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

Biographical article

Born into a legitimist aristocratic milieu in the Marne, the Baron Joseph de Baye was educated at the Lycée de la Rue de Vaugirard, in Paris. He is occasionally mistakenly given the title of the Comte de Saint Laurent, a title that was in fact transmitted to his brother, Jean de Baye (1857–1930). It was through his cousin, Louis-Charles de Fayolles, Comte de Mellet (1804–1882), that Joseph de Baye started to take an interest in archaeology following regular discoveries of prehistoric tools. This collection was mainly assembled when he accompanied his father during hunts on the land of the plateau of La Vieille Andecy, at Villevenard (Brisson, A., and Guillaume, P., 1964). Very soon he attempted to find an answer to the following question: who were these men and women who left behind so many tools in the area around the parental château (Brisson, G., 1964)?

During his life, he went through three distinct periods of activity. The first was devoted to archaeology in the Champagne region and the enrichment of a regional collection though a series of excavations and purchases. It resulted in a donation to the State, for the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, of his collection of prehistoric, Celtic, Gallo-Roman, and Merovingian antiquities in 1906, and in the inauguration, in the same Museum, of a room named after him on 21 January 1909. The second period was focused on Russia. Each year, it involved a mission without expenses from the French Ministry of Public Instruction. The last period was that of an old, sick, and weakened man. It followed his return from Russia and, despite the Baron’s best efforts, was no longer as productive as the previous periods.

The Champagne period

It began in 1871 and ended in 1890. The Baron de Baye gained his first experience as an archaeologist on Celtic, Gallo-Roman, and Merovingian (Morains, Aulnay-aux-Planches, Connantre, and Broussy-le-Grand) archaeological sites that had been partly explored by others before him around the marshes of Saint-Gond. Then, accompanied by his tutor, the abbot Louis Alphonse Bordé (1824–1899) (Charpy J.-J., 2013), he started exploring, initially on his family’s land (‘Le Chenail’, Villevenard) and then in other villages. Information he received by word of mouth enabled him to start his explorations, in March 1872, of the first hypogeal necropolis at Courjeonnet (‘La Pierre Michelot’), at the limit of Villevenard, on Eugène Ferrat’s property. Some weeks later, he began work at Coizard-Joches (‘Le Razet’), where he unearthed the largest cemetery of this type, containing at least thirty seven (hypogeal) monuments. Thus, until 1873, he excavated more than one hundred Neolithic hypogeal structures at Courjeonnet (‘Les Houyottes’), at Villevenard (‘Le Bas des Vignes’ and ‘Les Ronces’), at Oyes (‘Au-dessus du Moulin’), and others in a place that is difficult to locate in this commune and at Vert-la-Gravelle (‘La Crayère’). However, he was mistakenly attributed with the discovery of collective sepulchres in the village of Baye. Aware of the interest these monuments represented for archaeological science, he raised funds and acquired the parcels of the two sites, which are now classified as historical monuments: Coizard-Joches (‘Le Razet’) and Courjeonnet (‘Les Houyottes’). It was in these cemeteries that bas-relief sculptures were found (polished sleeved axes and human figurations) carved into the chalk.

Hence, the largest ensemble of Neolithic funerary monuments buried in the chalky substrate of the Marne was unearthed by a self-taught young man under the age of twenty. The bones discovered (skulls and long bones) were sent to Paris for examination by anthropological specialists (collection in the Musée de l’Homme), so that this emerging science could contribute its own conclusions. This initiative attests to the Baron de Baye’s innovative approach. At the same time, his parents, who were initially reticent about this kind of research, assisted him by carrying out work on the northern wing of the château in order to create an area to house their son’s discoveries and subsequently accommodate the participants at the Congrès Archéologique de France, held in Châlons-sur-Marne in 1875, one of whose organisers was none other than the Comte de Mellet. To promote the collections, the museum was open to whomsoever made the request. Henceforth, the most prominent European luminaries of prehistoric archaeology met there.

