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

Biographical article

Antoine Léonard Joseph Delanarde was a Parisian antique dealer who was active at the end of the nineteenth century. He was born on 8 November 1839 in Tours, in the home of his parents, Léonard Delanarde and Marie Célestine Philipeaux. A judgement from the Civil Court of Tours on 22 July 1869 rectified his birth certificate—henceforth his name was separated into three words: De la Narde (AD Indre-et-Loire, 6NUM8/261/153).

Of modest origins, his activity as a businessman is attested in Paris in 1871. According to the Annuaire-almanach du commerce Didot-Bottin of the same year, he was a ‘dealer’ in the Parisian district of the Château-d’Eau. In 1874, his business was called ‘A. de la Narde et Cie’ and it was specified that he was in the imports and exports business. In 1883 this was modified: he was recorded as being based at 14, Rue Saint-Georges and dealing in ‘chinoiseries et japoneries’ (Annuaire-Almanach, 1883, p. 2316). It appears that his activity as a dealer in Japanese and Chinese art began earlier, because on 14 June 1879, Edmond de Goncourt mentioned in his Journal his visit to ‘a new dealer’, Monsieur de la Narde, where he bought Japanese objects. It was in the same Journal that Goncourt wrote on Saturday 29 June 1889 that he had seen L’Origine du Monde by Gustave Courbet (1866, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) at la Narde’s. The latter subsequently sold the work to Louis-Charles-Émile Vial. The context of the work’s arrival in La Narde’s shop is still unknown (Savatier, T., 2006, p. 109, Musée Courbet, 2014, p. 14): his declared specialisation in Asian art does not seem to have stopped him from selling objects from other provenances, such as Courbet’s picture or the four faience panels from Delft that he sold to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs (UCAD) on 1 June 1889 (UCAD archives, C2/13). He was particularly active during the Parisian auctions of Asian art (L. Saint-Raymond, 2019, annex).

La Narde was involved with the Union Centrale, and he loaned works on several occasions for the temporary exhibitions it held (Quette, B., 2018, p. 14; Revue des Arts décoratifs, 1884–1885, p. 101). Active in the major Parisian events, his Japanese collections drew much interest during the 1878 Exposition Universelle (Gasnault, P., 1878, p. 910 and Duranty E., 1878, p. 1012, 1018, and 1020). He regularly sold objects to the major museums until the end of the century. While Antoine de la Narde’s business bore his name, he was not the only actor: he was surrounded by collaborators, whose names have now been forgotten. A certain ‘Anubigny’ or ‘Aubigny’ signed documents on behalf of La Narde, as attested by deposit invoice held in the UCAD archives dated 11 March 1885. The last appearance of Antoine de la Narde in the Annuaire-Almanach seemed to date to 1901: at the time, he moved to 10, Rue Saint-Georges (Annuaire-Almanach, p. 678). Nevertheless, he is believed to have fled from France to Brazil following a court sentence handed down at the end of the previous year, which had resulted in him being struck off the roll of the Légion d’Honneur, which he had been awarded in 1872 (AN (French national archives), LH/1464/3). He married Louise Corbin in Montreux (Switzerland) in June 1909, after the death of his first wife, and he died while in exile. The date of his death is unknown but it occurred after 1912 (L’Action Française, 3 August 1912).

A. de la Narde et Cie

Retracing objects sold by a Parisian antique dealer is always difficult, even more so in the absence of private archives or written material. La Narde was described by Paul Gasnault as an ‘amateur’ (Gasnault, P., 1878, p. 910), which attests to the porosity between the dealer’s business and private activities. He himself seemed to consider his stock as a collection, and labelled his objects: ‘A. N. Collections de Chine et du Japon. Rue Saint-Georges. 14. Paris’ (Plate no. MG 9002 held in the MNAAG bears this label).

Based on purchases made for five museum collections (the Musée Guimet, the UCAD, the Musée Adrien-Dubouché in Limoges, the Louvre’s Far-Eastern Collection, and the Grandidier Collection), it is possible to get an idea of the nature of the objects sold by La Narde. This study, which was in no way exhaustive, was complemented by later research (it is known, for example, that he donated objects to the Musée de la Céramique in Sèvres and that he sold many objects to Clémence d’Ennery). Although he claimed to specialise in Chinese and Japanese arts, his sales attest to his open-minded approach—or opportunism—to collecting other Asian objects. In 1899, he sold a bow to Émile Guimet, which has now been identified as being possibly Burmese (MNAAG, inv. EG 1059). Between 1887 and 1895, he supplied the Musée Guimet with at least forty-two Asian object of various provenances, eras, and materials: fifteen Japanese stoneware and porcelain articles, mostly nineteenth century, five Chinese ceramics, a carnelian vase, and a Chinese rock crystal statuette, four kakemono from the nineteenth and fifteenth centuries, three Tibetan bronzes from the end of the eighteenth or beginning of the nineteenth century, ten wooden Japanese statuettes, and three nineteenth-century Japanese drawings (MNAAG Micromusée database).

The UCAD decided to buy several objects from this dealer between 1885 and 1893: four porcelains and a Chinese cloisonné enamel, a Ming bronze vase, three celadons, four combs and hair pins, and a Japanese cloisonné enamel goblet, as well as a ‘faïence (sic)’ from Satsuma. La Narde also sold twenty ceramic items to the Musée Adrien-Dubouché de Limoges between 1882 and 1883, most of which were Japanese (Archives du Musée Adrien-Dubouché, 2nd ceramic register).

At the Louvre, La Narde supplied articles for the Far-Eastern Collection of the Département des Objects d’Art du Moyen Âge, de la Renaissance et des Temps Modernes: the museum purchased from him in 1894 a kakemono attributed to Yusho and dating from the sixteenth century (MNAAG, inv. no. EO 84). He sold a large number of Chinese and, above all, Japanese ceramics to Ernest Grandidier (1833–1912): this collector saw La Narde as a reputable dealer, and he bought just over 500 objects from him (Chopard, L., 2020). As for the Chinese ceramic objets, these were Qing articles, some of which were of very high quality, such as the bowl with polychrome enamel decorations (G 2890), which was decorated in the ateliers of the Imperial palace in Peking (Besse, X., 2004, p. 127), as well as older objects, some of which dated from the Song (960–1279), Jin (1115–1234), Yuan (1279–1368), and Ming (1368–1644) dynasties. Amongst the latter was a delicate footed goblet decorated with a blue and white dragon (MNAAG, inv. G 2787), whose mark from the reign of Xuande, now considered authentic (Besse X., 2004, p. 60), had not been considered as such by the collector (MNAAG, inventory in two registers linked to the Grandidier Collection, Vol. I, p. 264).