Aller au contenu principal
Lien copié
Le lien a été copié dans votre presse-papier
21/03/2022 Collectionneurs, collecteurs et marchands d'art asiatique en France 1700-1939

Biographical article

Born in Saintes in 1838, the son of a public notary who became a cognac dealer in 1850, Duret divided his life between this métier (until the sale of the family business in 1896), art criticism, and his passion for collecting (Inaga, 1988, Nessler & Royer, 2010). After studying economics in London and Boston at the beginning of the 1860s, he had a short career as a journalist and politician in the Republican camp (founding La Tribune française in 1868), which ended with the crushing of the Commune in Paris. This event prompted him to leave France for a brief period between 1871 and 1873 and take a trip to the Far East (Japan, China, and India) (Duret, 1874; Marquet, 1998). In his youth, Duret frequented Corot (1796–1875) and Courbet (1819–1877), and most importantly Manet (1832–1883), whom he met in 1865, and with whom he struck up a friendship: the painter painted Duret’s portrait (1868) and in his will entrusted him with the post-death sale of his works (Drouot, 1884). Duret wrote major articles about him and the naturalistic painters, beginning with Les Peintres français en 1867. He then wrote articles in which he defended the Impressionists (1878)—whom he occasionally supported financially—, including Monet (1880), Whistler (1881), and Renoir (1883), and later on he devoted monographs to them, as well as to van Gogh (1916) and Toulouse-Lautrec (1920).

Duret organised his collection to reflect his two passions—Impressionism and Japanese engravings—and in these fields he was a pioneer and an activist. ‘At a time when Manet, Degas, Whistler, and after them the Impressionists emerged and opened the way, when Japanese art appeared quite unexpectedly, I found myself (…) at the avant-garde (…)’. It was with these words that Duret wrote the preface of the catalogue of the 1894 sale of part of his collection, which dispersed the works of forty artists—whose works he had been one of the first to notice and acquire—, dating from the second half of the nineteenth century. In the sphere of Japanese art, Duret was almost exclusively interested in wood engravings: in the ukiyo-e artists on the one hand, but primarily in the illustrated books and albums of painters. He believed, in fact, that ‘the prints (…) will only partly represent the art of engraving in Japan, as the illustrated books and albums will be the main development and they alone will enable one to observe the entire chronological development (…)’ (Duret, 1900a, pp. 132–133). He familiarised himself with this art in several stages. After acquiring several recent books by Hokusai 北斎 (1760–1849) and his pupils during a stay in Japan in 1871–1872, Duret met Dr William Anderson (1842–1900) in London circa 1880—he was the author of several works and catalogues on art, engraving, and Japanese books. This helped him increase his knowledge of engraving, and, in particular, to discover the ‘primitive’ prints of Japanese artists, such as Hishikawa Moronobu 菱川師宣 (1618–1694) (Duret, 1900a; Marquet, 1997), which he showed in turn to Edmond de Goncourt (1822–1896) (Journal, 19 November 1885, Goncourt, 2014, p. 1199). In 1882, Duret published an initial study about the history of the books and illustrated albums, with a focus on Hokusai, followed by a more general text about Japanese art (Duret, 1884), a text about engraving and Japanese books (Duret, 1888), an article about the influence of Japan on the art industries in Europe (Duret, 1893), and, finally, a presentation about the ‘art of printing’ based on his collection of illustrated books (Duret, 1900a). His main contribution was the collection of illustrated books from the Edo period (1603–1868), which he patiently collected over about thirty years and which have been held in the National Library of France (BnF) since 1899. Duret was careful to complement this with a bibliographical and analytical catalogue that served as a reference work for many years (Duret, 1900b). At the end of his life, Duret also wrote several historical works about nineteenth-century France, which have since been forgotten.

