THE NEWLY RENOVATED Musée d’Ennery at the Avenue Foch reopened in Paris on 26 April after being closed to the public for 16 years. Its renovation has been carried out within the framework of the Museum Plan of the Regions, which received the approval of Frédéric Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture and Communication on 9 September 2010. The plan represents a special partnership between the state and the national collections and is envisaged as a form of cultural investment. It intends to perpetuate the major role that national museums, both large and small, might play in urban planning and construction and in overall national development. The larger objective to structure the network of French public museums is also aimed at making art and culture accessible to everyone. Between 2011 and 2013, 79 projects have been identified nationwide, comprising those in the urban and rural regions in mainland France as well as in the French overseas territories, with an average of three projects per region. In the Ile de France alone (the administrative region of the Paris metropolitan area), the plan is devoted to eight museums, including the Musée d’Ennery.
Since its inception early in the 20th century, the Musée d’Ennery had been attached to the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet, which has taken the lead in the work of renovation throughout. According to Helene Bayou, Curator in charge of the Musée d’Ennery, who is also Chief Curator of the arts of Japan at the Musée Guimet: ‘This renovation taken in the context of the Museum Plan of the Regions is timely, because it has given a real thrust to the overall project. The feasibility studies commenced already in the autumn of 2010 and work on the building proper started at the end of summer 2011. During this time, the collection itself was also partly restored’. The renovation has enabled the museum to preserve intact the spirit intended by Madame Clemence d’Ennery, a famous collector of Chinese and Japanese objets d’art of the mid-19th century and wife of the celebrated playwright and critic, Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery (1811-1899), who bequeathed her collection to the state in 1894. The museum attests to Madame d’Ennery’s passion for the Orient and to her fascination for the ‘myths and legends of China and Japan’. Her collection also offers an opportunity to understand the 19th century European vogue for things Japanese expressed by the term, Japonisme.
‘The collection exhibited at the Musée d’Ennery was gathered roughly from the 1850s until 1898 by Clemence d’Ennery herself,’ says Madame Bayou. ‘She created the collection in Paris where a large amount of far eastern works of art was available at the time. It consists mainly of Chinese and Japanese objects, dating generally from the 17th to the 19th centuries’. Today this collection of some 7,000 objects comprises porcelain, lacquerware and ‘scholars’ art’ from 14th- to 19th-century China, as well as Japanese masks from the 12th century onwards, lacquerware and namban chests from the 16th century and netsuke and porcelain from
the 17th century onwards. Clemence d’Ennery started assembling her collection when she was barely in her twenties.
The core collection of Chinese lacquerware and porcelain had reached substantial proportions by the mid-19th century. Her passion for miniature Chinese bestial forms in bronze, jade, porcelain and wood led one visitor to describe her apartment at the Rue de l’Echiquier in Paris in 1859 as housing ‘150 Chinese monsters’. Numerous acquisitions made until the end of the 19th century saw these and other holdings grow from strength to strength. Madame d’Ennery and her husband did not need to embark on travels to China and Japan to make their purchases. What they bought show great affinity with the large private French oriental collections assembled around the same time, such as that of art critic and writer, Philippe Burty, also a fan of Japonisme. The influence of important 19th century Parisian dealers notably Siegfried Bing, Madame Langweill and to a lesser extent, that of the Japanese, Hayashi Tadamasa has clearly left their mark on the choice of objects. The d’Ennerys also frequented the emporiums of La Compagnie de la Chine et du Japon and Le Bon Marché. In 1875, Madame d’Ennery purchased a piece of land on the then Avenue du Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement with the intention of building a hotel in the style of the Second Empire (1852-1870) after Napoleon III, specifically to house her acquisitions. ‘The original building erected in 1875 was a two-storey house, which opened out on what was then popularly called the ‘Avenue du Bois’, leading to the vast park, the Bois de Boulogne, a fashionable and favourite promenade for Parisians. From 1875 until around 1890, Clemence d’Ennery gathered here all oriental works from her own collection, bought some others, and exhibited porcelains, small sculptures and lacquerware on her furniture in all the rooms, including private ones,’ says Madame Bayou.
