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Utamaro print representing a grasshopper among pink and purple flowers.

UJFALVY Charles-Eugène and Marie de (EN)

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

Biographical article


Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy (pronounced Wefalvy and comes from Magyar 'Uj', new, novel, and 'falvy' from 'falu', village (Ujfalvy-Bourdon M., 1880, p. 1)) was born on 16 May 1842 in Vienna. Of Hungarian nationality, his parents were Samuel III de Ujfalvy, an officer in the Austrian imperial army, and Thérèse Huszár, a baroness.


After completing his military studies in Transylvania, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy became a doctor of philosophy in Germany, then associate professor of German in France.


It was in Paris that he met Clarice Virginie Marie Bourdon, born in Chartres on 12 January 1842: the wedding was held on 29 April 1868 at the Mairie of the eleventh arrondissement. Marie Bourdon, ‘well educated and intellectually curious, (…) loves geography. (…) she is clearly more interested in science, travel, and literature than the family vocation. (…) / (…) Marie (…) strives to facilitate her husband’s social relations. She is perfectly successful in this endeavour as she is not lacking in grace, social skills, or tact. In short, for Charles de Ujfalvy, the ambitious intellectual, she is the best wife he could ever have hoped for.’ (Le Calloc’h, B., 1986, p. 301).

An initial collaboration with the French Ministry of Public Instruction

Alongside his teaching work, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy published works of general interest in the fields of Hungarian history and literature, a country that was little known in France at the time, but which attracted curiosity due to its union with the Austrian Empire after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. These works attracted the attention of the French Ministry for Public Instruction, which decided to send him to Austria-Hungary in July 1872 to study its education system. Indeed, the Ministry ‘began to consider introducing major reforms that eventually resulted in the Jules Ferry education laws, and appreciated the extent to which the Austrian education system was known for its effectiveness’ (Le Calloc’h, B., 1987, p. 10).

The question of the origins of peoples

Aside from his work relating to Hungary, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy was fascinated by the subject of the origins of peoples. He based his study on linguistic ethnography, which classifies peoples according to their language, and on anthropology, which traces the true history of a people. Hence, Central Asia, which had been opened up to France since 1870, attracted much attention at the time, as it was considered the cradle of humanity.

The first scientific mission, 1876–1877

As he wished to study the issue of the genealogy of peoples in the field, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy presented on 1 May 1876 at the French Ministry for Public Instruction a project to go on a mission to Central Asia, which was validated by a decree issued on 10 July that year. The aim of the expedition was to ‘explore part of Central Asia and the Pamir Plateau between the Himalayan region and the Shian-Shen from the perspective of its geography, anthropology, and ethnography’ (AN, F/17/3011); and ‘all the objects sent back as a result of the mission’ (AN, F/17/3011) had to be transferred to the Ministry for Public Instruction. Upon his return to France after travelling in Russia, Siberia, and Turkestan, and as a reward for his work, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur on 9 February 1878. On 19 June 1878, he was admitted to domicile (‘admis à domicile’), ‘a prerequisite for attaining French nationality’ at the time. By a decree dated 11 October 1878, he was ‘exceptionally’ granted French citizenship (Le Calloc'h, B., 1986–1987, p. 32).

The second scientific mission, 1880–1881

‘To complete the studies conducted on the first occasion and take the investigations further than before, to the region of ancient Bactria’ (Ujfalvy, Ch.-E., 1880, p. VIII), Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy approached the French Ministry for Public Instruction on 1 November 1879, with the aim of carrying out a second mission. The planned expedition, which was to last three years, would involve travel in ‘Southern Russia, the Caucasus, Armenia, north-west Persia, the country of the Turkomans, the basin of the upper Oxus & Afghan Turkestan, with the Pamir Plateau as the ultimate objective’ (AN, F/17/3011). The project, from which the Caucasus was removed, was validated by a mission decree dated 29 July 1880. Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy was the victim of an accident near the Aral Sea on 4 February 1881, and was obliged to interrupt his travels and return to Paris. Regarded in suspicion by the Ministry for Public Instruction after hearing negative accounts by the photographer and the geologist who were part of the expedition, as well as that of the Governor of Samarkand, his mission was terminated on 29 March 1881.

The third trip, 1881

On 2 April 1881, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy indicated that he intended to resume his previous mission at his own risk, no longer subject to ministerial decree. Between April and November 1881, he travelled to the Indies, Cashmere, and Little Tibet; he offered to give the Ministry the objects he had collected in these regions on 23 November 1881.

At the end of 1884, suffering from blindness, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy was forced to abandon the various posts he occupied. He moved to Lausanne, then Nice in 1890, before going to Florence, where he stayed in 1896. He died in the city on 31 January 1904, and was followed by Marie de Ujfalvy-Bourdon on 3 August of that year.

The collection

Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s collection mostly comprises ethnographic objects brought back from his scientific exploration missions, which were conducted between 1876 and 1881.

