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

Joseph Hackin (1886-1941)

“At a certain age, one must dare to once again call everything into question; force oneself to again set out on the path of adventure. It is yet a way of keeping the world at bay (...) Danger is a good yardstick for a life. It offers a precise measure of the value of a human personality.” Thoughts cited by Philippe Diolé, (1936, n° 158, p.).

Joseph Hackin bequeathed to us the memory of person of great ability. A member of the “Croisière Jaune” (1931-1932) and director of the Franco-Japanese House (1930-1933), he was a recognised pioneer in the fields of archaeology and museums, and of the Musée Guimet in particular, of which he was the director. His life was one of action and the desire for travel, until he met a tragic end perishing at sea. His ship was torpedoed, just as he set sail on the mission, entrusted to him by General de Gaulle, of rallying the remains of the French Empire to the side of Free France.

1886-1914, from Luxembourg to the museum

However, from the outset, neither his background nor his university education seemed to predispose him to a focus on Asia. Born in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, at Boevange-sur-Attert, he was granted French citizenship in 1912 (decree of 20 October) and was of humble origins. His father worked as a coachman in Paris and later in the department of Calvados, for a well-established Norman family. His studies took him first towards the Institut commercial, and in 1905, towards the Paris Institute of Political Studies and to its faculty of economics and social sciences. However, unexpectedly, by 1907 he was already engaged by the Musée Guimet in Paris, the national institution dedicated to Asia, founded in 1889. He entered there to serve as the secretary of Émile Guimet (1836-1918), his first director, and quickly became his privileged collaborator. This spectacular rise in rank, which remains enigmatic, saw him enter directly into the inner sanctum of the most exclusive Parisian temple of orientalism, steeped in Buddhism and fascinated by Japan. This immersion in a scientific and scholarly community, marks the first turning point in his life. He enrolled in the École pratique des hautes études, in the faculty of historical and philological sciences in Sanskrit and Tibetan, initiating research on Tibetan Buddhist iconography, under the direction of Sylvain Lévi (1865-1965), professor at the Collège de France. In parallel, he classified, with Tschang Yi-tchou (18..-19..), the collection of Chinese paintings housed in the Musée Guimet, the catalogue of which they published together. By 1913, he was appointed assistant curator, thanks to the support of Émile Guimet.

1914-1919, World War I

Joseph Hakin was mobilised at the outbreak of the global conflict of 1914 for a duration of five years, at first on the Western Front, then on the Eastern Front, before being sent to Ukraine. He emerged from the war decorated with the Legion of Honour and the French war cross. Injured in 1915 during the Battles of Artois, he took advantage of his year-long convalescence to defend his doctoral thesis on the figurative scenes of the life of the Buddha based on Tibetan paintings. “To hold on”, he noted in his diary, the 20th of December 1917, “that is all, till the abolition of our last intellectual faculties, till the death of our last thought, till with clenched teeth, we are still there, by virtue of a bestial feeling, but hold on for the community, for the smile of a friend, for our Paris, for everything we ask of the French way of life, so that our promenades, our gardens, our landscapes remain ordered according to our sprit, our flaws. So that the German stays in his own home. Hold on still and against all of them” (Gousset R., 1946).

