News June 2009

Métiers d’Art “Les Masques”

Celebration of a collection

The Watch Quote™ - June 6th, 2009

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” - Set 2009

“There is nothing on earth which is more desirous of beauty and which embellishes itself more readily than a soul… That is why few souls, on earth, can resist the domination of a soul dedicated to beauty.”
Maurice Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble
What do these masks from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas tell us? And what, in particular, is their connection with Haute Horlogerie? “Everything” and “It’s obvious” are possible answers. But that would be too simplistic. The road which led to the creation of this collection was long, sinuous, and peppered with obstacles patiently surmounted. The end result is well worth all the passion that has been invested in it.

The idea for this collection grew out of an awareness of a renewed interest in tribal art. The so-called primitive arts are currently experiencing a new golden age, as witnessed by the long-awaited and much delayed opening of the Quai Branly Museum in Paris and by record auction prices: in June 2006, for example, a Fang mask fetched 5.9 million euros at the French auction-house Hotel Drouot. It was the largest sum ever paid at an auction for a piece of tribal art. Admittedly, the object belonged to Pierre Vérité, one of the leading dealers in 20th century African art, but the price is light years away from the five dollars Max Ernst gave the New York second-hand goods dealer, Julius Carlebach, in 1941 for an Eskimo spoon!

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” Asia - China


One way to understanding the world

It was in the 19th century that collectors first began to display an interest in “primitive” art. They were able to perceive its intrinsic value and recognise it as a work of art. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that it was artists who were the first to decipher these objects, which said so much with so little. A few sculpted holes in the wood: two for the eyes, one for the nose, and one for the mouth. The modern artists of the time were well aware that art is one of many ways to understanding the world.

The discovery of tribal art induced these artists to follow the lessons of Cézanne, a father to all of them, to take a new look at perspective, rethink volume and space, break with realism, free themselves from the lessons of academicism, and invent a new way of representing reality in order to capture the essence of being. The Fauvists – Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck – Surrealists and Cubists all came into contact with tribal art and this way of capturing forms by stripping them to a bare minimum. “In certain masks from the Ivory Coast, the Cubists saw signs which, renouncing all imitation, invited the viewer to imagine the face whose forms were not reproduced on these masks,” wrote Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, a leading art dealer and publisher(2).

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” Americas - Mexico

Despite the celebrated words – “African art? Never heard of it!” – Picasso drew on African art, as well as Iberian art, for inspiration in putting the finishing touches to his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the founding work of Cubism, which he began in 1906 and finally finished in July 1907.

During a visit to the Ethnographic Museum at the Trocadéro in Paris, he found material to nurture his formal quest: “All alone in this frightful museum with masks, Red Indian dolls and dust-covered mannequins. The Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that very day, not at all because of the forms, but because it was my first exorcism painting!”(1). According to the painter Wassily Kandinsky, Picasso “owes the success of his quest to African art”(3). And he was not the only one. “A whole string of French painters and, in their wake, foreign painters set off down this newly-opened path; this was the starting point of the Cubist movement,” he wrote in 1910 (3).

It was after discovering rice spoons from the Ivory Coast that Giacometti sculpted his Spoon Woman in late 1926. In 1936, the Exposition Surréaliste d’Objets, organised by André Breton at the Charles Ratton Gallery, brought together for the first time works by Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Mirò and Giacometti with four Eskimo masks belonging to the Heye Foundation in New York. The tribal art of the Americas, with its various objects made from recuperated and ingeniously recycled material, was an unrecognised area at that time.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” Africa - Gabon


Mirrors of the human and divine

While painters, sculptors and poets were quick to appreciate the intrinsic artistic value of these objects, institutions took a little longer, so these masks and statuettes were more often than not exhibited in ethnographic rather than art museums.

The value of tribal art does not reside essentially in its aesthetic aspect, even though this is important. Its true beauty is linked to its usage and use, to the hands which have held it and touched it. Not to mention the powers with which it has been invested on a particular continent, at a particular time, by a particular people, according to a particular religious tradition. Like the reredoses of the Middle Ages or Giotto’s frescoes, these masks have a function associated with initiations and religious rites and denote social distinction. They are, at the same time, the personification of a divinity and a spiritual entity, as well as a mirror held out to men, across time and borders, encouraging them to ask themselves those universal questions relating to the mysteries of birth, life and death, and to the relationship between the visible and invisible, between the human and the divine.

