Vagrant Investigations, Emile Guimet's Illustrated Journey to Asia
Wednesday January 31, 2018: Vagrant Investigations, Emile Guimet's Illustrated Journey to Asia, visit-conference by Sylvie Ahmadian, lecturer at the National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet.
The exhibition invites visitors to travel to Asia in the company of Émile Guimet (1838-1918), the founder of the National Museum of Asian Arts which bears his name. While pursuing the industrial activities of his father - inventor of artificial ultramarine blue, marketed under the “Bleu Guimet” label - Émile developed a passion for religious rites and beliefs. Also, in 1876, officially in charge of a study mission by the Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts, he made a "world tour" in the company of the painter Félix Régamey (1844-1907). If Émile leads in Asia - and in particular in Japan - a scientific investigation on religions with the aim of creating a museum in this field, Félix carries out many drawings and watercolors which are at the origin of vast canvases, carried out in France, presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878 before being exhibited in the rotunda of the Guimet museums in Lyon and Paris.
This long journey, carried out from May 1876 to March 1877, took them to Asia (Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Ceylon and India), passing through America where they visited the Universal Exhibition. in Philadelphia. They returned to France via the recent Suez Canal, inaugurated in 1869. While retracing Émile Guimet's trip to Asia, the exhibition also pays tribute to its founder, to this extraordinary man who was at the same time , industrialist, traveler and collector, musician and writer, passionate about religions and founder of two museums and who - throughout his life - devoted himself to his multiple passions. He also played an important role in the development of knowledge and understanding of the religions and arts of Asia in France at the end of the 19st century and early 20st century.
Émile Guimet is a traveler and his first stay outside Europe took place in 1865 in Egypt where he was fascinated by the works of the Boulaq Museum (ancestor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), as the statue of Sheikh El Beled, as well as by Mariette's scientific work. This trip truly triggered his passion for Egyptology, his taste for the collection and the idea of a museum of religions which will later be dedicated to "all the gods of India, China, Japan, and Egypt.
After having embarked at Le Havre on a liner France and having crossed the Atlantic, Émile Guimet arrives in New York, welcomed by Félix Régamey who lived in America. He was impressed by the organization of American museums, which had “alongside their collections, their conferences and their publications” and from which he would later draw inspiration for the creation of his two museums. He also became aware of the variety of religious sects in North America, such as that of the Mormons or that of the Shakers, a Puritan current of Protestant descent from New York State, whose austere customs are reflected in the canvas with muted tones, titled Communist sect of Shakers of Félix Régamey.
After a crossing of the Pacific Ocean in 23 days, the two men arrive in Japan, a fascinating country where all aspects of daily life enchant and confuse them at the same time, and which is the high point of their trip. in Asia. At the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912), travel within the country is not easy, limited to a few cities and subject to restrictions, such as the use of a "passport" issued by the authorities Japanese. However, they go to Kamakura with Charles Wirgman, in Tokyo (by train) where they meet the Japanese painter Kawanabe Kyôsai, and in Nikko (in jinrinksha, kind of Japanese rickshaw) as evidenced by the canvas Sacred bridge and banal bridge in Nikko, in which Félix Régamey liked to figure Émile Guimet in Kago at the foot of the bridges that mark the entrance to the enclosure of the famous Futurasan shrine. They go to Kyoto by taking the famous road Tôkaidô. Seduced by norimono (a kind of Japanese palanquin), he brought back several copies of which the norimono to the weapons of the lords of Sendai interior walls lined with a refined decor of landscape paintings on a background of gold leaf.
In charge of his official mission, supported by the governor of Kyoto and accompanied by two translators, E. Guimet carries out investigations on the religions of the archipelago, talks with doctors from various schools of Buddhism such as the Shingon sect, the Tendai sect, the Shinshû current, the Pure Land school or the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, as suggested by several paintings by F. Régamey such as the impressive Conference at Kenninji Kyoto. In the main room of Kennin-ji - the oldest temple of Zen Buddhism in Japan, founded in 1202 by the monk Eisai - Émile is shown from behind, dialoguing with the high priests of the temple, seated in front of him. He also met priests of Shintoism - the official doctrine of the Meiji era - such as those of the Tenmangù shrine where, in honor of travelers, a ceremony was held, illustrated in Preaching and offerings in Tenmangu Temple in Kyoto.