1880 marked a turning point, as his active explorations in the field came to an end. The Baron depended on some trustworthy individuals who were trained by him and whose probity he appreciated. Over the following years his principal occupation involved the acquisition of objects from farmers. He was informed about these objects by a network established in Catholic circles. This is how the Musée de Baye obtained all the objects that originated far away from the marshy region (Vallée de la Marne, the Reims area, Châlons, and Suippes). The young Baron summarised his Neolithic research in a monograph, Achaeology préhistorique (de Baye, J., 1880; 1888). But he was also interested in the Merovingian period, a civilisation considered by the aristocracy as the foundation of the Ancien Régime in France; it also marked the beginning of the spread of Christianity in the countryside. The furniture excavated in the tombs dating from the Early Middle Ages explored in Joches, Villevenard, and Oyes caused some difficulties in the second period of his life, when the Baron discovered furniture attributed to the Goths. He also proceeded to carry out some research in the Gallic necropolises, whose number made the region of Champagne famous in the second half of the nineteenth century. He made many acquisitions (Charpy, J.-J., 2013), whose ensembles, when they existed, were, however, often less sure (the tomb known as La Cheppe, and the chariot tomb at Flavigny, in the Marne) than his own work (de Baye, J., 1891; Charpy, J.-J., 2017; 2018; 2019).

Joseph de Baye abandoned regional archaeology when he saw that the prehistoric scientific milieu no longer backed him due to his interpretation of some of the Neolithic hypogeal structures as being habitations (de Baye, J., 1880; 1888). In the field of proto-history, he wrote that the torcs were worn by men (de Baye, J., 1886), basing his reasoning on the figurative representations of Gallic gods and written antique sources. Referring to the excavations conducted by his contemporaries, he made the following statement: ‘The anatomical articles found in the tombs have been neglected. Based on these relatively rare finds, imprecisely described by men, several of whom had no experience, some archaeologists have concluded that the necklace was an ornament exclusively worn by women’ (de Baye, J., 1886). His forthright opinions had a greater impact than his actual contributions, which were consequently ignored. It is clear that his tendency to be a dabbler, which is evident in his work, helped to highlight some of his weaknesses. This occasionally emerges in the correspondence that has been conserved. For example, Émile Cartailhac (1845–1921) wrote in a letter dated 26 June 1890: ‘Even you, who attempt to fill the gaps in Bertrand’s theory, have not read the works relating to the Midi’ (AME). These examples give a good idea of de Baye’s stubborn way of thinking that he sometimes developed, based solely on results obtained by his confrères. Following reproaches made even by his friends (Gabriel de Mortillet (1821–1898) and Émile Cartailhac), he decided to abandon national archaeological research, and he learned his lessons very gradually. Nevertheless, what was important about his activities in the Champagne region was his considerable contribution to knowledge about the period now defined as the ‘Recent Neolithic’ (3500–2900 BCE), both in his descriptions of the funerary monuments and through their publication, even if the latter includes some of the inaccuracies of the times. In addition to this initial observation he also engaged in experimental archaeology, as demonstrated by his fabrication of arrows with transversal tips. Also noteworthy was his desire to have the results of his field studies verified by the recently established science of anthropology, with the study of bones that he gave to the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris. Lastly, it is worth noting that he was probably the first person to excavate, as of 1872, a flint mine at Coizard (‘La Haie Jeanneton’).

The Russian period

This period began in January 1890, when Baron de Baye attended the Archaeological Congress in Moscow and ended with his return to France in autumn 1920. The reasons for the complete change of direction that led him to take an interest in Russia have been the subject of conjecture for some time. Several factors may be considered. In the first place, he was eager to explore the origins of certain Neolithic articles, such as polished axes, as the characteristic of the rock used meant that they were exogenous to the region. In addition to that, he took part in many scientific meetings: they enabled him to make the acquaintance of Russian colleagues (Countess Uvarova and Count Bobrinskoy). Another link with the Russian Empire occurred when he was studying the period of the invasions and he discovered the clear parallelism between the Kertch fibulae and those unearthed in Champagne and in other countries. As he stated: ‘Archaeologists, guided by many excavations conducted in many different places, are starting to focus their research on the departure point of the industry proper to the invading peoples between the fourth and eighth centuries’ (de Baye, J., 1888). Secondly, it is important to take into account his family’s relations with Russian circles and the senior officials of the Imperial Court present in Paris. It is worth noting that the Baron’s grandfather, father, and uncle were all permanent members, at least since 1864, of the Cercle de l’Union (Charpy, J.-J., and Danilova, O., to be published), which brought together the French royalist elite; this club also welcomed representatives of the Tsarist regime. There is another reason, even if it appears to be anecdotal. It relates to the close links that existed between the families of de Baye and Galitzine, as clearly attested in a letter dating from 17 October 1868 (APR) written by the young Baron and sent to his father: ‘I held the Galitzines in great esteem, and after my family, of course, I loved them the most’. The very rapid acceptance of the Baron by the Russian aristocracy was complemented by his rank and the distinctions awarded for his work on the Courts of Spain (1877), Italy (1880), Portugal (1881), Romania (1882), and even the Vatican (1882).