Exhibitions held during Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s lifetime

Between 23 January and 1 March 1878, a museum located on the first floor of the Palais de l'Industrie presented objects brought back from the latest exploration missions. Twelve objects collected by Charles-Eugène de Ujfaly in 1877 were exhibited, including enamelled tiles, an Uzbek horse rider’s costume, and a fragment of Tamerlane’s tomb; the objects were subsequently added to the collection of the Musée d'Ethnographie in the Palais du Trocadéro, and were given the inventory no. 80.6296. In 1878 again, the objects brought back from Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s first mission were displayed in the Palais du Champ-de-Mars, in the French section of the Exposition Universelle. In the room devoted to scientific missions, the French Ministry of Public Instruction had two exhibition areas set aside for Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy: ten showcases presented sixty-four objects, including a map, photographs, bricks, and so on. In January 1882, Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy exhibited at the Hôtel de la Société de Géographie, located at 184 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 627 objects from Cashmere and Little Tibet—places he visited on his third trip—, as well as six ewers from Turkestan, half of which were loaned by the Musée d’Ethnographie in the Trocadéro. The ensemble (apart from a few articles), comprising objects he had bought from his own funds, as well as donations from the Maharajah of Cashmere, was offered to the French state. Lastly, in 1893, the Musée Guimet in Paris, as part of the ‘Exposition des voyages et explorations scientifiques en Asie’ conducted by the Ministry of Public Instruction, displayed objects collected by Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy in Central Asia.

A sale held during Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s lifetime

During Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s second mission, he incurred a debt with General Kauffmann, who held a post in Tashkent. Upon the death of the latter, his heirs requested the reimbursement of the debt. Hence, the French state decided to sell the collection held in the Musée du Trocadéro, consisting of jewellery, costumes, and objects brought back by Charles-Eugène de Ujfaly from his third expedition, except for the articles that had been offered to France by the Maharajah of Cashmere. The collection was sold on 14 December 1883; the French State gained a mere 161.75 francs from the sale.

The Ujfalvy collection in contemporary museums

The following museums hold objects brought back from Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s travels: the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, the Musée d’Ethnographie in the University of Bordeaux, the Musée du Quai-Branly – Jacques Chirac, the Musée de l’Homme, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and the Musée de Sèvres – Cité de la Céramique (Thénint, M-A., 2016).

The Musée Guimet

The Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet still holds in its collections six objects brought back to France by Charles-Eugène de Ujfaly.

The Musée d’Ethnographie in the University of Bordeaux

In 1890, the Ministry of Public Instruction transferred the Asian Collection in the Musée d'Ethnographie in the Trocadéro to the Musée Guimet in Paris, which comprised objects brought back by Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy from Central Asia. In 1904, the Musée Guimet transferred objects to the Musée des Études Coloniales in the faculty of medicine and pharmacy in Bordeaux, which now possesses seventy-five items associated with Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy (provenance: Central Asia and Altay).

The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Musée Guimet in Paris transferred 120 objects from Ujfalvy’s explorations on permanent loan: half of them went to the Musée Guimet in Lyon, which was inaugurated in 1913. In 1968, the museum was closed to the public and its collections distributed between the Musée Gallo-Romain, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and the Muséum (whose collections are now in the Musée des Confluences). The Musée des Beaux-Arts holds in its collections Timurid architectural fragments brought back from Ujfalvy’s missions (see the exhibition catalogue Islamophilies: l’Europe moderne et les arts de l’Islam, for the exhibition held in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon from 2 April to 4 July 2011).

The Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

In 1930, the Musée Guimet returned its Asian objects to the Musée d’Ethnographie in the Trocadéro, which in 1937 became the Musée de l’Homme. In 1943, 624 objects, including ‘parts of the collections from Ujfalvy’s mission in Samarkand’, were transferred to the Musée de l’Homme. In 1962, 129 objects acquired between 1888 and 1911, originating from China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, and French Indo-China, were transferred; these included works brought back from Central Asia by Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy. The collections in the Musée du Quai Branly, which opened in 2006, were made up, amongst others, of those from the Musée de l’Homme. Hence, the thirty-nine objects from Ujfalvy’s missions currently held in the Musée du Quai Branly came from the Musée de l’Homme’s Asia and Arctic sections.

The Musée de l’Homme

The Musée de l'Homme currently holds in its stores seventy-six skulls from Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy’s missions; some of the skulls were given by the ethnologist to the Société d’Anthropologie, which, in 1951, with a few exceptions, gave its entire collection to the Musée de l’Homme.

The Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris

The Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris also holds seventy-six skulls, just over half of which also came from the Société d’Anthropologie.

The Musée de Sèvres – Cité de la Céramique

The museum possesses seven objects that belonged to Charles-Eugène de Ujfalvy: five tiles, a brick, and a bust of Napoleon I.

The Société de Géographie

The photographic collections are held in the Société de Géographie