1919-1929, Afghanes revelations

Once back in civilian life, he was appointed curator in 1923, taking part in the post-war programme to restructure the Musée Guimet. However, in 1924, a mission in Afghanistan would radically change his path. He was sent to this country, which had just opened to the outside world thanks to King Amanullah (1892-1960; r. 1919-1929), to assist Alfred Foucher (1865-1952). The latter had just founded the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA) in 1922 and was undertaking digs at Balkh. Far from the turmoil of Europe, the kingdom was a revelation for him. Taken with its vast spaces, calm and silence, he grew attached to this world that served as the bridge between Central Asia and India, and where everything was still to do. He fell under the spell of its heritage, its art and its people, its wild still unspoilt nature, its light and its starkness. In his diary, he sings “the infinite peace of the sunsets of Islam” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 1). “At nightfall”, he wrote, “I dream on the terrace of the serai; what could be more soothing, far from the spiritual nourishment that our vain snobbery causes us to take for fifteen days as the appropriate doctrines. Here, in the freedom offered by this austere solitude, the soul is purified and develops its possibilities, as master”. He summarised his thoughts as follows: “To savour the world in a murmur, a chant, the play of light, silence, the long silences and, within oneself, peace”. Afghanistan for him was the “the country of opposites reunited and reconciled” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 3). “It is great to live in this solitude”, he adds, “where duration gets absorbed in this splendid appearance of immobility, the negation of time through the abolition of all signs of change in man and nature” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 2). Immobile or abolished time, after four years on the front, in the midst of chaos and apocalypse, Hackin thirsted for humanity, for somewhere out of this world, and Afghanistan suited him. Over the course of his sojourn, he assisted Foucher, replacing him during the periods of great heat, and working at Bamiyan, with André Godard (1881-1965), getting the lay of the land on horseback and locating the Sassanid painting of Dokhtar-i-Noshirwan. His first dig, in December, at the place known as Paitava, in the ancient city of Kapisa, revealed a stele of the Great Miracle, which seems entirely gilded by the last rays of sunlight. On the road home, he also noted: “walking on the road all day long, without worrying about the tyrannical minutia of a timetable, resting in some lone serai, every evening giving oneself the soothing joy of crepuscular silence, is to create a soul hostile to the things of the West” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 4). Back in Paris, he unceasingly worked to deepen the knowledge of the domain and to publish on Bamiyan or Kafiristan. By 1928, he was a professor at the École du Louvre and 1929 saw him inaugurate the first Afghan gallery of the museum, with the French share from the digs at Hadda, near Jalalabad, where he placed the charming and animated stuccos in contrast with his photos of gothic sculpture.  

1929, the “events in Kabul”

However, in spring, he undertook a second mission in Afghanistan, despite rumours of turmoil there, this time accompanied by his wife, Ria, Marie Alice Parmentier (1905-1941), whom he had married in September of 1928, and the architect Jean Carl (1900-1941), who would accompany them to the end of their days. In a letter dated 23 June 1929 (Cambon P., 1986, p. 6), Alfred Foucher warned him to be cautious, following the fall of King Amanullah: “Against all odds you made it to Herat. You managed to get into Afghanistan and saved face. We count on the underlying permanence of common sense, concealed beneath your current extravagances, to refrain from stubbornly going any further beyond reason”, whilst recommending that he dig only in Persia or in Sistan. However, Hackin could not have cared less about this advice, continuing straight away to the Afghan capital. Caught up in the “events of Kabul”, and practically the only European there, he faced the situation with courage, managing to avert the pillaging of the French Legation when in October the city fell to the armies of Mohammad Nadir Khan (1883-1933). After which, once calm was restored, he again took up the research first undertaken in 1924 in the valley of Bamiyan, which he aimed to complete during this stay. 

1929-1936, Paris. Tokyo. Bagram

Following his work at Bamiyan and Kakrak (May-September 1930), in November he was appointed director of the Franco-Japanese House in Tokyo, then archaeologist of the famous Citroën “Croisière Jaune” mission, which he joined at Grishk (Afghanistan) in May 1931, by integrating the “Pamir” group, which left Beirut 4 April, under the direction of Georges-Marie Haardt (1884-1932) and Louis Audouin-Dubreuil (1887-1960). He entered Beijing with this group on 12 February 1932, after having first joined the “China” group in Xinjiang, which had left Tianjin 6 April, but was blocked for a brief amount of time at Urumqi by nearby fighting in the civil war – for a four-year expedition outside France, until 1933. Leaving Japan in March of 1933, he arrived in Paris by way of Southeast Asia and India, stopping along the route at Kabul. Over the course of these years spent in the East, he continued purchasing pieces for the museum, with which he remained in very close contact, thanks to René Grousset (1885-1952), assistant curator – while also writing a detailed report on the ten years of the DAFA, for a lecture series in Tokyo, in 1932. From 1934 onwards, je divided his time between Kabul – where he served as de facto director of the DAFA – and Paris, where he ensured the direction of the Musée Guimet, while also continuing to teach at the École du Louvre. The Afghan gallery of the museum was enhanced by his latest findings in Afghanistan. In Kabul, he broadened prospecting to zones far from the capital, taking advantage of lessons learnt from the “Croisière Jaune”. Thus, in 1936, he set out on a reconnaissance mission of the Afghan part of Sistan, in the southwest area of the country, with the aid of a caterpillar tractor vehicle for tackling sand dunes. He invited the archaeologist Roman Ghirshman (1895-1979), who at the time was working in Iran, to join the expedition to probe prehistoric layers (at Nad-i-Ali), which remained completely unknown, unlike those in Persia, when he was himself interested in the petrified desert castles destroyed by Tamerlane (site of Tar-o-sar). The same year also saw him digging in Bactrian Afghanistan, at Kunduz, in the north of the country, prior to launching digs at Bagram, in the ancient Kapisa.