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” Oceania - Indonesia


The true Art of time

Setting aside the symbolism and magic associated with these masks, there is a certain logic in bringing tribal art and the art of watchmaking together: both are the offspring of time.

The real sculptor of an object, the one who gives it its patina and significance, who hollows out or softens its contours, is time. Masks were born of a necessity. Used at every ritual, serving to mark the seasons and accompanying both the living and the dead, they possessed a clear chronological dimension. It is also easy to draw a parallel between the anonymous work of a sculptor who has created a mask and that of a watchmaker at his workbench, working away for months, sometimes years, to bring a new movement to life. When the work is finished, both craftsmen are dispossessed of the object, which does not usually bear their name. It becomes instead the property of the person who uses it and will be passed down from generation to generation, bearing with it so many questions and so few answers.

Vacheron Constantin Calibre 2460 G4


Bibliography

L’homme et ses masques : chefs-d’oeuvre des musées Barbier-Mueller, Geneva and Barcelona, Michel Butor, Alain-Michel Boyer, Floriane Morin, Pierre Messmer Picasso, l’homme aux mille masques, Jorge Semprun, Maria Teresa Ocaña, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, Pierre Daix, Collectif, Somogy, 2006 L’Art africain, Jacques Kerchache, Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stephan, Mazenod, Paris, 1988

(1) Le primitivisme dans l’art du XXe siècle, William Rubin, Flammarion, Paris, 1991
(2) L’art nègre et le cubisme, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, L’art nègre, Paris, pp. 83–88
(3) Du spirituel dans l’art et dans la peinture en particulier, Kandinsky, Denoël

2009: Presentation of the third and final set

Oceania - Indonesia



I dance the duration the wait
patience the resistance
to suffering and to evil
the slowness of the days and nights
stammerings recognition
resignation but vigilance
the hasty passage of the months
and the devouring of the months
Michel Butor
Facial Mask
Island of Lombok, Sasak people
Hard wood, traces of white pigments
Height: 21.5 cm
Former collection of Mathias Komor
Inv. 3320-A


With its air of bewilderment, this mask has both realistic and geometrical features and is dominated by the large eyes. It clearly represents an old man with its sunken cheeks, dark rings under the eyebrows, and especially the wrinkles that furrow its brow and the folds between the nose and mouth. These wrinkles animate the face and help give dramatic expression to the character, which seems to raise its eyebrows and half-open its mouth in amazement. The old man was a regular character in Balinese Wayang Topeng theatre. The masked actors did not speak because they had to hold their masks between their teeth with a leather thong. It was therefore left to the narrators and singers to describe the intrigue and recount the heroes’ adventures.

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Asia - China



With my ornaments I surround
the emptiness opening in your eyes
and in your mouth a third
eye appearing on the forehead
to guide you in your labours
in the labyrinth of your lives
and those of your children
who continue your adventures
Michel Butor
Zangs-‘Bag facial Mask
Tibet region, Tantric Buddhism. 16th–17th century
Partially-gilt copper, pigments
Height: 22.2 cm
Inv. 2504-168


A mystery, even a profound sacredness, seems to emanate from this half-empty mask. And yet the highly naturalistic nose reminds us that this figure with its frozen expression has a human side. The divine is expressed by the strange mandorla, positioned like a jewel on the forehead of the mask and enclosing a painted eye. A beautifully designed frieze of gold-covered arabesques and scrolls frames the empty spaces. This type of zangs-’bag mask was worn by certain monks from the dGe-lugs-pa yellow hat sect. The masks were used in dances linked to the cult of Kâlacakra (the Wheel of Time).

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Americas - Mexico



At regular intervals
during the dance I come and strike
the heart whose pulse
races at the screams
reverberating off the walls
that protect us from the ghosts
of felines and enemies
who venture onto our land
Michel Butor
Pendant Mask
State of Guerrero
Mezcala culture (300 – 100 BC)
Basalt
Height: 12.8 cm
Inv. 505-26


Blending the influences of several cultures in a singular style, this pendant mask conveys all the artist’s virtuosity. Its powerful and austere profile comprises both abstract and naturalistic features. The upper part of the face and the diagonal of the cheek are treated in a minimalist fashion; by contrast, the aquiline nose and down-turned mouth seem far more realistic. This mask belongs to the Mezcala culture. During the classical period, it was the custom of these people to bury their dead under the mud floors of their dwellings. In accordance with a ritual related to the ancestral worship of the dead, the tombs were full of small hard-stone sculptures of asexual human figures, heads, plaques decorated with faces, masks, and animal effigies.

