Tapestry cartoons are the life size models from which tapestries are woven. Painted in oil on canvas or gouache on paper, these paintings gave life to the smallest cushion to the largest of wall hangings. The wools and silks were dyed to match the painting, and the weaver then copied it. Working with the cartoon under the warp threads of the loom, at a rate of approximately two square metres per month, per worker, the final tapestry slowly appeared. The quality of the finished tapestry was largely dependant on the artistry of the cartoon painter combined with the skill of the weaver.
The earliest cartoon painters were usually local artists designing for the local manufacturers. Cartoons could be simple full size line drawings, where the artistry of the weaver was left to fill in the colours, or full size, full colour paintings, where the weaver copied exactly what was before him. Often different painters specialized in landscapes, flowers, animals or figurative subjects. Several painters could have been employed on a single cartoon. The cartoon painter's job was to create a cartoon, from what might have been a great painting, for the weavers to work on. However, a famous painting might be entrusted to a master weaver.
The earliest centre for the weaving of tapestries in France, can be traced back to 1457 in a small town situated on the banks of the river Creuse, Aubusson is now associated the world over for its tapestries.
In 1665 Louis XIV gave the title "Manufacture Royale d'Aubusson" to the various manufacturers working in the town of Aubusson.
In 1731 a painter arrived in Aubusson, appointed by Louis XlV to the service of the Manufacture of Tapestries. Jean-Joseph Dumons, born in 1687, worked the in Aubusson until 1755. It was at this time that a school was opened to teach painters working for the tapestry industry. Dumons was followed by Jacques Juillard, a pupil of Francois Boucher, considered by some to be a greater designer of tapestries than a painter.