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Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum acquires innovative gallery for African and Oceanic Art

Special Gallery Space designed by Jean Nouvel for the De Lacharrière Collection at Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum to be inaugurated on 24 March 2021

1 Mars 2021 - 16:45

Donation of 36 Pieces of De Lacharrière’s personal collection

Collector of African and Oceanic art and French patron of the arts, industrialist Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière of the FIMALAC group, officially donated 36 pieces of his collection (valued at over 50 Million Euro) to the museum on 15 February, 2018 in honor of his long friendship with Jacques Chirac.

The 80 year-old donor specified that he would finance a special gallery space within the museum designed by noted architect Jean Nouvel. This contains two specific sections : one for the permanent display of the De Lacharrière collection (including the 36 pieces) and the other for temporary exhibitions of African and Oceanic Art. Jean Nouvel conceived of an innovative method of show cases posed on bi-colored wooden floors to underline the beauty of the objects.

Declaration of Emmanuel Kasarhérou, president of Quai-Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum since 2020

Emmanuel Kasarhérou, president of the museum Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, declared that the donation added considerably to the scientific importance of the museum’s permanent collections. Kasarhérou also thanked Lacharrière’s generosity in contributing 200,000 Euro annually for five years towards temporary shows in the new gallery.

Feminine figure, Lwena Tschokwé, Angola, 19th century, wood, copper alloy, glass pearls, 15cm high, donated by Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière © musée du Quay Branly - Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.
Feminine figure, Lwena Tschokwé, Angola, 19th century, wood, copper alloy, glass pearls, 15cm high, donated by Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière © musée du Quay Branly - Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.

Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière’s collection of African and Oceanic Art

Since 2005, Lacharrière, established an internationally significant collection of African and Oceanic works, mainly of a varied range of statues such as the Protective Statue of Nkishi Songye (19th century Central Kalebwe, Democratic Republic of Congo), Senofou Seated Maternity (Northern region, Ivory Coast, before 1952) or the Seated Masculine Baoulé statue (19th century Ivory Coast).

In the new gallery itself, an important iconography bank of visual images pertaining to the collection is available digitally, together with multi-media content about the origin of the artefacts, maps and filmed accounts. The information completes general knowledge about the cultural background of the objects on view.

Masculine Statue, 92cm, Gbaya, Oubangui, Central Africa, Second half of 19th century, wood, donated by Marc Ladreit © Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.
Masculine Statue, 92cm, Gbaya, Oubangui, Central Africa, Second half of 19th century, wood, donated by Marc Ladreit © Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.

Focusing on 5 important pieces of the collection

Songye Nkishi statue

Songye Nkishi protective statues (plural : mankishi) serve as mediators in magical-religious rites to promote healing, fertility, good luck and protection. These anamorphic and masculine statues with symbols relating to myths of origin as offerings favor connection with ancestors and spirits. Smaller versions are employed in household ceremonies, whereas large ones are confided to village guardians. The nkishi statue is the fruit of work of excellent sculptors together with the divine healer endowed with supernatural powers (nganga). Special attention is paid to representing the senses such as hearing or smell, and embellishments like feathers, animal skins or metal ornaments. The main Songye Nkishi statue acquired by De Lacharrière came from a series of six found by Dr. Lucien van Hoorde in Elisabethville in 1934-1935, originally from the Kalebwe people of Central Democratic Republic of Congo, in the 19th century.

Ndoma Baule mask

The most emblematic Baoule wooden masks are Ndoma masks (portrait masks) that honor an important personality, whether alive or dead. Ndoma signifies a copy, or equivalent, made to exalt the physical qualities and moral values of that person. These masks concluded ceremonies and ritual dances of the Baoule population of the Republic of the Ivory Coast. Conceived to honor invisible secondary divinities (amwin) which regulate human interaction as a measure of protection, the ndoma masks were the last to be worn at dusk in villages, usually accompanied by the person thus glorified, or a representative wearing his clothes. The main mask acquired by Lacharrière came from the collection of René Rasmussen, a close friend of Tristan Tzara and André Breton and was made in the 19th century. The polished wooden mask displays an elaborate hair-do, a delicate profile, high forehead, huge eyes set in a fine oval face and a delicately braided beard of vegetable fibers.

