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Henri Cernuschi

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Henri Cernuschi was a French traveler and art collector known for the Musee Cernuschi in Paris which today houses and displays his collection.

Fleeing the instability and danger of the revolutionary socialist uprising known as the Paris Commune, Cernuschi traveled to Japan, China, Mongolia, Java, and India in 1871 with Theodore Duret. Taking advantage of the economic and cultural circumstances of these early years after the Meiji Restoration (and of the anti-Buddhism policies of the Meiji government), the two amassed considerable collections of Asian objects during their time in Asia. While Duret focused on woodblock prints and illustrated books, Cernuschi took a particular interest in bronzes. One of the jewels of his collection is a 17th century bronze Buddha, roughly four meters tall, purchased from a temple in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo; after reaching a settlement with the head of the temple and arranging to have the sculpture dismantled and shipped to France, for days local people came to him begging for the return of their precious icon. Cernuschi refused, or simply delayed, until it was too late, and the Buddha was already gone.

Duret wrote of his experiences and impressions in Voyage en Asie, published in 1874. Meanwhile, in 1873, following their return to France the previous December, Cernuschi put his collection of roughly 1000 objects on display at the Palace of Industry on the Champs-Elysee; this was the largest exhibition that city had yet seen of exotic objects from a single individual's private collection. Some of the most prominent art critics and other cultural figures of the time, including Ernest Cherneaux, saw the collection and commented upon it.

Cernuschi then had a new mansion built, in which he both housed his collection and took up residence himself. There, he held numerous banquets, costume balls, and the like, surrounding himself and his guests with exotic objects from his collection. Upon his death in 1896, Cernuschi's coffin was displayed in that same dining room, under the watchful eyes of the Meguro Buddha. In his will, he bequeathed the mansion and its contents to the city of Paris, and made arrangements for it to be turned into a museum of Asian art, a museum which still operates today.

References

  • Ting Chang, "Collecting Asia: Théodore Duret’s Voyage En Asie and Henri Cernuschi’s Museum." Oxford Art Journal 25:1 (January 1, 2002), 17-34.
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