By focusing on Russia, he also fulfilled an ambition he had nurtured since he was a teenager—that of working in the diplomatic service. He expressed this wish in an undated latter (circa 1868) sent to Amélie de Böhm, his grandmother. The passage in question is brief and clear: ‘I’m still very interested in diplomacy; I dream only of working in the embassies: at least it is a way to serve one’s country and that is already something, and I do love travelling abroad; it is an excellent way to educate oneself and promote France. […] Yes, I hope to be useful to my country and it means a great deal to me. It is a way to be useful and immortalise one’s name!’ (APR). Aside from the rather immodest tone of his writing, it does illustrate the character of the man that the Baron subsequently became. His approach was already evident and matched his achievements during his most active years. He worked hard to disseminate Russia’s culture, art, industry, history, archaeology, geography, and legends and he was proud to be able to promote the country he saw as his second homeland—which he enjoyed talking and writing about. This was the goal behind the exhibitions of objects he brought back to France, his publications, his many conferences, his press articles, and so on. The same principle applied when he gave the Imperial Historical Museum in Moscow souvenirs of the military manoeuvres of Kronstadt and Toulon, and when he assisted Princess Tenicheva (1858–1928) with an exhibition devoted to the work of Russian painters in Paris.

His first stays in the empire were linked to his participation in archaeological congresses. He took the opportunity on these occasions to visit the museums, further his knowledge, and create links with new confrères. It was after four years of visiting the country that he decided to travel further afield, by heading eastwards, beyond the Ural, but he was prevented from doing so by ill health. It was after accompanying Count S. D. Sheremetev (1844–1918) to the Caucasus that the Baron began to develop a preference for lands with more clement climates: subsequently, each visit ended with a long stay in Georgia. The missions he was entrusted with were all motivated by archaeological and ethnographic studies in the empire, focusing on the theme of eastern Russia and Siberia from 1895 to 1897, the Caucasus from 1898 to 1901, and in 1903, the Ukraine in 1902, Lithuania in 1904, and the Crimea in 1905. The latter mission did however come to an end prematurely due to political events and insecurity. It also marked the end of travels considered as ‘exploration’. During his travels, Joseph de Baye was provided with various forms of support: scientific assistance (Savenkov, Polivanov, and Tolstoy), political support (invitation by Prince Bariatinsky to Dagestan, and Prince Mirsky in Lithuania), and technical help (G. O. Clerc and Valouïev in Siberia) to organise his voyage. Hence, he received help and support throughout his travels: the Baron was not an explorer in the primary sense of the term but rather a traveller. Also worthy of mention is the advice given by his friend Count S. D. Sheremetev, as confirmed in a letter dated 29 March 1898, in which Joseph de Baye wrote to the French Minister of Public Instruction that ‘Count Sheremetev has written to the [Russian] minister to tell him that he was committed to facilitating his research and accompanying him’ from Moscow to Arkangel (national archives (AN), F 17/2936 B).

This close friendship caused some reticence within the committee at the French Ministry of Public Instruction that entrusted him with his missions. Also, the rather generalised reports he made of the archaeological congresses also encouraged some to have reserves about his work. This was evident when in 1895 he requested authorisation to travel to the Ural. Alexandre Bertrand (1820–1902), director of the Musée des Antiquités Nationales, while acknowledging the Baron’s zeal, did not consider that his previous work in Russia warranted an official mission ‘to undertake archaeological excavations in the country. In any case, the objects found do not all end up in our museums, as the mercenary excavators over there tend to hold onto the most interesting specimens’. And further on, during the session of 10 July 1893, Alexandre Bertrand, in a note relating to the Congress in Moscow of August 1892, wrote the following statement: ‘It is quite unnecessary to publish M. de Baye’s report’ (national archives (AN), F 17/2936 B). Hence, the Baron faced criticism that stemmed, in part, from his entrenched views, which have already been mentioned, as well as from a form of rivality, which was even more blatant with Salomon Reinach (1858–1932).