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Africa - Gabon



The line of my nose extending
between the eyebrows on my forehead
and on the other side to
my chin across my mouth
is like an arrow fired
by a bow towards the celestial heights
beyond the clouds
or naturally the bird
into which your soul changes
Michel Butor
Ngontang Mask
Western Gabon, Fang people
Soft wood covered with white kaolin,
specks of crystallisation
Height: 31 cm
Inv. 1019-76


The sobriety of this white mask, with its melancholic air and o-shaped mouth, shows the sculptor’s remarkable sensitivity. It is covered with white kaolin, a colour that for the Fang, as for many other African tribes, referred to the spirit of the dead. The expressive power of the face is produced by the vertical line suggesting the nose as well as the scarifications from the chin to the forehead and from which two welldefined, curved eyebrows branch out. This mask was used in a ritual dance linked to the Byeri’s cult of ancestor worship. Although its use did not have any particularly religious significance, the initiated dancer had to respect certain ritual gestures and taboos. These dances were intended to protect the village from witchcraft and evil influences.

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The collection Métiers d’Art « Les Masques »

Four years ago, in 2005, Vacheron Constantin celebrated 250 years of uninterrupted history

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art « Les Masques » - Set 2007

This jubilee event, unique in the annals of watchmaking history, was a perfect opportunity for the Geneva-based manufacture to demonstrate its mastery of horological art with exploits that redefined the limits of what is possible. Having proudly turned to its past, Vacheron Constantin is continuing its steady march towards the future, in an ongoing quest for the extraordinary. To create, astound and enchant, these are the challenges for the years to come.

Watchmaking is an art requiring fresh starts and continual improvement. How else can one go on creating surprises? Thanks in particular to one of its founders, François Constantin, the manufacture’s name and reputation are synonymous with distant horizons. An accomplished ambassador and tireless traveller, he crisscrossed the world in the hazardous conditions of the times to spread the company’s watchmaking expertise on other continents. By 1820, he was already exploring opportunities in China and, in 1833, the first Vacheron & Constantin watches were crossing the Atlantic. The company had realised very early on the necessity of gaining a foothold in the New World and opened a subsidiary in New York before going on to open one in Brazil around 1840, and another in India ten years later. Can a timepiece serve as a cultural bridge between nations? Both the company’s founders believed so. In 2007, the manufacture felt the need to go back to basics, paying homage to man when he verges on the sublime. It was a long journey, taking its watchmakers through time and space in search of man’s roots and focussing on one of the most beautiful expressions of his soul.


Three years
Twelve masks
Three hundred exceptional timepieces

What would be the best subject to subtly evoke the human experience? The manufacture’s master watchmakers and designers considered several possibilities. As it turned out, the choice of masks was an obvious one, for Geneva is extremely fortunate in having one of the world’s finest museums of primitive art, the Barbier-Mueller Museum. Its proximity guided Vacheron Constantin in its final choice. The Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection, therefore, grew out of a reflection on the near and far, the past, present and future, and the process of constant renewal.

But one obstacle remained: to win over the museum. Would it be willing to lend its treasures for months on end so that they could be reproduced on the dial of a collector’s watch? In the end, two things convinced Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller of the project’s beauty and significance: a lunch during which he and the Vacheron Constantin team headed by Juan-Carlos Torres were able to share their common passion for beautiful objects, and the manufacture’s philosophy.

The rest was a matter of horological magic and the commitment of a team to surpass the limits of possibility. Twelve masks were selected from the Barbier-Mueller collection for small-scale reproduction in gold. They repose majestically at the centre of each timepiece in a collection that spans two thousand years and four continents.

Because Vacheron Constantin understands the value of time, it respected the time needed to create such exceptional pieces. Long months were required first of all to perfect the movement, and then the techniques with which the master craftsmen could reproduce these works of art in miniature. There had to be plenty of time for questioning, reflection and invention.