1936-1939, Afghanistan in the heart of Eurasia

Thus, Hackin borrowed Alfred Foucher’s approach, while broadening it – to map the heritage of Afghanistan beyond Kabul, to open the field of research to include Prehistory and the Islamic period, to further the understanding of the links between Central Asia and Sassanid Iran, and not only with India or the Mediterranean, whilst also seeking to strengthen the Kabul museum. The Bagram digs, however, completely changed the direction being pursued, following a discovery that was as emblematic as it was unexpected, i.e., the “Bagram Treasure”. Despite the fact that the city was known as the Alexandria of the Caucuses, founded by Alexander the Great, a site that had already been largely prospected in the 1830s by the American adventurer, Charles Masson (1800-1853), the dig I, in the lower city, brought up nothing other than common potteries. But opened next the dig II, in the “new royal city”, which in 1937 revealed a first sealed chamber filled with materials imported from China, India and the Mediterranean. In 1939, a second contiguous room was brought to light, modelled after the first. Thus, Joseph Hackin, along with his wife Ria, was to focus here on exhuming piles of objects as fragile as they were delicate, where Indian ivories were stacked along with Chinese lacquers and painted glass, brought here from Alexandria. His assistants, Jacques Meunié (1898-1967) and Jean Carl, pursued, under his supervision, the digs of Buddhist foundations, close or distant, the Shotorak monastery in one case, the Fondukistan monastery in another.

1939-1941, World War II

The outbreak of war in 1939, and the collapse of France, occurring shortly thereafter, caught Hackin by surprise in Kabul, just as he was launching a new campaign at Bagram. Refusing the overtures of the Vichy regime, he was among the first to rally to General de Gaulle. The 6 July 1940, he wrote (Cambon, Pierre, 1986, p. 15): “General, I have the honour of addressing you telegraphically, through the intermediary of the British Legation of Kabul, my adherence and that of my collaborators and of M. Baudouin (…) I hope to soon receive your instructions and, if possible, an assignment (…) My adherence is total”. Shortly thereafter, he went directly to London with his wife Ria and the architect, Jean Carl. There he served as advisor for Asia, before being assigned to a mission aimed at federating throughout the world the committees of Free France. However, 24 February 1941, his ship was sunk by a German submarine, off the coast of Faroe Islands, just as he was setting out on his mission. In his Bilan de l’Histoire (Paris, Plon, 1946), René Grousset pays warm homage to him, in a chapter bearing the sober title: “Un savant français – Joseph Hackin” (Gousset R., 1946). He concluded this evocation with the lines: “We knew well, for three years, that we would not see each other again. And yet, the 26 August 1944, when, in a liberated Paris, the companions of General de Gaulle were descending the Champs Elysée from the Arc de Triomphe, we searched in spite of ourselves for the face of our friend amongst their ranks. No one was more deserving to be part of this phalanx, in these sacred hours that he had so ardently awaited, and in the preparation of which he perished”.

Hackin collection

“Without aesthetic concerns, we would not know how to attain a certain human level, nor especially how to stay there. Art is the medium of civilisations; it enables us to gain knowledge; better still, it suggests how to understand it.” Quoted thoughts by Philippe Diolé, (Diolé P., 1936, n°158).

