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

Biographical Article

Joseph Eysséric was a professor of geography in Carpentras, where he was born on November 20, 1860. Coming from the local bourgeoisie, he was the son of a professor of letters at the école normale of Aix-en-Provence and a professor of elementary mathematics at the collège of Carpentras, where he also studied.

Joseph Eysséric, Geographer by Training

Joseph Eysseric initially resumed the work of his father and took charge of the re-edition of his treatises on theoretical and practical arithmetic. He also kept his Géographie de la France, whose first edition dates from 1868 (Dubled, 1969), up to date. He was himself the author of Nouvelle Géographie (1882), which was praised by the geographer Jean Brunhes (1869-1930) [bibliothèque Inguimbertine, Ms. 2495]. He was appointed an officer of the Académie in 1894 (Le Temps, January 19, 1894).

Joseph Eysséric stood out as a professional geographer. He frequented local scholarly circles. He became a member of the Vaucluse Meteorological Commission (Commission météorologique du Vaucluse), a full member of the Académie of the department on March 1, 1895, and was elected vice-president in 1898. He was also recognised in the French capital: he was admitted in 1892 to the Geographical Society of Paris, like his father, under the sponsorship of Charles Delagrave (1842-1934), bookseller and publisher in Paris, and geologist Emmanuel de Margerie (1862-1953). Eysseric also joined the Commercial Geography Society of Paris (Société de géographie commerciale de Paris), inducted on May 3, 1898, after his trip to Africa. He joined the council of this society the following year and became a founding member from 1909 to 1914.

Field Geographer

Eysseric first explored France and its border countries. After visiting Italy in 1877, he went to Switzerland in 1882. From 1887, he moved away, traveling through Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, North Africa, and even Corsica. In 1890, after Greece, he visited Turkey, the United States and Canada. Two trips led him in 1892, then around 1900, to Spitsbergen in Norway.

From 1893 to 1895, under the auspices of the ministère de l’Instruction publique et des Beaux-Arts, he traveled around the world, which led him to visit Eastern China and its great river, the Yangtze (Changjiang [長江] ).

The following year, the ministry again granted him a free mission to explore Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire. This trip had its share of adventures. He was taken prisoner by the Guros; an episode which he recounted in the popular magazine Le Tour du Monde (1900). Above all, he discovered what he believed to be the sources of the Red Bandama. This mission allowed him to be among the list of nominees for the medal of Centre Afrique, alongside explorers Gabriel Bonvalot (1853-1933) and Émile Hourst (1864-1940). The Geographical Society of Paris awarded him the Léon Dewez prize for all of his work. On his return, he went to Russia, where he became interested in the oil fields in the Caucasus. In 1900, he took part in the mission organised by the astronomer Guillaume Bigourdan (1851-1932) of the Bureau des longitudes, which aimed to observe the solar eclipse at Hellin, in the south-east of Spain, on the route from Albacete to Murci. He thus observed the total solar eclipse of May 28, 1900, at the secondary station of Albacete.

As an astronomer, Eysseric contributed to the elaboration of the "monochromatic photograph of the crown" of the sun during the total eclipse of August 30, 1905, observed in Sfax in Tunisia (Ciel et Terre, 1905). Under the tutelage of the Paris Observatory, with his group from Cormeilles-en-Parisis, renowned for having taken numerous photographs, he observed the solar eclipse in 1912 at the Batterie de Cotillon, "equipped with a telescope which, a few years ago, served as a defensive weapon against the savages of the Ivory Coast, who took it for a cannon” (La Dépêche de Brest, 1912).

While these journeys were based on a scientific desire to document the territory, they also had aspects of the dilettante; the trip also gave the opportunity for physical exercise. His membership in 1899 of the Club alpin français, under the sponsorship of the inventor of orography Franz Schrader (1844-1924) and Emmanuel de Margerie, attests to this. Eysseric was even referred to as an "intrepid mountaineer" (Un Passant, 1900, p. 159).

Explorer and Artist

Recognized as a serious geographer, Joseph Eysséric combined scientific competence and artistic talent. He counted among his masters Denis Bonnet (1789-1817) and Évariste Bernardi de Valernes (1816-1896). He was also introduced to painting with the artist Jules Laurens (1825-1901). He undoubtedly tapped into the experience of this traveling painter, who had himself participated in the scientific mission organised in Turkey and Persia by the engineer Xavier Hommaire de Hell (1812-1848), from 1846 to 1849. In the 1880s, his master introduced him to the Parisian circle of "La Petite Vache" (Prat S., 1998). The student thus assiduously frequented the studios of great artists such as Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954), with whom he forged friendships (Prat S., 1998). Eysseric's workshop even had a storefront, appearing in the Almanach du commerce de l’industrie, as an artist-painter, from 1902 to 1908, after his two major scientific missions.