A collection cannot be hurried. That is why the Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection is a story that has unfurled over time. Every year for three years – 2007 to 2009 – a boxed set of four different masks has been presented in a limited series of 25.

A complete set of the twelve timepieces reproducing the twelve masks – from the limited edition of 300 exceptional timepieces – is being unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at an exhibition sponsored by Vacheron Constantin and called “A Legacy of Collecting: African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva” in tribute to Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller.


A work of Art in miniature

Each timepiece is equipped with the automatic Calibre 2460G4 movement, made by the manufacture and bearing the prestigious Poinçon de Genève. Thanks to this very special movement, the time can be read without any hands: by means of a set of wheels and gears, four discs indicate the hours, minutes, day and date in windows, leaving the centre of the dial empty for the masks to be placed there and for the craftsmen to give free rein to their creativity.

The movement was completely redesigned to receive the masks; even though time is the raison d’être here, the masks are the focus of attention and had to be put in the spotlight. To ensure that they were, the team of designers decided to virtually conceal the movement. A clever technique using transparency and specially-treated glass creates the impression that the masks are floating. Each sapphire crystal has a different tint, obtained by a unique metallisation process, so that it sets off the colour of the mask. The effect is breathtaking: the miniature sculpture seems within reach, a silent guardian of ancestral secrets.

Finally, it required all Michel Butor’s talent to give voice, if not life, to the masks. His magnificent words, short poems in prose dedicated to each mask, circle the sapphire dial in letters of gold. The writer’s lines follow each other in a spiral that seems to have no beginning and no end, a mysterious message that can only be read when the light strikes it from a certain angle. This effect is achieved by vacuum metallisation, a sophisticated technological process in which the gold letters are sprayed onto a sapphire crystal. Thanks to the multiple play of light and transparency, the watch has secrets that it will only ever share with its owner.

The art of engraving

Métiers d’Art “les Masques”



Over and above the power with which it is invested, a mask is designed to hide the face or be worn on the head. Its shape is linked to its function. But how could it be reduced in size and made to fit into the confined space of a watch case without losing its evocative power? What material could be used to reproduce its particular patina and capture the effects of time? How could the illusion of gold coated with verdigris be reproduced? And, most important of all, what could be done to remain faithful to the spirit of these masks without betraying them once again? As the project advanced, the answers to all these questions became more and more insoluble. Between the birth of the idea and its fruition, there was so much unrewarded effort, so many unsuccessful tests, so many roads leading nowhere. But giving up was not on Vacheron Constantin’s agenda.



Dissatisfied with the initial results, the team approached the work from a new angle. To see the project through, it patiently pushed ahead with its research, drawing closer and closer to the models by devising new techniques, which brought together the past and present, tradition and cutting-edge technology.



Perfect Miniaturisation
Creating a faithful reproduction of the masks through miniaturisation was the first obstacle. The Barbier-Mueller Museum had agreed to entrust a few precious pieces of its collection to the Manufacture on the strict condition that they produced a very faithful reproduction of the original masks.



To scrupulously respect the proportions, the traces made by the original sculptor’s tools as well as those left by time, the engraver could have chosen to follow tradition and create a hand-made miniature prototype by copying the original. It was not the expertise that was lacking, however, but the time needed for devising several different methods to produce the best rough model and work out the best angle for presenting it. The slightest modification, though, would have meant starting all over again.

That is why Vacheron Constantin made a three-dimensional image of each mask. By putting the plans together on a computer, they were able to modify the volumes point by point and find the best angle for fitting the whole mask into the watch case while safeguarding the harmony of its forms.



The Material
The question arose whether to use the original materials or not. Some of them had to be rejected right away because they were impracticable: for example, the very structure of wood makes it unsuitable for such small sculptures, and copper oxidises. As the aim of a collector’s watch is to defy time, the company chose gold, a noble, precious metal which can be finely worked, coloured and treated.



The Decor
Once the form of the prototype had been defined and the first model made, it was the engraver’s turn to exercise his skills, working delicately on the reliefs, embossments and hollows and chiselling away at the rough patches to reproduce the details on the masks. It took all his expertise to render such effects as the exact marks left by the sculptor’s burin, to carve out the eyes, paying close attention to the effects of time, and to follow the same contours made by others centuries earlier and on distant continents.



