work and may well have been designed by him.

V&A, NAL Library Landing, until Sunday, 20 October 2019 (Free)

Blog post by Kate Grinnell

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