Musée Guimet displays spectacular collection of Himalayan art that will one day join its own

Collector Lionel Fournier talks about Asian art he will leave the museum


Lionel Fournier has lent his famous collection of Himalayan art to the Musée Nationale des Arts Asiatique Guimet in Paris until 28 January l99l. The l0l objects on display in an exhibition entitled “Esoteric Himalyan Art, the Lionel Fournier Donation” will return as part of the museum’s permanent collection on Fournier’s death (he has no descendants). The collection’s particular strengths are Nepalese and Tibetan religious paintings, manuscripts, sculptures and ritual objects dating from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. The exhibition has a catalogue by its curator, Gilles Beguin (l20 colour plates, 40 monochrome).

During an interview with Philippe Dagen and Andre Velter in Le Monde, Fournier revealed that his interest in oriental art was born when, aged about twenty, his readings on Tibet led him almost spontaneously to develop a passion for its civilisation. After the l959 Lhassa revolt, which followed the Chinese invasion, the Cultural Revolution began to destroy Tibet’s heritage. Fournier explained that he realised immediately that he must save as much as possible, and began to bring together masterpieces of Himalayan art. When asked whether he had had a lot of time and money at his disposal he replied that they had been less that might be imagined; that he was just a middle-class man who had come into a modest inheritance at an early age.

Fournier began to collect in the Sixties when still very young, when, he says, the market for Tibetan art did not yet exist. He must have been partly responsible for its creation. During the last three years he has increased his collection tenfold, becoming in a sense his “own worst adversary”. However, he said that it was still common to pay around $100,000 for a fine tangkha when a Jasper Johns costs millions. Fournier concluded by saying that he chose to give his collection to the Musée Guimet, first, because he is French, secondly, because he wanted at all costs to keep the objects together and thirdly, in order to enrich the museum’s collection. Fournier concluded with the comment that it was impossible to live with the products of an unworldly philosophy without realising that the pleasure of possession one day had to be renounced. However, as he is still only forty-seven, that day must seem far off.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Musée Guimet gets glimpse of future'