Eysseric was recognised in artistic circles and exhibited his works at various Parisian and provincial fairs. At the regional level, the Société vauclusienne des Amis des arts included him as a member. He was named a perpetual member in 1934. In 1898, he joined the Société des Amis des arts de Nîmes. At the national level, he became a member in 1931 of the Society of French Artists. From 1900 to 1931, he appeared in the Annuaire de l’Association des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, architectes, graveurs et dessinateurs. From 1899, he actively contributed to the Association des peintres de la montagne, supported by the Club alpin français, of which he was also a life member. He was a member of the Association amicale des paysagistes français. He thus participated in the Beaux-Arts exhibitions in Avignon (May 1882, 1900, 1901), Nîmes (1883), Montpellier (1887), Orange (1888), Nice (1906), and Paris (1904). He participated in the Salon des peintres orientalistes (1903, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914) and in the salons organised by Association professionnelle des artistes (1903, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914). This shows the importance he gave to his works and the aesthetic dimension he attributes to them. These were mainly landscapes and seascapes, the fruit of his many excursions.

Art as Engagement

Between his travels, Eysséric participated in various congresses in France and abroad, where he shared his opinion on the state of colonial France.

Like the projections at these public sessions, the exhibitions facilitated visual presentations of the territories he had traversed. Following his world tour, on December 21, 1894, Joseph Eysséric received authorisation from the Ministry of Public Instruction to exhibit his photographs and albums of drawings in the premises of the Paris Geographical Society, located at 184, boulevard Saint-Germain. This exhibition made an impression, and in particular caught the attention of the doctor, anthropologist, and founder of the Musée ethnographique du Trocadéro Ernest-Théodore Hamy (1842-1908) [AN, F/17/2960).

Eysseric's participation in the Salon des peintres orientalistes français is revealing in many respects. If we refer to the statutes of the association, its aim was "to promote artistic studies conceived under the inspiration of the countries and civilisations of the East and the Far East" and to “make these countries and these native races better known.” Responding to a penchant towards exoticism, the images also served the government's projects of propaganda, taking advantage of this "fascination of the image" (Bénédicte L., 1897, p. 3).

Joseph Eysséric exhibited the outcomes of his travels during various artistic salons, Parisian and provincial, proof of the double status he gave to his works, perceived both in dimensions of both art and propaga. His status as president of the local committee of the Fédération littéraire et artistique du sud-est et de l’Afrique du Nord obtained in 1926 suggests this ambivalence. Some of his works are even exhibited in museums in the region: the musée Duplessis in Carpentras and the musée Calvet in Avignon.

Another means of distribution was favoured: the postcard. This image, which travelled and was transmitted, nourished an aesthetic of memory and a certain conception of space.

With his friend Eugène Gallois (1856-1916), Joseph Eysséric participated in March 1900 in the launch of the monthly bulletin of the Institut colonial marseillais, L'Expansion française coloniale, and became a member of the management committee and of the Société d'études industrielles, commerciales, maritimes et financières, which was subsequently founded. He shared with his colleagues a utilitarian conception of geography, which could contribute to colonial sciences and to the extension of French influence in the world. In March 1914, he was named a member of the jury for the Exposition nationale et coloniale.

Involvement in the Cultural Life of the City

In addition to his investment in the colonial future of France, Joseph Eysséric was involved in the life of his hometown. In 1891, he documented alongside the illustrator Charles Lopis (1872-1947) and the photographer Philippe Isnard (18? -19?; active in Carpentras in 1890) the Histoire de Carpentras by Joseph Liabastres (1842-1904), curator of the bibliothèque Inguimbertine.

From 1892, he played an important role in the committee of the bibliothèque Inguimbertine. He served as its vice-president from 1924 until his death in 1932.

Towards the end of his life, he tended to become more involved in the political life of the city. In 1931, he became vice-president of the board of directors of the Carpentras committee, founded in 1914. He was concerned with victims of the war and at the same time joined forces with the Société française de secours aux blessés militaires.

A Polygraph

Geographer, explorer, artist, astronomer, sociologist and demographer, Joseph Eysséric is the author of the book Politique laïque et Dépopulation. Finished Galliae? in 1931, in which he gives his point of view on secular education. He was also the inventor of a windshield shelter for the automobile, maritime and air navigation, publishing his research in the Aeronautical Review in 1912. He thus contributed to the French Association for the Advancement of Science, appearing on the regional list of members in 1929 (p. 56). He also became a member of the French Air Navigation Society, founded in 1872. Thus, Joseph Eysséric established himself as a veritable polygraph.