The collections assembled by Joseph Hackin over the course of his career reflect his dual status of curator and archaeologist. The early ones are part of the Musée Guimet, integrated in 1927 under the administrative structure of the Musées Nationaux; the later ones are part of a bilateral agreement, between France and Afghanistan, which stipulates that the results of digs by the DAFA are to be shared between Paris and Kabul, save exceptional pieces. 

Acquisitions for the museum, from Paris to Tokyo

The first approach reflects, at least in the very beginning, his own tastes and vision, as well as the opportunities that came onto the market or by donations, the accent placed on Buddhism, Indianized arts, and Tibet. It broadened however to the entire Far East over the course of his long sojourn in Japan (1930-1933), during which he purchased for the museum, with funds from David Weill, during the “Croisière Jaune”, or during his stint at the Franco-Japanese House in Tokyo. Here, the choice was more open and Japan a neighbour of China, or Korea, Tibet or even Mongolia, depending on what Joseph Hackin was able to spot in the shops of Japanese and Chinese antique dealers. Gilded bronzes and mingqi, celadons and paintings, the selection is eclectic, with Hackin focusing first and foremost on aesthetic considerations, taking advantage of opportunities, whilst maintaining a very precise accounting of expenditures and privileging Buddhist art, though he was not exclusionary. Thus, he wrote to René Grousset, on 6 October 1932: “During my stay in Beijing, I made (I couldn’t resist) a few interesting purchases that Dubosc will bring back to you: twelve Tibetan paintings of which eleven are part of a series of pre-existences and representations of grand lamas of Lhasa (I believe the series counts 36 representations), a Tibetan statuette, a Han Chinese mirror, a fibula that I intend to show to Umehara [Seiji Umehara (梅原末治), 1893-1983] You can present these objects to the committee.” To which he added: “I also bought (on credit) two beautiful mirrors and a magnificent fibula, which I am keeping to show to Umehara, for 1,170 Mexican dollars. I must pay this sum on 1st January. Do not worry. I shall have the funds; I really couldn’t allow these beautiful pieces to get away. We shall present them to the committee upon my return.” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 11-12). On 21 November 1932, he wrote “I took advantage of my stay in Kyoto to purchase, three beautiful Han mirrors, under good conditions, at an “auction”. We will now have a good dozen exhibitable ones. I also brought back the beautiful Kamakura painting I spoke to you about (..) As you can see, my presence in Japan is in no way a disservice to the interests of the museum.” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 12). Later, on 13 December 1932, he details “the art objects acquired” and sent back by boat, beside massive purchases for the library: “The “Katori Maru” has been sent on, in addition to a case filled with books, two other cases containing the Kamakura painting bought in Kyoto for 1,500 yen, a Tang period head bought at the Yamanaka sale for 500 yen. Also at the Yamanaka sale, I bought a perfectly beautiful 0m70-Wei bodhisattva (marble) for 900 yen (yen at 5.55), which I have not yet been able to let go of, I like it so much; it will go out with the next load of books, accompanied by a little Gandharan relief for 135 yen, representing “The ladies on the balcony”; also purchased in Kyoto, at a mirror sale, 3 Tsin mirrors for 478 yen (at 5.55 francs); in Beijing, 2 mirrors for 650 Mexican dollars (at 5.60) and a buckle for 520 dollars (at 5.60). The purchases in Korea: bricks, a ceramic spearhead, from the Korai period, cost 400 yen (at 5.60). I am told by all sides that my purchases are sound” (Cambon P., 1986, p. 12).He continued making purchases along the route home, during an Indonesian port of call, at Jogjakarta (2 circular bronze trays, from Java, dated to the 9th century).