The trip to Japan

Théodore Duret began to compile his Japanese collection during his trip to Japan, accompanied by the banker Henri Cernuschi (1821–1896), between October 1871 and January 1872 (Marquet, 1998). At the time, he may have had some knowledge of Japanese art, after vising the International Exhibition in London in 1862, in which the diplomat Sir Rutherford Alcock (1809–1897) presented Japanese objects (Nessler & Royer, 2010, p. 29), the Exposition Universelle in 1867—where he said he saw Japanese books from Philippe Burty’s collection (Duret, 1900b, p. II)—, and the Japanese section of the International Exhibition in London in 1871 (Nessler & Royer, 2010, p. 76). The objects brought back from Asia by Cernuschi with Duret’s help, in particular Japanese and Chinese bronzes (around 1,500 objects), made up most of the items displayed in the Exposition de l’Extrême-Orient that was held on the occasion of the First International Congress of Orientalists that took place in the Palais de l’Industrie des Champs-Élysées, from August 1873 to January 1874 (Maucuer, 1998, pp. 35–36). As for his own acquisitions of books and prints, Duret was a pioneering collector, along with Burty, who preceded him in this field (letter from Venice dated 14 May 1873, Mérieux, 2016, annexes, Vol. II, pp. 107–108). The core of Duret’s collection (80 objects), composed mainly of engravings and illustrated books—one third of which were works by Hokusai—, as well as several (kakemonomakimono (scroll)) paintings, was shown in April–May 1883 at the Retrospective Exhibition of Japanese art, held by the art historian Louis Gonse (1846–1921) in the Galerie Georges Petit (Gonse, 1883, pp. 183–191). This is the only time it was shown to the general public.

The first Japanese collection

Part of Duret’s Japanese collection was sold by the same gallery, ten years later, between February and March 1893 (Inaga, 1994; Nessler and Royer, 2010, p. 190), to settle his financial problems, as was part of his Impressionist collection (Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Whistler, etc.), also dispersed on 19 March 1894 at the Galerie Georges Petit (forty-two pictures and pastels) for 158,885 francs (Dauze, 1894). The 1893 sale was not complemented by a catalogue and its exact content and the number of lots remain unknown. It no doubt included the two rare Chinese colour prints acquired by Henri Vever (1854–1954) (Migeon, 1894, p. 292). Only three Japanese prints from this sale have as yet been identified, for they were added in 1932 to the Louvre’s collections by the Raymond Kœchlin bequest and are held in the Musée Guimet (EO 3253, Tōyō Eikaken; EO 3294, Hokusai; EO 3340, Okumura Masanobu) (Guérin, 1932). Referring to this sale in a letter to Goncourt (13 March 1893, Inaga, 1988, p. 596), Duret wrote: ‘I was burdened by my Japanese collection, which took up all my time and energy’. According to Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), Duret did not sell his collection of books and engravings at the Galérie Georges Petit, but at the Galérie Boussod et Valadon instead (letter from Camille Pissarro to his son Lucien, 3 March 1893, Inaga, 1988, p. 596). The same year, in 1893, Duret donated a ‘comic theatre mask’ to the Louvre (EO 5, 5 December 1893), and five Noh masks in 1894 (EO 139 à 144, 24 November 1894) (Inventory register of the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet), and again two masks in 1895 (26 January 1895; Fimbel, Brossier, and Monnot, 2014, p. 55). In 1894 , he also sold to the Louvre his collection of twenty-eight combs with Japanese decorations dating from the Edo and Meiji periods (18th to 19th century), for a price of 2,000 francs (Mérieux, 2016). Like six of the masks, these combs are held in the Musée Guimet (EO 99 to 126) and ten of them were exhibited in the permanent collection (in 2019). Duret wrote an article on the subject in the review Le Japon artistique, with two photographs and many engravings taken from his illustrated books (Duret, 1890). This collection of Japanese combs was noted at the time for its rarity, in particular by Philippe Burty, who mentioned them in the 1880s in his notebooks and who supplied them to Duret, in exchange for other Japanese objects (Mérieux, 2016, annexes, Vol. II, p. 39, p. 51). It is worth noting that this collection also included Indian, Spanish, and French combs: in 1924, Duret donated fifty objects to the Musée de la Ville de Paris (housed in the Petit Palais), through the intermediary of Henry Lapauze, and these were transferred to the Musée Galliera. 

The second collection of Japanese prints

Another section of the Duret collection, comprising solely Japanese prints, was dispersed at Drouot on 15 February 1897 (Paris Archives, D 60 E3 64). According to the sale catalogue (Collection d’estampes japonaises, 1897), it comprised 123 lots, including 114 lots of prints from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and nine lots of albums or volumes of plates, the latter comprising 497 engravings, including 114 surimono. That year (29 May), Duret donated to the Louvre five prints by Okumura Masanobu 奥村政信(1686–1764) (EO 405: Narasaki, 1989, p. 166; Bayou, 2004, no. 63, p. 197), Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居 清満 (1735–1785) (EO 406), Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居 清経 (active in the mid eighteenth century) (EO 407), Harunobu (EO 408: Narasaki, 1989, pl. 45; Bayou, 2014, p. 33), and the School of Utamaro (EO 409) (Inventory register of the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet).