The Collection

Joseph Eysseric donated his works to several institutions. The Inguimbertine collection was the most important, with more than 60 photographs taken in Asia. These were laminated on cardboard, with borders, and gathered in three unbound albums. The collection of the Geographical Society of Paris contains gaps. Of the ten shots given by the photographer in 1895, after his descent of the Yangtze, only six remain. Eysseric used various mediums to reflect reality; sketches, watercolours, paintings and photographs were all means of documenting the terrain.

The Thought of a "Geographical Iconography"

From his dual training as a geographer and an artist, Joseph Eysséric developed a singular approach to geography and the photographic image. The notion of "geographical iconography" appears at the top of his two exploration projects submitted to the Ministry of Public Instruction.

His world tour was designed "for the purpose of bringing together cartographic documents of general geography and especially of geographical iconography", “evoking, by photography, drawing, watercolour, or painted studies, the panoramas, horizons, interesting sites from a geographical and geological point of view" (AN, F/17/2960).

Photography: A Collective Practice

For his first mission, Eysséric required the help of a close friend, Gaston Guérin, about whom we have little information. He specified that his assistance would be most useful in China (AN, /17/2960). Thanks to an extension of the mission decree of the Ministry of Public Instruction, dated October 10, 1893, Guérin was assigned to the mission as a photographic assistant. Moreover, while his travel notes, notebook, and correspondence meticulously list his pictorial progress, numbering his watercolours and his paintings according to the stages covered, Eysséric does not at any time mention shooting scenes. Also, it is clear that he considered himself above all a painter, proving to be more skilful in handling the brush than the darkroom. The secretary general of the Geographical Society, Charles Maunoir (1830-1901), asked by the ministry to give his opinion on the project proposed by Eysséric, praised a confirmed artist, an "extremely conscientious man", fair and quick in the execution of his drawings, capable of adapting to his field (AN, F/17/2960).

Preparing to Collect Views

While Eysseric demonstrated his experience in observation, he still required the advice of Charles Maunoir. With the program of the trip still not fixed at the end of June 1893, the latter stuck with generalities. In comparison with photography, drawing seemed to him primary, although the two are complementary. As such, he recommended instant photography, "a judicious means of reproducing crowds or rendering attitudes" (AN, F/17/2960). While the photographs were indeed taken on the spot, they attest to a random technical mastery: blurring of the moving figures, overexposure of the photographs. The sketches complete these, relating to a quick gesture, and intrinsically comprising "summary aims" (AN, F/17/2960), but useful when the conditions for shooting are not met.

Emphasis is placed on the annotation of photographs. It is mainly a matter of taking the measurement of distances and noting them. Charles Maunoir recommended using a wide focal aperture, and gave advice on panoramic photography: note the point of view, the distance from the furthest points, the altitude; and above all, name the place in question. For the photographs taken from the summits, Maunoir insisted on the need to keep the horizon line intact, as a point of reference. He recommended accompanying each view with "a brief caption, indicating the day and even the time of day on which the drawing was executed" (AN, F/17/2960). Eysseric would stick to a few annotations for the photographs.

Some instructions refer specifically to China, whose geological characteristics had to be made visible. The presence of loess and the unique tones of the territory should thus be highlighted. Drawing and painting provide what is lacking in photography, namely colour. In this sense, these pictorial works provide "a valuable complement to his photographic views" (AN, F/17/2960). Maunoir added the specific case of navigation, drawing attention to the margins of the gaze, which took into account the banks of the river and river craft. The sketches needed to be accompanied by technical details. The notebooks report on this effort to observe the technical workings of the various buildings on which Eysseric was able to visit.

The injunctions formulated by Maunoir invite an exhaustive and totalising iconographic conception. All aspects of the countries crossed were sought to be identified: the rivers, the landscapes, the fauna and the flora, the mores and the customs, with a concern for exemplarity. It was not a matter of redundantly increasing the shots of one phenomenon; the photographer should rather act with circumspection, and make choices. Eysseric favoured the banks of the river: in his view, Chinese haulers and sailors enter his sights; the landscape appears evanescent.

Photographic Practice in the Field

Eysseric did not fully comply with these strict specifications. Human factors (Eysseric having been confronted with the contingencies of the terrain and the unpredictable behaviour of those observed) and climatic factors inadvertently conditioned the photographic or even pictorial process. In any case, the image needed to be thought out in advance.

Eysseric developed conceptual research, which he did not theorise, but which is highlighted in his mission orders, as a foil. In his notebooks, the traveling artist refers to his paintings as "observation paintings". While photography was instantaneous, the pictorial practice required realisation over a long time, a freeze frame, marking a particular moment of the journey. Drawing thus was another way of apprehending reality. This performative act did not avoid arousing some hostility on the part of the inhabitants. Eysseric was thus confronted with the excessive curiosity of the Chinese and was even harassed, becoming the victim of stone throwing.

