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Utamaro print representing a grasshopper among pink and purple flowers.

ALLARD Jean-Baptiste d' (EN)

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

This biographical article is based on the book Jean-Baptiste d’Allard 1769-1848: une vie forézienne et son héritage by Benjamin Gurcel (Gurcel, B., 2018), which focuses mainly on the collection in the departmental archives of the Loire département (AD 42, 26JDEM).

Birth and youth

Born into a wealthy family belonging to the minor nobility in Le Forez, Jean-Baptiste d’Allard (1769–1848) lost his parents when he was still a young child. Entrusted to the care of a nursemaid and subsequently a priest, and ultimately to the Oratorian schools at Forez and Lyon, he was brought up under the strict protection of a court-appointed guardian. Despite his early interest in literature, he was a rather subversive and mediocre pupil; he joined the army at the age of sixteen, serving in the Dragoon Cavalry Regiment based in Orléans. In this context, living in Brittany, he lived through the early stages of the Revolution, from the convocation of the Provincial Estates right at the end of 1788 and over subsequent months.

Emancipation and Revolution

In December 1789, having obtained his emancipation and finally recovered the family estates, he left the army and settled in Forez. His loyalties at the outbreak of the Revolution remain unclear, but gradually he came to support the royalists, taking part in the siege of Lyon in the autumn of 1793, and thereafter attempting to emigrate with a false identity the following year. The final years of the eighteenth century seem to have been less chaotic. In 1796, he married Marie Pierrette de Saint-Colombe (1771–1846), the former Canoness and Comtesse of the Convent of Alix in Beaujolais, who bore him no children. The couple was living in the family residence of the Château de la Pierre, in the hills of Forez, then gradually moved into the house in the Grande-Rue in Montbrison in the first years of the nineteenth century.

The life of an annuitant

In 1812, after purchasing a great deal of land, beyond the ancient ramparts of Montbrison that had just been demolished, Jean-Baptiste d’Allard began work on building a private mansion with a courtyard and garden. He had a boundless passion for his park and even more so for his cabinet of natural history and curiosities, which was installed in the mansard attic of his vast residence. Henceforth, Jean-Baptiste d’Allard mainly focused on running his house, and managing his park and cabinet, as well as on the administration of his estates and loaning and investing his money. However, he was also involved politically on a local level, and was appointed a member of the General Council of the Loire département during the Restauration (1815–1830) and member of the Municipal Council of Montbrison during the July Monarchy (1830–1848). But, with age, he focused mainly on charitable work in the town. Hence, in 1820, he donated several of his agricultural estates to the hospices of Montbrison. But, his most important charitable contribution related to the foundation of an establishment for welcoming, accommodating, feeding, and educating poor girls from the town and region. This house of Providence was, along with his own residence, garden, and cabinet, the most long-lasting bequest made by Jean-Baptiste d’Allard to Montbrison, as the establishment—even though it underwent various changes—still existed at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The organisation of the cabinet

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jean-Baptiste d’Allard devoted himself to creating his natural history and curiosities cabinet. Comprising sixteen thousand specimens (MALL, registers of inventories), it was divided into several galleries according to the usual classifications of the era: the mineral and plant kingdom, the animal kingdom (water, air, and earth), and the human kingdom (Hedde, P., Notice sur le cabinet d’histoire naturelle de M. d’Allard à Montbrison, 1835). This last section contains the anatomical collections (skeletons, mummies, ‘écorché’ (flayed) anatomical models, the system of craniology by Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–1832), as well as extra-European ethnographic objects and industrial products produced in the Loire (from the mining industry, and the manufacture of weapons, fabrics, and ribbons).