The d’Ennerys moved in exalted social and literary circles. Madame d’Ennery’s taste for uniting her objects as an integral part of the private spaces of her house was shared by several of her contemporaries. One of them was the eminent French literary critic and writer, Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896), who inaugurated the prestigious Prix Goncourt after his brother Jules, in 1903. Sometime in the early 1890s, Madame d’Ennery contemplated the possibility of creating her own museum. She sought the advice of Emile Guimet (1836-1918), who founded the Musée Guimet in 1889, and he attested to the value of her collection and expressed interest in it. From 1892 onwards, supported by the efforts of Georges Clemenceau, later Prime Minister of France (1906-1909 and 1917-1920) and by Emile Deshayes, the first curator at the Musée Guimet, Madame d’Ennery began to plan her future museum. Her collecting activities therefore intensified after the 1890s, with some 1,500 objects of netsuke forming half of 3,000 objects acquired in the last decade of the 19th century. She also started enlarging her house by raising the height of the communal areas and that of the rear courtyard. ‘From around 1891, Clemence and Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery applied for an extension of the building. Two more galleries were then erected on the courtyard side,’ Madame Bayou tells us. ‘The architectural style of these spaces – when now viewed from the inside – is quite different. The gallery spaces seem to have been enlarged, and were gradually adapted for exhibition. All these rooms hold what might now be considered the three main galleries (the first one in a private room style, followed by two others dating back from the 1890s). In them, the famous French cabinetmaker, Gabriel Viardot who interpreted Chinese and Japanese furniture models and adapted them to 19th-century European taste, had designed custom-made glass and wood showcases encrusted with mother-of-pearl to display all the works. Fantastic Japanese procession masks are hung on the red silk walls in the second gallery, providing the general atmosphere of the place, which probably reflected the Madame d’Ennery’s taste for mythology.’
The Musée d’Ennery was created by a donation made to the state by the d’Ennerys and was inaugurated on 27 May 1908 at the house built by Madame d’Ennery. From the very beginning, the collection and the building were placed under the aegis of the Musée Guimet. Madame d’Ennery’s collection contains Chinese stoneware and porcelain from the Yuan (1279-1368); the oldest piece being a Yuan celadon plate with motifs of fish in terracotta red. Her blue and white Ming (1368-1644) wares are mostly vases decorated with finely executed exploits and scenes from Chinese literature, myth and legend. Some of her Ming wares were mounted with typical gilt bronze ornaments after they arrived in Europe.
The Qing (1644-1911) wares are representative of Chinese ceramic production from the 17th to the 19th centuries, covering the entire range of familles vertes and familles roses and turquoise, yellow and green as well as white porcelain associated with Manchu China. A few rare Chinese lacquer pieces, among them small exquisite red lacquer dishes, probably from the end of 14th century, and typical Beijing-style Ming lacquerware might be found.
Accoutrements of scholar’s art from the Ming onwards, such as seals and jades, and decorative objects exquisitely carved from rhinoceros horn, bamboo and wood as well as scholar’s rocks also form a large part of her collection. Japanese porcelain of the Edo (1615-1868) period are reflected by varied Kakiemon and Imari specimens of the 17th and 18th centuries. Japanese masks from the Kamakura (1185-1333) period vie with lacquer and Namban cabinets and chests from Momoyama (1573-1615) times. However it is the 1,500 objects of very fine Tokugawa period netsuke that form the core of Madame d’Ennery’s Japanese collection, dotted among which are rare specimens of Japanese Buddhist sculpture of the same period.
‘The Musée d’Ennery was closed in 1996 because of its problems with technical installations such as electricity, and also due to the structural fragility of some of its areas opened to the public – the floor for example. For these reasons, the museum space was no longer opened to the public at large, but researchers, students, teachers and a few select visitors continued to be received occasionally by special appointment during all these years,’ says Madame Bayou. Referring to the refurbishment, she adds: ‘All renovation work, within the building itself and its interior decoration, was faithfully thought out, in order to offer to the public of today, a true representation of what the collection and the museum itself was at the very beginning of 20th century. We have tried, as far as possible, to carefully respect and retain the original choice of colours on the walls and in the design of the display. The original layout of the pieces of furniture and the arrangement in the showcases – particularly of Clemence d’Ennery’s netsuke – has not been changed.’
‘The galleries as they are now presented are therefore really very close in spirit and content to what they originally were when the place first became a museum, after about two years of very slight alterations,’ Madame Bayou goes on to say. ‘It means that what you literally see is a private house – that was still the case until 1899, when Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery died, a few months after his wife – as well as a public museum, a kind of maison-musée, ‘house museum’, where the deep imprints and personalities of the collectors and their tastes and passions, are still evident.’ BY YVONNE TAN
The Musée d’Ennery is at 59 Avenue Foch, 75116 Paris. www.guimet.fr