If Émile Guimet planned to publish his dialogues with the religious scholars of Japan, most remained unpublished until the recent work of Frédéric Girard Émile Guimet, dialogues with the Japanese religious, published in 2012. After Japan, the two travelers arrived in China, in Shanghai in November 1976. Ravaged by the Opium Wars and the Taiping revolt, in the grip of financial difficulties, China was then in full political decrepitude , social and economic. Like Henri Cernuschi and Théodore Duret (Travel to Asia, 1874) a few years ago, they are marked by the gloom, dirt and poverty that the country knows. The gray palette of Félix Régamey in Bonzes in a refectory in Canton and the presence of a sick beggar in The horse of the god of the city in the temple of the Five Geniuses in Guangzhou reflect this sad vision. Also, the religious investigation of Émile Guimet proves difficult to carry out, for lack of interpreters and face the suspicion of his interlocutors, besides the popular cults practiced in the temples of Canton and Hong Kong baffle him.
The two men leave China to reach Ceylon in January 1877, after a stopover in Saigon and Singapore. They visit the main Sinhalese sites as well as The Temple of the Buddha Tooth in Kandy which houses the famous sacred relic, and in whose enclosure is the monumental Tree of Buddha Sakyamuni in Kandy, documented by the paintings of Félix Régamey.
In India, they go to Madras, Madurai, Tanjore, Mahabalipuram where they admire the architecture and the statuary of the temples, they attend shows of bayadères or sacred dancers. There are, however, few traces of Indian residence, apart from a few illustrated articles by Émile Guimet and works acquired for the future Musée de Lyon.
Returning to France, in March 1877, Émile Guimet writes a report to the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts and prepares the publication of his trip «Japanese walks", In two volumes published in 1878 and 1880. For his part, Félix Régamey transposes in his vast paintings and in a Series of portraits in pastel, his sketches sketched in Asia for presentation at the 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris. A gouache by Félix (1878) - reproduced on a large scale in the exhibition - accurately reproduces the section devoted to the “scientific mission of Émile Guimet in Asia”, presented in the Passy wing of the Palais du Trocadéro during the the Universal Exhibition of 1878, and whose scenography prefigures that of the Guimet museums in Lyon and Paris. Built by the architect Jules Chatron and inaugurated in 1879, the Guimet museum in Lyon did not experience the expected success so that Émile Guimet decided, in 1882, to donate his collections to the State and transfer them to Paris where they were will be presented in an identical building. In Paris, the Guimet museum - of which Émile will keep the title of director until the end of his life - is inaugurated on November 20, 1889. A section of the exhibition presents some Indian works acquired by him and exhibited in the rooms of the museum from the start, as You must (bronze sculpture of South India, 16-17 ° s.), as well as a reconstruction of the N ° 5 showcase of the Japan Religions Gallery, dedicated to 33 forms of Kannon Bosatsu. Later, a second museum Guimet will be born in Lyon in 1912, receiving works from the Paris museum.
The last room of the exhibition is dedicated to the Replica of the carved mandala of Toji (1877) that Émile Guimet commissioned during a visit to Tôji, temple of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Made by the famous sculptor Yamamoto Yosuke and in accordance with the modifications made by the superior of the temple, the 23 statues of the mandala form a unique whole outside of Japan. At the center of the mandala sits the supreme Buddha, the “Grand Vairocana”, of which the 4 Buddhas arranged according to the directions and the bodhisattvas who surround him, are emanations. To their right, in the center of the "Five Great Kings of Science" with bright colors and irritated expression, presides over Fudo-Fudō “Wheel of Authority” of Buddha Vairocana, of which it reflects the unwavering desire to bring rebellious beings to the Truth, while at the four angles, the gods kings, guardians of the mandala, slay demonic beings. Exhibited from 1868 in the Galleries of the Buddhist Pantheon (Hôtel d'Heidelbach), and recently restored, the replica of the Tôji mandala by Emile Guimet is presented here in accordance with its arrangement in the rooms of the museum at the end of the 19st century.