The Yangtze, the "grrrrrrande expédition"

The Yangtze benefits from a particular iconographic treatment. His exploration is part of a longer journey, begun in November 1893. His arrival in China, on April 3, 1894 after a short stay in Tonkin, was considered the peak of the trip. The Yangtze was a "grrrrrrande expédition" (Bibliothèque de l'Inguimbertine, Ms. 2507), where Eysséric was proud to hoist the French flag, as mentioned in a letter to his uncle (Bibliothèque Inguimbertine, Ms. 2507). He went up the Yangtze to Xinling (信陵) [Yunnan (雲南)], which was eight days upstream from Yichang by junk (宜昌).

Eysseric's intention was to complete the information collected by the consul Frédéric Haas (1843-1915) and Berger during their trip to Chongqing (重慶), a city open to foreigners since 1890. The explorer documented himself onsite, collecting the testimony of some of his predecessors: Hobson, whom he met in Hankou (汉口) [Wuhan (武汉)] and Beijing (北京), and with Fathers Stanislas Chevalier (1852-1930) and Pierre Heude (1836-1902), whom he visits at the Zi-ka-wei Observatory (Xujiahui [徐家汇]) in Shanghai (上海). In his journey, the geographer took no new roads; only a few segments were previously unknown. The study of the hydrography of the Yangtze, which had already been traversed, nevertheless shed new light on the navigability of the upper river, and became the subject of a note addressed to the Ministry of Public Instruction (AN, F/17/2960 ).

In a detailed report, the explorer noted the difficult aspect of this portion of the river, interspersed with particularly perilous rapids, even if, according to him, this danger seemed exaggerated by his predecessors. To improve the navigability of the river, Eysséric put forward a set of proposals, the difficulty of which he measured in implementing them. For him, the Yangzi represented a great trade route, despite its difficult navigation.

The Latent Image

The production of the photographic image was first of all envisaged in the short term, the process being brought to a halt, as a precaution, to avoid spoiling the film in broad daylight. The explorer separated himself from his pictures, sending them to people he trusts. On January 1, 1894, Eysséric thus preferred to send the printed film from his Kodak to his uncle, Gustave, founder of the Carpentras confectionery of berlingots. This package, containing among other things two rolls of photographs and 71 rolls of film, was "to be handled with care" so that Joseph Eysséric could unpack them serenely on his return (bibliothèque Inguimbertin, Ms. 2507). "The photos are filed in labeled envelopes" (bibliothèque Inguimbertin, Ms. 2507). If Eysseric was already aware even before the development of the fact that certain films were damaged or unviable, it in no way diminished the value he attributed to his photographs, which despite everything he considered "precious" (bibliothèque Inguimbertin, Ms. 2507). He also sent some of his films to the geographer Maurice Viguier, with a request to keep them (bibliothèque Inguimbertin, Ms. 2507). It was only later that he would go through the official circuit of the ministry, perhaps aware of the scope of this new mission and animated by the desire to publish these images. The Ministry of Public Instruction was thus the intermediary between the Colonial Administration and a certain Mr. Robaut, lawyer at the Paris Court of Appeal, who would take care of developing and removing them.

Regarding his album of drawings from Port-Saïd to Calcutta, Eysseric further recommended to his uncle to "only let super-prepared people leaf through the album, and file it with the other drawings", adding: “if you knew how much effort, will, and work is represented in each sketch!” (bibliothèque Inguimbertine, Ms. 2507). The image circulated within the framework of a domestic parenthesis, which became obsolete on the traveler’s return since he took care of their development, the printing of the proofs, and the constitution of their critical apparatus, adapted to the target audience.

Maker and Collector of Images

Eysseric published some of his works in the Annales de géographie (1895-1896), presenting two watercolours of the Yangtze (1895-1896), and in the popular review Le Tour du Monde (1900), on the occasion of an account of his adventures in Africa. In this regard, Emmanuel de Margerie encouraged him to publish his drawings (bibliothèque Inguimbertin, Ms. 2495).

The image producer also became an image collector and enriched a personal collection, reflecting a singular gaze. In Mandalay, Eysséric met the photographer and art dealer Felice Beato (1832-1909). It is highly probable that some photographs were purchased from him since Eysseric mentioned some "not bulky" purchases in his notebooks (bibliothèque Inguimbertine, Ms. 2507a). Also, his cooperation with Berger in Chongqing earned him two of his photographs, traces of which can be found in the municipal archives of Carpentras (bibliothèque Inguimbertin, 26.628 [35]).