In the Baur and Cartier Collections

12 November 2015 - 14 February 2016


In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was fashionable to collect “curios” – as these objects were rightly called, since they elicited curiosity. These exotic items from China or Japan, embellished with peculiar decorations and made of various materials, some of which are still unknown, held Westerners enthralled. The discovery of these works led to a craze for all things Asian, captivating art lovers and exerting a profound influence on the visual arts in Europe, as well as giving rise to lifelong vocations: collecting, in the case of Alfred Baur (1865-1951) and creating, for Alfred Cartier (1841-1925) and his three sons, Louis (1875-1942), Pierre (1878-1964) and Jacques (1884-1941). While the Parisian jeweller’s Asian-style pieces are well known, the historical and cultural context in which they were created has been relatively overlooked. Hence the idea of matching these precious artefacts with the collections in the Baur Foundation, Museum of Far Eastern Art, in Geneva.

Asia Imagined unfolds gradually through the exhibition rooms, like a treasure hunt. Diamond-encrusted pagodas and pavilions, busy scholars under star-studded skies, pearly moonlit nights, shimmering phoenixes, jade dragons or multicoloured gems like cherry blossom evoke an imaginary land. The magic of Cartier does its work and charms the onlooker. Set against these creations, imperial porcelains, lacquer works sprinkled with precious metals, embroidered silks, jades, coloured enamels, netsuke, sword ornaments and prints – all from the Baur Foundation –describe their own version of the wonder that is China and Japan, engendering a new and fruitful dialogue.