In contrast with some written accounts, it was painful family events, the trial against his brother for making his mother’s will invalid, the failure of this procedure, and finally the difficulties he encountered in buying the ancestral Château de Baye from his brother, which led him to remain in France in 1906. The missions that ensued, from 1907 to 1914, were oriented towards more literary (de Baye, J. and Girardin, F. de, 1912) or historical (de Baye, J., 1908; 1909) research due to a lack of financial means. This was implied by Count S. D. Sheremetev with regard to his many goods and archives. Then the Baron devoted and committed himself¾not without encountering many difficulties¾to the creation of a French collection for a museum project devoted to the Battle of Borodino in 1812.

The last and long years spent in Russia that followed the impossibility of returning to France due to the war were extremely difficult for Joseph de Baye. He suffered greatly from being away from his family, as his wife and youngest daughter were working in military ambulances near the frontline, and from seeing his cancer spread despite increasingly intense treatments. Until 1917, he barely altered his lifestyle, except for undergoing the same restrictions as everyone else due to the conflict. He was no longer interested in his research. It was following a request by Countess Uvarova (1840–1924) that he turned to his French friends to compile a documentary photographic collection on the exactions of the German army in Belgium and France. This appeal had little impact, so he reorganised the project as a series of five conferences about the causes and consequences of the war. They constitute an accusation against the Reich, which he published. With the October revolution and the subsequent political changes, the Baron’s situation deteriorated on both the physical and mental fronts. He was hospitalised twice and had to undergo essential treatment every other day. Obliged to sell his personal belongings, he earned some money painting postcards. In this difficult period, he was subjected, like other French persons, to humiliations and two arrests, and to his great sorrow his friend Count Sheremetev died, without being able to help him in any way whatsoever. It was Prince Shtcherbatov who saved his life, as he obtained the authorisation to allow him to stay in Moscow’s Historical Museum, ensuring he was remunerated to help him cover his medical bills in exchange for carrying out work on the Goths. Baron de Baye left Moscow for good at the end of August 1920 and was repatriated for health reasons via Stockholm, where he was hospitalised, after a month of quarantine on the Finnish border, before returning to France and arriving in Paris during the night of 5 to 6 October.

Travels in Siberia

Three trips were made. The Baron de Baye provided detailed résumés of these journeys through descriptions of monuments, landscapes, populations, beliefs, legends, and so on. These trips were directly related to the conferences he gave at the Société de Géographie in Paris (de Baye, J., 1896a; 1897; 1898) and truly reflected all the information he had acquired on his many travels. So it was not very surprising when, on 15 April 1897, he was asked by Paul Boyer ‘to provide the committee with more details about his mission, useful information for his journey, and present the implementation plan for the excavations he was planning to carry out, and where he intended to do them’ (national archives (AN), F 17/2936 B). When the Baron mentioned Siberia, he stated that he ‘could not separate archaeology and ethnography, as the two sciences complemented one another in the country’ (national archives (AN), F 17/2936 B) and that ‘the study of antiquities and local populations takes one to Asia’ (de Baye, J., 1896a). His reports show that each journey was a further progression towards the East that eventually took him to the banks of the Yenisey River. A complementary opuscule constitutes the exhibition catalogue of the objects brought back from the first sojourn (de Baye, J., 1896b). Unfortunately, a pulmonary congestion contracted in March 1897 exacerbated Joseph de Baye’s respiratory fragility and he was advised by his doctors to abandon Siberia and return to the Caucasus. It is worth noting that the first photograph signed by the Baron was published to illustrate his opuscule De Penza à Minoussinsk (de Baye, J., 1898; Charpy, J.-J., 2018) by the colonial houses at the station of Ubinskaya.

The attempt to resume his studies

Fatigue, the privations experienced in Russia, and above all ill health had an intellectual and physical impact on Joseph de Baye. His scientific network had ceased and his contacts at the French Ministry of Public Instruction were now far less extensive. Family difficulties exacerbated this situation. After two difficult years, he no longer had the strength to study the historiated tiles from the Middle Ages and attempted to resume his archaeological studies in the Champagne region. He also devoted the last bit of strength he had to helping Russian émigrés and supporting the exiled Georgian government. All the same, he started another project, which he had been nurturing well before the War, that of creating a Russian art museum. To this end, he approached the orthodox parish of Saint-Serge in Paris, but this failed. For many reasons, the collections were donated to the Institut des Études Slaves (APR). Some time after the death of her father in 1931, his daughter, Yolande, gave a small complement of archives, which she had found amongst the documents that remained in the Château de Baye, to the Institut, and another to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The collection

A room used as a gallery/museum was set up in the Château de Baye for the congress of the Société Française d’Archéologie in 1875 (APR). The young Baron brought together his entire collection, which already spanned every period, from the Palaeolithic Period to the Middle Ages. Disinherited by his mother in 1892, Joseph de Baye was forced to give away the fruit of his research. The donation was accepted by the State in 1906. When the Baron subsequently bought the château from his brother, he decided to turn the gallery into an exhibition space, on the one hand to display the collections he brought back from Russia and, on the other, to bring together all the family memories.