From a curator’s vision to archaeology

The second approach is the one of archaeology and therefore seems far less random, outside the constraints of the market. In 1929, Joseph Hackin was appointed as curator of the French share of the digs in Hadda, led by Jules Barthoux (1881-1965) from 1926 to 1928 (1st to 7th century). He presented a selection in the galleries of the museum, once the pieces in the reserves formed a sufficiently abundant collection from which he could draw upon, without qualms. With the aim of nurturing the lending policy, which he undertook from 1935 to 1939, with the world’s leading museums – from the Museum of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the Royal Museum in Brussels, from the British Museum in London to the Museum of Stockholm, from the Museum of Buffalo in the United States to the one of Harvard, to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City Missouri, from the Hermitage in Saint-Peterburg to the one in Istanbul. 

Digs in Afghanistan, from Bamiyan to Bagram and Fondukistan

Added to this plethoric collection of Greco-Afghan stuccos, the other half of which were destined for the Museum of Kabul, were the objects resulting from his own research in Afghanistan – Kapisa first, but also Bamiyan, and finally Bagram: the stele of the Grand Miracle, found at Paitava, in 1924, where ten years prior the teams of the Museum of Kabul had uncovered a similar type of piece (3rd – 4th century), the King Amanullah adding the gift of four wooden statues from Kafiristan, coming from the Kabul Museum; diverse fragments from digs in the Grotto G, at Bamiyan, in the cliff with the colossal Buddhas with the head of a patron, apparently Kushan (1st – 3rd century), painted décor, from the Grotto D, with its wild boar heads in roundels, in the Sassanid style, near the 35-metre Buddha (6th – 7th c.), and the modelled decoration from grotto V, made of rammed earth and straw, beside the 53-meter Buddha, attesting to the influences of Iran, China, and post-Gupta India. To this must be added the copies of the wall paintings of the Buddhist ensemble, realised by Jean Carl, under his governance, as well as the cupola of the site at Kakrak, set down in 1930, owing to infiltrations, and shared between Kabul and Paris, without forgetting the numismatic collection which patiently he collected during his different stays in Afghanistan, from all the periods.

Based on these various elements, Joseph Hackin developed his thesis of an “Iranian-Buddhist” art form which served as the link between Chinese Turkestan, Sassanid Iran and India of the Guptas, successor to the “Greco-Buddhist” art defended by Foucher, in which Hellenism and Buddhism combined to form this curious syncretism of the Greco-Afghans stuccos of Hadda. Thus, for Hackin, the Buddhas of Bamiyan are the apogee of Greco-Buddhist art, already foreshadowed by the stele from Paitava, in the monumental dimensions of the Buddhas, but they were also a model for the entire Far East, as the décor from Kakrak heralds the Japanese mandala of the Heian period (9th c.). 

The most spectacular ensemble remains the “Bagram Treasure”, assembled by Hackin, operating here in the domain of archaeology, Today, it is kept in part in Paris (Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet), and in part in Kabul (National Museum of Afghanistan). Among the finds resulting from the digs of the two sealed chambers, is the juxtaposition of a complete suite of Indian furniture made of ivory, the oldest known pieces of this kind, beside Chinese lacquers of the Han period and a set of Greco-Roman objects, from the Mediterranean where glass pieces are classified by type and technique, placed beside bronze trays and statuettes or alabaster vases, arranged according to material and to themes, but also a whole series of plaster emblemata, depicting Alexandrine scenes. Although, in the absence of an inscription, the treasure remains enigmatic, it shows that Afghanistan was the heart of Eurasia, between China, Greece and India. Whilst Joseph Hackin, assisted by Ria, unearthed the ensemble with infinite care, given the fragility of the pieces, his collaborators continued their search around this site, according to his instructions. Jacques Meunié mapped the site of Shotorak, location of the last sparks of Gandharan art from Peshawar, an art made of of schist, which at Kapisa took on a more local connotation, as manifested at Paitava. Jean Carl, for his part, dug at the monastery of Fondukistan, in the Ghorband valley, revealing a fine, mannerist raw earth art form, heralding the art of northern Asia, Kashmir, Swat and Nepal.

The works from digs at Bagram, Shotorak and Fondukistan are emblematic of the Paris collections, at the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, but also in Kabul, at the National Museum of Afghanistan, where they have survived despite the violent conflict. Their presence in these two institutions is thanks to Joseph Hackin and to his commitment to the DAFA and to Afghanistan.