This is a museum that is quite unlike any other. Situated in the Tranchées area of Geneva, close to the Russian church, the Baur collection, one of the most beautiful collections of oriental art in Europe today, can be admired in an elegant town house, which feels like a private home.
Such was the intention of Alfred Baur, who collected the 6,000 objects presented here. On acquiring what was to become this museum shortly before his death in 1951, he had expressed the wish that visitors “would not have the impression of a museum, but that of a private house, where all the artworks can be examined at leisure”. After more than two years of painstaking renovation, visitors can now admire the Foundation’s Japanese collection once more. In his inaugural address, Mr. Ilg, President of the Baur Foundation, retraced the renovation process, underlining the attention to detail and perfectionism on the part of all involved. The result is a “jewel case” that would have surely delighted Alfred Baur.
On inauguration day, ladies in kimonos and waiters serving sushi in a reception room decorated with Ikebana flower arrangements were a fitting prelude to the ensuing visit, announced by the sounding of a gong. The red-lacquered staircase leading up to the exhibition floor, the Samourai warrior (on loan from the Museum of Ethnography) guarding the entrance to the first chamber, the exhibits themselves and the hushed atmosphere in which they are presented are a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Geneva. The exhibition is arranged thematically: sword fittings, netsuke writing implements, engravings, ceramics and lacquer ware. Below the presentation cabinets in each room are drawers containing other fascinating treasures and in each room there is a guide in English and French describing their origins and purposes. The wooden veneer on the walls of the corridors, originating from the trunk of pin oak dating back to more than 5000 years B.C., the floor coverings, which include a tatami in the tea ceremony chamber and the choice of calm and natural tones exude the refinement that these works of art deserve. Through the windows, veiled in such a way as to protect the exhibits but still admit natural light, one can catch a glimpse of the harmonious lines and proportions of the Japanese garden in the grounds below.
This is a museum to visit if you appreciate the beauty of simplicity – but the deceptive simplicity of oriental art. The faultless craftsmanship of the swords, the fine embroidery on the kimonos and the aesthetic perfection of the lacquer ware and ceramics all represent hours and hours of painstaking work and centuries of traditional skill, passed on from generation to generation.
On the ground and first floor of the Foundation, an extensive collection of Chinese objets d’art can be admired, including several Ming vases. The basement is home to two or three temporary exhibitions per year – including itinerant exhibitions from private or public collections in Europe, the United States, China or Japan, the next being of Chinese monochrome ceramics.
The Foundation’s internet site is both clear and informative with additional photographs of the beautiful exhibits to be found here www.fondationbaur.ch. Public guided tours in French are possible on Wednesday evenings and private guided tours by appointment.
Légendes des illustrations
1 Cha-ire, récipients à poudre de thé. Grès avec couvercles ivoire. Haut. 9 cm, 6 cm et 7,5 cm. Epoque Edo (1605-1868)
2 Tsuba, gardes de sabre, alliages incrustés. Haut : Mont Fuji, signé « Gotô hokkyô Ichijô » Bas : Cristaux de neige, signé « Gotô hokkyô Ichijô ». Diam. 6,7 cm et 7 cm. Début XIXe siècle
3 Netsuke, ivoire, signé « Masanao ». Boeuf couché. Long. 6,5 cm. Epoque Edo (1605-1868)
4 Boîte en laque, signée Ganshôsai Shunsui. La poétesse Ono no Komachi. Diam. 9,7 cm. Début XXe siècle
5 Plat en porcelaine de Nabeshima. Bleu sous couverte et émaux peints. Rocher et kerria du Japon. Diam. 30,8 cm. Début XVIIIe siècle
6 Bol en porcelaine de type Imari, émaux peints. Décor de chrysanthèmes et médaillons. Diam. 18,7 cm. Début XVIIIe siècle
7 Grès de type Mino. Motif floral sous couverte. Diam. 16,4 cm. Epoque Momoyama (1568- 1615)
8 Netsuke, ivoire, signé « Rantei ». Singe s’épouillant. Haut. 3,4 cm. Epoque Edo (1605 - 1868)
9 Tsuba, garde de sabre, fer et laiton incrusté. Aigle et pin. Haut. 7,5 cm. XVIIe siècle
10 Inrô en laque avec incrustations de nacre. Lièvres préparant l’élixir d’immortalité. Haut. 9 cm. Epoque Edo (1605-1868)
11 Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825). Portrait d’acteur. Estampe nishiki-e, format ôban (38,4 x 25,5 cm)
12 Kitagawa Utamaro (1754-1806). Courtisane lisant une lettre. Estampe nishiki-e, format ôban (36,1 x 24,3 cm)