It is worth taking a look at the conditions and principles relating to the compilation of the Russian collection during his travels prior to 1898. Joseph de Baye kept very little, with the exception of some fragments of objects (a cutting edge from a polished axe from Yelabuga, some shards from Lake Shighir). It is therefore clear that the collections brought back from Siberia were entirely donated to the State collections, in the Musée du Trocadéro and/or the Musée des Antiquités Nationales, the Musée Guimet, and the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. It was during later trips that he compiled a private Russian collection, comprised mainly of articles from the Caucasus and the Ukraine. These included artisanal objects, jewellery, ancient fabrics and lacework, ceramic wares, geological elements, and even archaeological pieces which were given to him in person. He demonstrated great integrity with regard to the objects he was given to enrich the collections in French museums. A typed note, dating from 1929, from private archives, mentions the following donations: ‘Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, antiquities from the Stone Age and metal objects from the Caucasus, Siberia, and the Ural. The Musée d’Ethnographie in the Trocadéro: ethnographic collections from Siberia and populations living along the Volga. A room, bearing the name of the Marquis de Baye, will need to be devoted to them. The Musée Guimet: idols from Siberia. The Musée Cernuschi: ancient Russian silverware, a collection of crosses and Russian icons, a collection of locks, and a collection finery from Dagestan. The Musée des Antiquités Nationales in Saint-Germain-en-Laye: antiquities from excavations conducted in Champagne¾Gallic, Gallo-Roman, and Merovingian antiquities [he forgets to mention the prehistoric and Neolithic ones]. Antiquities from Scandinavia and various regions in Russia, Europe, and Asia for the comparison room. The Musée du Louvre: collections of pottery from the steppes to the foot of Mount Ararat (Asia Minor) and from the Caucasus. The prehistoric department in the Musée de Reims: prehistoric antiquities from Champagne. Currently, [the Marquis de Baye] is working on the foundation of a Musée Russe in Paris, comprising major collections, assembled from his missions in Russia, which are held in the Institut des Études Slaves in the Université de Paris.’ The Russian collections were the subject of theft by the Hanoverian troops stationed in the Château de Baye during the first days of September in 1914; a report made on 1 October by Albert Chevojon (1864–1925), a Parisian photographer, mentioned damage to the Musée’s showcases and the château’s objects. The last valuable articles (personal effects, objects, and small furniture) were sold at auction, at the Château de Baye, between 1934 and 1936.

The regional collection of archaeology in Champagne is held in the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, with the exception of the medieval collection, which has been dispersed. The bones found in the sepulchres that were unearthed were donated to the Société d’Anthropologie in Paris and should therefore have been in the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. This regional collection was compiled from the excavations carried out under the direction of de Baye and there are some doubts as to the authenticity of the contexts of the acquired articles.

The collections brought back from Russia were not the fruit of his own research but of donations made by important figures in the different places he visited. They were placed in the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, the Musée Guimet, the Musée du Trocadéro, and the Musée National de Sèvres.

The de Baye Collection also comprises archives and photos that were acquired or which were personal, which were given to many institutions (the BNF, the Société de Géographie Collection, the Institut des Études Slaves, the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, the Musée d’Épernay, and the Musée de Reims) or sold (since 2006) as part of acquisitions of photographic albums (Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, the Musée d’Épernay, and the Archives Départementales de la Marne).

The collection also has connections with Russia, because he donated a collection of objects that commemorated the military manoeuvres of Kronstadt and Toulon, then a French collection to illustrate the Napoleonic campaign in Russia, as well as some archaeological objects from Champagne.

This collection is representative of the Baron, who described himself as a ‘dabbler in everything’. The articles he collected, which were too focused on recent acquisitions, illustrating for example the artisanal or industrial activity of the times, did not often appeal to the directors of museums because they had no historical value or even any importance in the history of art. It is only now, a century later, that these articles have taken on greater value.

Joseph Berthelot's Travels