Robert Émile Bouchard (1920-1995)
Robert Émile Bouchard (1920-1995)
In the so-called “primitive art” world, Émile Bouchard was a completely out of the ordinary figure and was in no way predestined to become a collector. He received his training far from the world of the initiates so no prejudices could interfere with the revelations that each new find could bring him. It was in this way that, as fortuitous opportunities arose, he acquired an exceptional ensemble of works from the Marquesas Islands and Papua New Guinea as well as a superb collection of clubs, and important Indonesian pieces and Tibetan bronzes. Émile Bouchard, a candy salesman at the market stands in Montreuil, remains a complete enigma. We will undoubtedly never know what circumstances led him to his interest in Oceania.
It was at the Foire à la Ferraille street market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir in Paris in the 1930s, where vendors sold their goods in cramped ground level stalls, that he acquired his first clubs from the elder Roudillon. Mrs. Roudillon baptized him “Mister Club”! He bought his first Marquesas bone toggle, ivi po’o, there too. The first two exhibitions devoted to Oceania after the Second World War, one at the Galerie André Olive on the Quai de l’Horloge (accompanied by a catalog with a preface by André Breton) and the other at the Galerie Message (which was directed by Jean Roudillon along with Suzanne Bomsel from 1946 to 1953) on the Rue des Saints Pères, were a revelation to him. Marie-Ange Ciolkowska and Madeleine Rousseau also participated in the preparation of the latter show.
Bouchard became aware that more important objects existed and decided to concentrate his professional activities as a candy merchant in the 6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris just so he could be close to those who would become his suppliers and see them as often as possible. Olivier Le Corneur (1906-1991) and Jean Roudillon (1923-2020) had just opened a gallery on the Rue Bonaparte at the time. He bought his first Marquesas Islands club there, the so-called “Gauguin” club that had formerly been in the collection of Dr. Léon Sasportas (1886-1948). This object had been given to Sasportas, who had been a physician in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands from 1919 to 1928, by the Marquesas islanders themselves. Its attribution was confirmed to Bouchard by Governor Louis Joseph Bouge (1878-1960), whose collection is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Chartres, during one of their meetings.
Emile Bouchard Collection
On Rue Bonaparte, Bouchard met Tristan Tzara, painters Alberto Magnelli and Wolfgang Paalen, Sandro Volta, André Breton and René Rasmussen, all of whom were searching for new material like he was. He was demanding, set very high standards, and was mainly after smaller very refined pieces with beautiful silhouettes and prestigious provenances. Roudillon acquired objects that had been collected by Charles Henri Vernier (1883-1966), who had been stationed in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands for forty years. That became Bouchard’s opportunity to enrich his collection and to put together an ensemble of nearly a hundred sculptures – stilt steps, clubs, ear ornaments, stone tikis and fan handles – all from the Marquesas Islands!
It was also from Roudillon that Bouchard obtained exceptional clubs from the collection of Count Festetics de Tolna. De Tolna was Austro-Hungarian and part of his collection went to the Budapest Museum while another portion wound up in Southern France. The sale of the pieces there were blocked by the French government at first but were ultimately allowed and were acquired by Dr. Stephen Chauvet (1885-1950). Roudillon later took charge of dispersing them, and Bouchard would thus complete his collection of splendid objects. It was yet again thanks to Roudillon that he would subsequently also could acquire a rare Austral Islands fly whisk that had been the property of owners who had it lying casually on their living room table for years.
Later, in the 1960s, Bouchard made the acquaintance of intrepid traveler, Oceanic art collector and dealer Pierre Langlois (1927-2015), and his interests then began to gravitate towards Papua New Guinea. Although he had not been able to attend the 1961 auction of the objects collected in the course of the important voyage of La Korrigane (1934-1936) – at which some pieces were sold in groups! – he did, at a later date, have the good luck of being able to acquire a number of rare and extremely beautiful La Korrigane objects, which subsequently became part of John and Marcia Friede’s famous Jolika collection and are now at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
Emile Bouchard Collection
Bouchard was eclectic, and he became friends with Guy Le Corneur, Olivier’s brother. Guy was a very cultivated and eccentric man who had developed a keen interest in Tibetan culture and religion. He had communicated his passion to Bouchard and supplied him with a number of bronzes without making a profit on them. Émile Bouchard was a very unusual and quite secretive person, and he neither pretended nor wished to be a specialist in this field. To him, these objects were companions, and mementos associated with their discovery.
Bouchard spent all his life building and enriching his “Imaginary Museum”, in which, guided by a singular force of attraction, Sepik River amulets, Lake Sentani figures, tikis, kapkap pendants, u’u clubs, bullroarers and musumusu canoe prow ornaments all accumulated and became part of a mysterious puzzle. His desire to learn more about all things unknown was a source of joy and inspiration to him, and he was always eager to share his passion with others. A true lover of the arts he collected, Robert Émile Bouchard will always remain alive in the memory of those who knew him as an affable and discrete heir of the 18th century “honnête homme” tradition, with an infinite curiosity for every aspect of the human genius.