A textile gift to art spectacularly delivered at Warwickshire gallery

Tapestry: Weaving the Century at Dovecot Studios 1912-2012, Compton Verney gallery, on until December 16.

WE might be more naturally inclined to associate tapestry with the dusty interior of a stately home than with a gallery that has a reputation for showing new and sometimes challenging contemporary art.

But on the evidence of this exhibition, the woven image can be just as daring and dramatic as anything produced in an artist’s studio.

The master-weavers of Edinburgh’s Dovecot studios, like the unsung heroes and heroines that they clearly are, have been quietly transforming the imagery of a good cross-section of familiar names for a whole century of painstaking effort. Many of the wall-hangings shown here are unique commissions but others reproduce paintings where every dab and brush-mark is transcribed with uncanny accuracy.

David Hockney, Peter Blake, Graham Sutherland and Eduardo Paolozzi are all represented - the latter in a scintillating commission that fills the best part of a wall. This we are told was fun to weave as the artist had instinctively produced a design that was sympathetic to the characteristics of the process.

But what the show demonstrates over and over again is how these patient geniuses seem capable of copying everything that’s put before them. You feel that if a fly landed on the original, they would quietly incorporate that too.

In a 1946 transcription of one of Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, taken from a badly printed postcard, there is something touchingly direct about their solution which was to improvise an outcome that would proclaim the integrity of their craftsmanship.

There’s a wholesomeness about this level of patient commitment that contemporary art can sometimes lack. The show demonstrates in around 60 works how this, their generous gift to art, has been and continues to be spectacularly delivered.

Peter McCarthy