The collection of Japanese illustrated books

The most important part of Duret’s Japanese collection, consisting of woodblock print illustrated books from the Edo period (17th to 19th century), was sold to the Bibliothèque Nationale on 20 March 1899 for the modest sum of 12,000 francs (compared with an estimated value of 60,000 francs) (Lambert, 2008, p. 12). The critic François Thiébault-Sisson (1899) commented with irony on the turning point represented by this acquisition: ‘What profanation! Duplessis (curator of the Cabinet des Estampes from 1885 to 1898) must be turning in his grave, but only he will be doing so, as no one today denies that this increasingly popular art from Japan possess all the qualities that make it equal to that created by the European races’. The exceptional nature of this collection was immediately underlined, as it was ‘vitally important for the study of illustration in Japan’ (Hovelaque, 1900, p. 374) and enabled ‘the pursuit of a comprehensive study of one of the most interesting branches of illustrated books’ (Migeon, 1899, p. 227). The collection featured in a catalogue compiled by Duret (1900b) with the help of Gaston Migeon (1861–1930), curator at the Louvre, Émile Deshayes (dates unknown), curator at the Musée Guimet, and a Japanese letter from Kawada, K. (dates unknown), an attaché at the Musée Guimet. The Japan scholar and collector Emmanuel Tronquois (1855–1918) also stated that he had participated in the classification of this collection before 1894 (Marquet, 2002, p. 163). This catalogue comprises 581 titles, with 1,392 volumes, which are held in the storeroom (Réserve, or Rés.) of the Département des Estampes et de la Photographie, under the sections Rés. Dd-1 to Dd-1392. He added three fake compilations of surimono, which were also added to the Cabinet des Estampes in the Bibliothèque Nationale at the time (Rés. Od-171-Pet. fol. to Od-173-Pet. fol., on the Gallica digital library). This remarkable ensemble includes another 439 ‘private’ New Year engravings, from more than thirty ukiyo-e artists—beginning with Hokusai and Kubo Shunman 窪俊満 (1757–1820) –, accompanied by kyōka poems, and executed between 1790 and 1812 (Narasaki, 1990, pp. 182–230 and figs. 149–277). The part of the Duret collection which is now held in the BnF is the largest and most valuable collection of Japanese woodcut print books dating from the Edo period held in French public collections. The seventeenth-century works (75 titles), in particular, are often extremely rare, with several unica, which are not even held in collections in Japan, in particular puppet theatre pamphlets (jōruri bon) (Torigoe, 1968) and illustrated tales (Yoshida, 1985). This collection was compiled to provide a complete panorama of Japanese illustrated books over three centuries, from the beginning of the seventeenth century—with an edition of the Ise monogatari dating from 1608—to the end of the nineteenth century, by seeking out the finest copies and providing the broadest possible range of genres. The classification of the collection was based on the chronology, literary genres, and illustrators. Great importance was accorded to the books illustrated by Hokusai (Bouquillard and Marquet, 2007), which accounted for more than 100 titles, reflecting the popularity of the artist’s work in France during the era of Japonisme. Certain books came from the former collections of great writers— such as Ōta Nanpo (1749–1823), Kyokutei Bakin (1767–1848), and Shikitei Sanba (1776–1822)—and famous Japanese collectors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Stamps also attest to acquisitions from the Japanese dealer Hayashi Tadamasa (1853–1906), established in Paris as of 1883, whose shop opened in 1890 at 65, rue de la Victoire and supplied collectors in the era of Japonisme. The Rietberg Museum in Zürich holds an album of ninety-three surimono engravings accompanied by haikai poems, dating from 1827–1872, which belonged to Duret (Gross and Thomsen, 2019): Baiminō hokku surimono chō (Gisela Müller and Erich Gross donation, 2018.923 bis 1018). The works in the Duret collection feature two types of collection marks: either a green stamp in the form of a fleuron, reproduced on the cover of his catalogue (Duret, 1900b) and listed in the Lugt catalogue (L. 2845), or a red rectangular cachet formed by the letters of his surname.