The Colour
The final challenge was the treatment of colour: how could the appearance of the masks be respected and, for some of them, how could their delicate polychromy be recaptured without falling into the trap of creating a simple painted reproduction? The team first tried out different types of gold, for example choosing a very warm-coloured one to achieve a tint similar to old brass. Then the team turned its hand to alchemy, using galvanic and chemical formulae found in old books. A chemist’s bench was recreated complete with traditional alembics. To reproduce the effect of copper covered with verdigris, for example, the engraver developed a novel system of protective coating: small deposits of copper on gold, which were then oxidised. Within no time at all, the mask looked thousands of years old.













































Vacheron Constantin
and the Barbier-Mueller Museum

An alliance of arts

Some partnerships are so clearly written in the stars that it seems amazing they have not been formed before. Yet it took a special encounter for Vacheron Constantin and the Barbier-Mueller Museum to find an opportunity to fuse their destinies in a collection of timepieces transcended by primitive art.

This cooperation would doubtless never have developed, were it not for the values we share with the Barbier-Mueller family. Its collection of primitive art, exhibited for over three decades in Geneva and for the past twelve years in Barcelona, expresses a powerful attachment to cultural diversity and a pioneering spirit that is greatly cherished by our watch company.

In devoting his life to enriching the family collection of tribal art that was initiated over a century ago, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller has shown himself to be one of the most visionary collectors of his generation.

A tireless discoverer of unsuspected artistic treasures, he has given Geneva a museum of immeasurable importance. We are very proud to be associated with this 32-year-old institution.

It was in partnership with the Barbier-Mueller Museum that Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection was created in 2007.

Paying tribute to the Métiers d’Art watchmakers, and more particularly to engraving, this collection has covered a three-year period – from 2007 to 2009 – with a set of four models produced per year, each issued in a limited edition of twenty-five. These twelve watches are faithful reproductions in miniature of twelve original masks from the private Barbier-Mueller collection that come from four regions of the world rich in tribal art.

June 2009: on the occasion of the vernissage of “A Legacy of Collecting: African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva”, an exhibition backed by Vacheron Constantin, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and dedicated to the masterpieces of the family collection, we have the great honour and privilege of presenting the complete Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection: a grand finale, as it were, serving as a tribute to Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller and as further confirmation of our attachment to culture, travel and discovery.

Culture, because Vacheron Constantin is a company whose creations are all inspired by artistry. Travel, because it is in the company’s genes. Those acquainted with the history of our manufacture know just how much its founders, and particularly François Constantin, loved to travel the globe to share their horological expertise. And as for discovery, that is clearly an integral part of our philosophy. If it had not constantly challenged existing technical, aesthetic and cultural assumptions and explored uncharted territory, Vacheron Constantin would doubtless not have been able to look back on over 250 years of watchmaking know-how.

Born of a philosophical reflection on places near and far, the past, present and future, and on the process of constant renewal, the Métiers d’Art “Les Masques” collection pays a glowing tribute to the human spirit. It eloquently conveys the respect we feel for craftsmen in general, and for the remarkable work accomplished by those at Vacheron Constantin in particular.

We would like to take this opportunity to offer our sincere thanks to Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller for the confidence he has shown in us, and to Michel Butor, of course, for his poetic contribution to the creation of these exceptional timepieces. While his words invite us to remember that the faces – or the masks – reflect the stirrings of the soul, our watchmaking skills lend them an additional dimension. In this particular case, they are the physical expression of the movement that makes a watch beat, always governed by a determination to “do better if possible, which is always possible”.


The Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva

Geneva is privileged to be home to one of the largest and most beautiful collections of primitive art in the world: the Barbier-Mueller Museum.

To better appreciate the pioneering spirit that inspired Josef Mueller, the collection’s founder, we have to look at his early artistic emotions. When he was twenty, he used his entire year’s earnings to buy a painting by Ferdinand Hodler and, soon afterwards, went to Paris where he met the wellknown art dealer Ambroise Vollard. On the latter’s advice, he acquired an important and remarkable painting by Cézanne, the portrait of the Jardinier Vallier, painted in 1905 at the very end of the artist’s life. Cézanne was to become the father of modern painting. It was only by overcoming many difficulties that Josef Mueller rapidly built up a collection that, by 1918, already included seven Cézanne, five Matisse, five Renoir as well as paintings by Picasso, Braque and many others by celebrated masters.

