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Vietnamese collection

Vietnamese collection

During the first half of the 20th century, while the Cernuschi Museum progressively focused on ancient Chinese art, objects coming from other cultures were added to the collections. In 1927, the first curator, Henri d’Ardenne de Tizac, began acquiring over a hundred stone, bronze and ceramic objects, which had previously belonged to Victor Demange, a collector in Épinal. In 1933, when the museum’s second director, René Grousset, began his mandate, the collections were enriched by an anonymous gift of about fifty pieces from the Dong Son Culture as well as pieces purchased from the collection of Albert Pouyane. In 1950, René Grousset acquired several ceramics dating back to the 10th – 15th centuries.

Although we do not know precisely why Henri d’Ardenne de Tizac began to add pieces from Vietnam to the Cernuschi Museum’s collections, his successor, René Grousset, is famous for associating the museum with the excavation campaigns of Olov Janse, a Swedish archaeologist who founded the discipline of Vietnamese archaeology. Olov Janse (1892 – 1985) received his doctorate from the Uppsala University in Sweden, writing his thesis on the subject of archaeology of the Merovingian Era. He moved to France in 1922 and taught a course at the École du Louvre and then, beginning in 1927, the École Pratique des Hautes Études (prestigious higher education institutions in France).

In 1934 he began collaborating with the École française d’Extrême-Orient (the French School of the Far East), which invited him to direct three excavation campaigns between 1934 and 1939. He focused on two sites in the north of present-day Vietnam, then Tonkin and Annam in the French protectorate. The École française d’Extrême-Orient, established in Hanoi in 1902, organised the logistics for these campaigns and processed the objects unearthed during excavations.

The first two excavation campaigns, from October 1934 to May 1935 then October 1936 to January 1938, were co-financed by the Museums of the City of Paris, the National Museums and the National Ministry of Education. The objects unearthed were primarily distributed among the Cernuschi and Guimet Museums in Metropolitan France, and the Louis Finot Museum in Hanoi (currently the Vietnamese National History Museum).

The Cernuschi Museum therefore has a rich collection of over 1,300 Vietnamese pieces, essentially of an archaeological origin, that are for the most part well documented, thanks to the excavation reports written by Olov Janse. Bolstered by its incontestable authenticity, the Vietnamese Collection in the Cernuschi Museum also bears witness to the historical links between Vietnam and France: despite a painful relationship in the past, these links are embodied in objects trying to open towards another history today.