This summer, the Buddha Hall (Kwok Hall) and the full visit of the permanent collections of the Cernuschi Museum reopens to the public after six months of closure for thermal renovation work. Improvements have been made to the roof to reinforce the building’s insulation and significantly upgrade the museum’s energy efficiency.
To mark this reopening, the Buddha Hall unveils a monumental wooden sculpture spanning nearly twelve metres, representing dragons.
This masterpiece of Japanese art is exhibited for the first time in its entirety since the 1930s. It has been specially restored for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Henri Cernuschi’s return from Asia, the museum’s founder, who will also be celebrated in the exhibition Retour d’Asie - Henri Cernuschi, un collectionneur au temps du japonisme [Return from Asia – Henri Cernuschi, a collector in the age of Japonisme] which will open its doors on October 6, 2023.
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A unique artwork
Within its Japanese collections, the Cernuschi Museum holds a sculpted frieze in high-relief, featuring three dragons chasing the pearl of wisdom between waves and clouds. Evoking rain, these fantastical creatures are portents of good fortune in Asia.
This wooden design in exceptionally rare dimensions, measuring nearly 12 metres long by 1.5 metres high, is the only Japanese architectural element of this size conserved in France, or even in Europe.
Equally exceptional in terms of quality, this sculpture intrigues curators and architecture historians alike. The finesse of execution and the technical mastery of these panels attest to the absolutely remarkable yet still relatively unknown know-how of the sculptures of the Edo period (1603-1898).
Starting in 2022, Paris Musées and the Cernuschi Museum scheduled a major restoration campaign of this exceptional work, thanks to the support of several patrons, in order to be able to present it to the public as part of the visit of the permanent collections.
“Dra-Gons" Research Programme
Concomitantly, a research programme has been undertaken by the museum’s scientific team, in association with a team from the Observatoire des Patrimoines de Sorbonne Université (OPUS).
This multidisciplinary project, entitled “Dra-Gons” (“The Dragons of Cernuschi Seen as Polygons”), directed by Jean-Sébastien Cluzel, an expert in Japanese architecture, aims to shed light on some of the information essential to the understanding of this extraordinary work of art. This study focuses as much on historical as technical aspects and develops new research methods, notably through the use of digital tools.
During the restoration campaign, the sculpted dragons were thus entirely digitized via the Plémo 3D platform. This three-dimensional modelling has already provided information on the design of the sculpture and its attribution.
New Dragons display
The closure of the Buddha Hall during the first half of 2023 year allowed the restored frieze of dragons to be repositioned in its initial position at the heart of the museum.
Gifted to Henri Cernuschi by Sosthène Paul Louis de Turenne d’Aynac (1842-1918), one of the first French diplomats in Japan, it was hung high, behind the Buddha of Meguro in the main hall on the first floor of his private mansion, built to exhibit some 5,000 art objects acquired in China and Japan during his trip throughout Asia from 1871 to 1873.
Placed in the storage rooms of the museum in the 1930s, the frieze of dragons had never been exhibited as a complete set for several decades now.
The renovation project for the monumental Japanese architecture representing dragons received support from:
the Société des Amis du musée Cernuschi [Friends of the Cernuschi Museum] on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, thanks to a donation in honour of the Asia Society Japan and the Asia Society France, and a donation from Guerbet France.
This operation was also made possible thanks to the patronage of Mutuelles AXA.
Anniversary Exhibition: Return from Asia - Henri Cernuschi, a collector in the age of Japonisme
The year 2023 is a symbolic date for the museum, as it marks the 150th anniversary of Henri Cernuschi’s return from Asia. The presentation of the sculpted Japanese dragons within the collections prefigures the major retrospective dedicated to him.
The exhibition Retour d’Asie – Henri Cernuschi, un collectionneur au temps du japonisme [Return from Asia – Henri Cernuschi, a collector in the age of Japonisme], presented from October 6, 2023 to February 4, 2024, invites visitors to follow in the footsteps of Henri Cernuschi, from his journey to the Far East through to his return to Paris, where he created one of the very first museums of Asian art. It was on a two-year journey, from 1871 to 1873, that Cernuschi assembled most of the thousands of art objects that were to form the core of the collections of the museum that bears his name.
This exhibition invites audiences to discover or rediscover the itinerary of the traveller and collector, whose original contribution enabled the revolution of taste known as Japonisme to take hold in Europe.