It was in the 1920’s that Josef Mueller discovered tribal art. During this period, there was a craze for all things exotic: African art, La Revue nègre and… Josephine Baker. Josef Mueller bought whatever took his fancy. Besides works of lesser interest, he acquired some magnificent pieces from leading Parisian dealers, one of whom, the celebrated Charles Ratton, sold him the Téké Tsaayi mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had belonged to André Derain. Today, the collection includes many works that were once owned by those who, like Derain, Vlaminck, Tzara and Lhote, had discovered African art.

It was in 1952 that Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, a young man intent on building up his own collection, arrived on the scene. He was 22 when he met Monique, Josef Mueller’s daughter. They later married and amalgamated the two collections that, thanks to him, have flourished ever since.

In May 1977, three months after Josef Mueller’s death, Monique and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller opened the first museum to bear their name in Geneva. They opened the second, in Barcelona, in 1997. 2007 was a milestone year with the 100th anniversary of the Barbier-Mueller collection, the 30th anniversary of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, and the 10th anniversary of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Barcelona.

Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller
Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller was born in Geneva in 1930 and greatly influenced by a father who was passionate about everything: poetry, philosophy, music (one of his compositions was written in Seattle, in the United States, in 1985) and science (getting his Ph. D. in biology at the age of 47). After studying law in Geneva and London, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller was called to the Bar, but soon afterwards went to work for a leading bank and, then, at the age of 28, became director of an investment company. In 1960, he started up his own company, the Société Privée de Gérance, which specialises in property development and management for institutional investors and the construction of social housing. A collector like his father-in-law Josef Mueller, he specialises in “non-western” arts. In 1977, he and his wife Monique opened the Barbier-Mueller Museum. It has organised over seventy-five exhibitions, presenting different parts of the family collection. These exhibitions were organised in collaboration with leading museums in Europe, America and Asia, and the majority had important catalogues. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller himself conducted or financed research projects in Sumatra, the Ivory Coast and Guinea. In May 1997, the Museu Barbier-Mueller d’Art precolombí opened its doors in Barcelona in the Nadal Palace. Inaugurated by Her Majesty Queen Sofia, the museum was the outcome of an enthusiastic response from the City Council to an offer to lend around 400 works of pre-Hispanic American art on a long-term basis. The Nadal Palace was restored for the purpose of exhibiting these pieces. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller also amassed a collection of early editions of Renaissance poets, which he began at the age of 13 and for which he gradually published a catalogue. He and his wife established the Barbier-Mueller Foundation in 1997 at the University of Geneva for the study of Italian Renaissance poetry. The Foundation received an endowment of around 200 volumes from the 15th and 16th centuries, a donation of considerable cultural value. New acquisitions have significantly enlarged this collection, which contained around 500 volumes in 2005. A catalogue was published by Professor Jean Balsamo in 2006. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller has been made Commander of the Legion of Honour and Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, as well as Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and Officer of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic. Recently, His Majesty the King of Spain awarded him the insignia of Grand Officer of the Order of Civil Merit. He is also an Officer of the Ivory Coast’s Order of Merit.

Michel Butor
Michel Butor was born on 14 September 1926 in the north of France. His father was an administrator for the Chemin de Fer du Nord and passionate about drawing, water-colour painting and wood engraving. In 1929, Michel Butor’s family moved to Paris. With the exception of 1939-1940, the year of the “phoney war”, which he spent in Normandy, he did all his schooling there. After studying literature and philosophy at university, he left Paris to teach in the Nile Valley, in Egypt. He had been fascinated by writing for a long time when his first novels were published by Minuit. He continued his travels, which were both professional and exploratory, visiting Greece, Switzerland and the United States. He was appointed professor at the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Arts and published various essays, narrations, poems and short stories. He then worked with painters, musicians and photographers who were keen to bring different forms of artistic expression together. He has written two works for the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Le Congrès des cuillers and Un Jour nous construirons les pyramides, the latter to coincide with the publication and exhibition of a collection of pre-Pharaonic Egyptian artefacts. He continued to travel, visiting Japan, Australia and China. He retired in 1991 and now lives in Haute-Savoie, in France near Geneva.

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