Seated Senoufa maternity figure

The seated wooden Senoufo maternity figure, breast-feeding her two newly-born babies attests to the fundamental role of women in arts of the Ivory Coast. 50 Senoufo sub-groups stretch from Southern Mali, South-East Burkina Faso, Northern Ivory Coast and North-West Ghana. Various suppositions point to the fact that such statues may have played an important part in anti-witchcraft and divinatory rituals. The powerful sensuality displayed in these statues glorify the female mother figure which nourishes, fertilizes and creates, thus  assuring the continuing existence of the community.This particular seated Senoufa maternity figure was discovered by Swiss Emil Storrer at the beginning of the 1950s and was brought back to Switzerland together with other remarkable Senoufa statuary saved from being abandoned or destroyed because of their supposed connection with sorcellery. The statue was then bought by Josef Mueller and at his death in 1977 joined the collections of the newly founded Barbier-Mueller Museum. Later still, Lacharrière acquired the statue for his collection.

Eyema-Byeri guardian statue of reliquary

The ‘eyema-byeri’ guardian of reliquary, is a masculine statue of Fang origin representing an ancestral figure employed in the cult of ancestors. Placed on a cylindrical box made of bark which contained relics of the most illustrious ancestors of the lineage, besides jewelry, plants or other magical elements. The Fang people believed that prosperity, fertility and wealth of the community depended on clan ancestors or noble lineage. The vast area occupied by the Fang stretches over equatorial Atlantic Africa, between the south of the Republic of Cameroun, the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, the north of the Republic of Gabon and the Republic of Congo. The Guardian statue, acquired by De Lacharrière resembles two other statues from the Betsi group in Gabon of the southern Fang region brought to Europe in the 1920s and found in Paris at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and in a private collection formerly belonging to Roger Tual.

The male figure displays large protruding ears denoting the ability to perceive the inaudible voices of the ancestors replying to the invocations of the living. The folded arms and the hands holding the cup of libations are witnesses to the sculptural ability of the craftsman. Such statues are possibly connected to birth rituals and the cycle of life and death. The piece acquired by Lacharrière was originally part of the painter Georges de Miré’s collection bought by Nico Mazarki in 1931, and much later by Adam Lindemann. This particular piece is placed on a wooden pedestal fabricated by the famous Japanese cabinet maker ‘Yoshio’ who made such signed pedestals for other artefacts of non-European origin for many famous French antique dealers between 1910 – 1951.

‘Marada Malagan’ monumental head mask

The monumental head masks ‘marada malagan’ used in magic rituals invoking rain on the Tabar islands and Northern New Ireland are extremely rare, only about fifteen are mentioned in official documentation. The masks were fabricated for funeral ceremonies where rain was invoked to produce abundant crops for the expensive ceremonies. Rigorously supervised during each stage of production, such sculptural heads only served once and were either destroyed or thrown away after the funeral. Painted in black, with a crest that covered the skull and descended to the nose with a large open mouth displaying clenched teeth, this particular example was brought back from the Tabar Islands, Bismarck archipelago by Pierre Langlois and eventually landed in the collection of New Yorkers Bill and Anne Ziff before being acquired by Lacharrière in 2015.

Next temporary exhibition

The next temporary exhibition is that by Fondation Dapper about the universe of contemporary artist Barthélemy Toguo from Cameroon. Entitled ‘Désirs d’humanité, les univers de Bathélemy Toguo’, the show largely inspired by Toguo’s relationship with ancient African works of art, will run from 6th April until 5th December 2021.

Collection Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière - Donation au Musée du Quai Branly

Mots-clés de l'article : afrique, musée du quai branly, océanie

Kunang Helmi-Picard
Fatma Kunang Helmi was born in Yogjakarta, Indonesia. Education in Switzerland, Australia and... En savoir plus sur cet auteur

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