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21/03/2022 Collectionneurs, collecteurs et marchands d'art asiatique en France 1700-1939

Biographical article

Jules Claine was born on 31 July 1856 into a rural, generally working class milieu. His father was a tool sharpener, who was probably an itinerant craftsman in the Esternay (Marne) area. His mother was a couturière and his paternal uncle was a plasterer in Sannois (Val-d’Oise) (AD 51, 2 E 264/4, certificate no. 3). Nothing about his origins predestined his future career, not even his training as a painter, which he completed at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Some works from this period are held in the Musée d’Épernay, in particular a very small format work representing an apple, which he dedicated to his mother (Épernay, Musée du vin de Champagne et d’Archéologie régionale (MCAE), 936.01.519; 936.01.524).

A period of short trips (1876–1889)

The biographical elements that can be associated with this period are rare. The first significant point was that he was exempted from military service due to his mother’s widowhood. The second was that of his marriage, on 10 November 1877, at the Mairie of the fifth arrondissement of Paris, with Clarisse Berthe Lepage (1858–1899) (AP, V4E 3044, act 764). She was the daughter of the Montmartre painter Charles Edmond Constant Lepage. The third was that he worked as a photographer at the time. Since the completion of his studies he had always been close to the artistic milieu, where he established some close friendships, in particular with the painter Pierre Tullon (1851?–…), who was one of the witnesses at his wedding. He is known to have been friends with the sculptor Charles Joseph Roufosse (1853–1901), who was the author, in 1891, of the bust of Jules Claine (MCAE, without an inv. no.), as well as the draughtsman Gaspard Edmond Lavratte (1829–1888). Little is known about how he made a living during this period, except for the sale of some photos (The Boston Journal, MCAE 936.01.538) and perhaps some remuneration for his conferences. Yet, according to the annotations on the back of his portrait, which was given in 1890 to the Société de Géographie in Paris (BNF, P. no. 2041), he wrote that he had travelled—in Algeria (1883), Great Britain, and Belgium (1884), and then in Mexico, where he even carried out archaeological excavations (1884)—and had travelled on several occasions around North America (the United States and/or Canada) between 1885 and 1886. Then he went to Mexico (1888–1889 and 1892) and to the Spanish Antilles (1890 and 1891). Sometimes, he is mentioned as having travelled in Egypt (Perret, D., 2018), but as far as we are concerned this cannot be confirmed. Jules Claine was a member of the Société de Géographie de Paris circa 1889. This unknown period came to an end just a few years after his separation from his wife—the divorce was pronounced on 19 December 1887. One might surmise that this rupture was one of the consequences of the events described above.

The stay with the Batak of Sumatra (June 1890–June 1891)

The many trips he undertook without notes and accounts made Claine more of an adventurer than an explorer, a title he attributed to himself after 1891. Whatever the case, his stay in Sumatra was a voyage he was truly proud of. Even if one knows nothing about his motivations, the aim of the trip was gather information about populations that were relatively unknown at the time: the Batak. It is unknown whether he was given a mission or benefitted from assistance for this journey, which began at the end of June 1890 in Singapore after leaving Paris in May. He published four slightly divergent versions between the second semester of 1891 and autumn 1892. One of them, which was published in the Tour du monde, was very soon translated into Dutch and resulted in a controversy with C. J. Westenberg, the first Controller for Batak affairs (Perret, D., 2018). This was not the only grey area and, according to Perret, there was a long unclear period during this one-year stay. In the same article (Perret, D., 2018), the author presumes, quite correctly, that not all of the objects brought back from the north of Sumatra were integrated into the collections of the Musée du Trocadéro. Indeed, objects in the Épernay collections can be identified in the illustration on page 376 of the Tour du monde.

