A Chinese Adventure

A Swiss family in pursuit of success in the Celestial Empire

6 April 2017 - 2 July 2017


Long stored away at the bottom of a trunk, a bundle of letters describes the fortunes, trade and spirits of a family who left the Swiss Canton of Neuchâtel in the 19th century to sell watches to the Chinese. Albums with photographs of these pioneers were miraculously found in an antique shop in the same region. These invaluable records, at last reunited, allow us to piece together the history of the Loup family in China and their travels of over nearly a century around the Celestial Empire at a time when Swiss citizens were themselves migrants.

The primary reason that the Baur Foundation has taken an interest in the story of this family is because they are representative of a category of Swiss who left their homeland in the hope of improving their lives, one of whom was Alfred Baur (1865–1951) himself. This chapter of Swiss history, which remains little researched, is part of our common heritage. It is a reminder that Switzerland was not always the small economic wonder that we know today, and that it has above all been built on the adventurous and selfless spirit of our forebears.

The second reason that the biography of this family finds a place in the Baur Museum is because it chronicles the history of some of the objects in its collections. The origin of certain works in porcelain, jade and semi-precious stone, or cloisonnés, textiles, snuff bottles and other items, is suddenly revealed. Acquired at the turn of the 20th century through one of the family members, Gustave Loup (1876–1961), these antiques had lived through the slow decline and sudden collapse of an empire nearly two thousand years old, before enduring the shock encounter of two radically different cultures. They were hunted out in China, then sent by boat to Europe where they finally arrived in Switzerland, and entered the possession of one of the period’s greatest collectors of Far Eastern art. Thus, this remarkable account is quite simply part of our shared, thrilling history.