Characteristics of the assembled works

Although extra-European objects were indispensable in most eighteenth-century natural history cabinets (Lacour, P.-Y., 2014, p. 161), Jean-Baptiste d’Allard did not seem to actively develop this aspect of his collection. Unlike the naturalia, which had detailed descriptions in major registers of inventories, ethnographic objects were only recorded in a later inventory dating from the beginning of the twentieth century (MALL, registers of inventories). The collection seems to be very heterogenous: containing articles from the Americas, Africa, Oceania, and Asia, it comprises a large proportion of weapons and clothes, as well as various everyday objects such as bags, boxes, fans, and hooks, etc. The Asian collection comprises sixty-six articles (MALL, registers of inventories). A large proportion of it consists of textiles and wickerwork (40%) comprising hats and shoes, as well as many carved ivory objects (23%): boxes, lanterns, and vessels. The rest of the collection consists of some parasols decorated with painted palm leaves (7), weapons (5), lacquered objects (3), a porcelain vase, and various everyday and composite objects. The provenances indicated are mainly China, Japan, Malaysia and India, but these are not necessarily reliable given the many mistaken attributions.

The methods used to assemble the collection

To assemble his collection, Jean-Baptiste d’Allard acquired older cabinets, such as that of his uncle and brother-in-law, the Comte de Fautrières (1733–1813), who was known for his collection of birds and fish (Gurcel, B., 2018). He was in contact with many scientists and naturalists, such as Jules Bourcier (1797–1873), Marie Jacques Philippe Mouton–Fontenille (1769–1837), Louis Dufresne (1752–1832), and Pierre Augustin Hauville, from whom he acquired or exchanged naturalised specimens, minerals, and ethnographic objects (AD 42, 26JDEM). 

Dufresne and the Chinese pavilion

The naturalist Louis Dufresne and Jean-Baptiste d’Allard wrote to one another for several years. He sold him articles from his own collection (mainly stuffed birds and shells), acquiring from him objects in Paris and occasionally traded articles from the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. He even designed a ‘Chinese cabinet’ for him and gave him advice about interior decorations and gave him architectural plans (AD 42, 26JDEM, correspondence between Dufresne and d’Allard, 1817–1819). This cabinet was shaped like a pavilion (now destroyed), which Jean-Baptiste d’Allard constructed in his garden. In 1817, to decorate his cabinet, Dufresne offered him nineteen ‘Chinese objects’ (a lantern, vessels, teapots, an openwork ivory fan, a lacquer box, etc.), which he claimed he purchased during the sale of the Duc de Chaulnes’s collection. The following year, he offered him ‘relatively cheap weapons [and] ornaments of savages’ and in 1819 ‘ivory pictures cut in relief’ (AD 42, 26JDEM, correspondence between Dufresne and d’Allard, 1817–1819).

The collections after d’Allard

Upon his death in 1848, Jean-Baptiste d’Allard bequeathed to the city of Montbrison his cabinet, which he called ‘Musée de la ville’ (AD 42, 26JDEM, 3898, J-B. d’Allard’s will; AC Montbrison, series 1D: 13). As the Mairie did not wish to provide him with premises, he entrusted his cabinet to his servant, Marie Perret, who was responsible for the upkeep of the collections and allowing the general public to access them. The ownership of his house and the garden was transferred to his heir Ludovic de Neufbourg (1805–1881). It was only after the death of the servant in 1880 that the Mairie took over the management of the museum and the residence, which was bought from Ludovic de Neufbourg. When Jean-Baptiste d’Allard bequeathed his natural history cabinet to the town of Montbrison, the objects formerly exhibited in the garden’s pavilion seem to have been repatriated and exhibited in the natural history cabinet on the second floor of his residence (AC Montbrison, series 4W: 59). In the 1970s, the Musée’s curator, Daniel Pouget, began work on the building and refurbished the exhibition areas. Certain Asian ivory articles (fans, vessels, etc.) were placed in the permanent exhibition entitled ‘Poupées du monde’ (‘Dolls from around the world’), which was dismantled in 2007. Furthermore, many objects are on permanent loan to the Musée de Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert, devoted to extra-European objects. Today, some of the extra-European ethnographic objects are exhibited in the permanent exhibition entitled: ‘Jean-Baptiste d’Allard, un chemin de curiosités’ (‘Jean-Baptiste d’Allard, a life of collecting curiosities’), and the entire collection is currently being documented.