Upon his return, Jules Claine made the most of his journey when he took part in the International Congress of Orientalists held in London on 3 September 1891. Here, he met Émile Cartailhac and, on 14 October, Claine sent him forty photographs and his portrait, asking him to intercede on his behalf with Monsieur Quatrefages to enable him to take part in the mission he wished to undertake: that of Crampel. In the same letter, he asked Cartailhac to organise his conferences at the Société de Géographie in Toulouse and Bordeaux (municipal archives (AM) Toulouse, 92Z–172/1). At the same time, on 5 November, he became a member of the Société d’Anthropologie in Paris. Claine brilliantly managed, but not without ulterior motives, the career that followed his trip. A passage from the report of the conference he gave on 10 February 1892 at the Société de Géographie de Paris sheds light on the diplomatic career he embarked on in 1894: ‘In his accounts of his travels, Mr Claine includes a great deal of economic information about the countries he has visited’. It goes on to say: ‘He has also studied the commercial aspects and outlines some of the reasons for which, in his opinion, French traffic in Malaysia is insignificant’ (Bulletin of the Société de Géographie, 1892, pp. 498–499). Still drawn to his love of travel, he organised, apparently unsuccessfully, a project to explore the countries of Souambé and Ouorodougou (ANOM, FR ANOM 50COL8). And in 1892, he travelled again to Mexico, Porto Rico, and Cuba.

His diplomatic career (1894–1918)

It was no doubt as a result of his acute grasp of the economic, commercial, and cultural characteristics of the countries he visited that Jules Claine was offered the post of Vice-Consul at Fort-Dauphin (Madagascar) shortly after his second marriage—which was held on 11 January 1894 in Paris—with a poetess and writer, Jensina Elisa Vilhelmina Gernandt, known as Jane (1862–1944). A revolt prevented him from taking up his first post. In October of that year, he was offered a post in the agency of Port Elizabeth, in South Africa, where he was responsible for the surveillance of contraband. After this mission came to an end at the beginning of 1896, it was in May of the same year that he was posted to Rosario, in Argentina (AN, LH/19800035/119/15028). His initiatives to combat the plague in the general population were noted. In February 1900, he was given another post in the same country at La Plata. From an economical viewpoint, it enabled the Institut Pasteur to develop the vaccinations market. Then, in November of the same year, the ministry gave him a post at Rangoon (Burma), where he remained until 1903. In his spare time he collected objects to adorn the interior of his house. His mastery of English enabled him to translate into French the Treatise on Elephants by G. H. Evans (Evans, G. H., 1904). He was then sent to Baku, where his endeavours to help the French and the Armenians were noted. He and his wife witnessed the revolt and attacks on the Tsarist authorities. From 1906 to July 1909, it was in Corfu, where he was consul, that he promoted the development of the French language and culture. His last post was in Helsinki (1909–1916), where he was responsible for the relations between Finland and France, in the heart of a country that was very Germanophile at the time. For health reasons due to a serious illness he was obliged to take a break before being able to exercise his pension rights on 11 January 1918.

After this date, he continued to take an interest in various scientific disciplines: in 1921, he became a member of the Société des Américanistes, in 1922, the Société Préhistorique Française, and, in 1924, the Association Française pour l’Avancement des Sciences; the same year, he attended the Anthropological Congress held in Prague. In 1936, he offered his collections to the Ville d’Épernay, which accepted his donation, awarding him honorary citizenship on 26 December, and opening a room in tribute to him to house his donation (AME, 1 D 65), which was shared between the Musée and the Médiathèque (Interbibly, 1991). His wife donated a volume that resembles a pressbook (Dellatolas, M., 2012) to the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, in Paris. Jules Claine passed away in Paris on Thursday 7 September 1939 and was buried in the Vaugirard Cemetery. Subsequently, Jane Gernandt had his body transferred to Chinon (Indre-et-Loire), where they now both lie.

Jules Claine’s life was not really that of an explorer or scientist, but rather that of an adventurer who recounted his travels and mainly his journey to Sumatra. Subsequently, he benefitted from favourable circumstances that enabled him to fulfil his passion for travel by becoming a diplomat. Throughout his travels and after the trip of 1890–1891, he acquired objects, often in non-identical pairs, to assemble a documentary collection, which started out as educational, and became ethnographic over time, but which suffered cruelly from a lack of documentation.

Claine, the collector

From his very first travels, Jules Claine brought back what could be described as everyday objects. A good example is an Amerindian artisanal frame made from silver birch intended to provide a decorative setting for a colour postcard. The choice of this artefact, which was more decorative than meaningful, was no doubt motivated by the additional presence of a miniature representation of a canoe, which is attached to the lower section of the frame. Such an object associates the concept of ‘American Indians’ with their river travel. For Claine, it also attested to the wood crafts practised by the North American populations. It was all at once the reflection of an image, a photo, and the expression of a desire to demonstrate a particular skill—and this was in a way typical of the approach that prevailed throughout the years Jules Claine spent collecting.

However, the collection acquired during his stay in Indonesia and Malaysia attests to a more profound approach, that of a man who wished to serve his country by bringing back documents of all kinds that would enrich the French museums (whence the collections of natural sciences for the museum, and religious objects for the Musée Guimet and the Trocadéro). In our opinion, it was these initiatives that partly justified his use of the word ‘explorer’, which he also justified by the risks taken during his travels. Unfortunately, his diplomatic career led him into the field of photographic illustration. There are many examples: the bolas of the Argentinian gauchos or the panoplies of weapons of the Cafre people. He diversified his approach by looking for ethnographic objects, which were all around him when he returned to South-East Asia¾cultures which remained the most attractive for him, and which his home was even decorated with. His eclecticism occasionally led him to collect objects of historic importance, such as flint objects carved in obsidian from Mexico, and a bell that he claimed dated from the thirteenth century, which came from a Burmese temple. These objects reflected his love of archaeology, history, ethnography, and this was echoed by his membership of certain scientific societies. Curiously, he did not manage or was not able to profit from this. Perhaps this resulted from the fact that he was self-taught. We also know that the speeches given during the many conferences he held were illustrated by the presentation of original articles and that probably explains the need to acquire objects.

Although he demonstrated his patriotism during his active period in the service of France, he made no donations to museums. He assembled a collection with exotic characteristics for the Metropolitan Museum with, as a backdrop—it must be admitted—, an attachment to the colonialist spirit of the times, as evoked by the lost fragment of the tree under which, as legend has it, Cortés wept; and by the rather morbid acquisition of the official (British) hanging rope in Burma. The collection Claine assembled was therefore the exact reflection of the man he was and who only ever scratched the surface of the various cultures he came into contact with, and even¾due to his casual approach and a certain amateurism¾caused disquiet with his activities, such as the controversy that ensued after his voyage in Indonesia.

During his travels, he assembled collections which were donated to many institutions. Between 1885 and 1916, Jules Claine collected ethnographic objects, weapons, and everyday objects in all the countries where he stayed or worked (the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentine, South Africa, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Caucasus, Sweden, and Finland). The objects he brought back from his missions were donated to museums and his private collection given to the Ville d’Épernay in 1936. He collected objects for himself, often in sets of two but which were not identical, for their educational value. He did not attempt to illustrate his travels, his collection, or his sojourns as a consular representative. The last paper elements were given by his wife before 1944 to the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (Dellatolas, M., 2012), where they feature in the Nordic collection. This biographical volume was begun in 1890 and comprises many biographical documents (letters, newspapers, invitation cards, conferences, etc.). The Claine Collection focuses rather on the life and career of a young adventurer who described himself more as an explorer and then as a diplomat rather than an ethnographer and scientist.

The collection

  • The Musée du Trocadéro: ethnographic collections assembled in Sumatra during his stay with the Batak Karo community.
  • The Musée Guimet: religious collections from Siam and Burma and at least two manuscripts.
  • The Société d’anthropologie de Paris: collection of photographs.
  • The Muséum national d’histoire naturelle: collections of living or dead birds from Malaysia, collections of Coleoptera and Lepidoptera, small mammals, and reptiles from South Africa and North America. Collections of precious stones from Burma.
  • The city of Epernay (museum and library): 125 African articles, fifty-four from Malaysia, twenty-two from South-East Asia, and objects from North and South America, as well as personal objects, such as his Burman salon, photographs, the manuscript of an article, and his wife’s books.
  • The Bibliothèque Sainte–Geneviève: pressbook album.