Félix et Fanny Fénéon dans leur appartement du 10, Avenue de l’Opéra, Paris, ca. 1930. DR

“When, following its London counterpart, the Louvre admits Negro Art, the museum will find not only its complement but its essence. This may be how, even against the grain, a museum is made.”

Published by Félix Fénéon in 1920, the opinion of his close friend, the painter and writer Lucie Cousturier, sheds a wonderfully enlightening view on a century of advocacy for the introduction of the “Art from Remote Places” into the Louvre. The two most emblematic figures of this campaign were Frenchmen Félix Fénéon and Jacques Kerchache.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Portrait de Jacques Kerchache, 1986. DR

In 1909 Guillaume Apollinaire was the first to suggest that “the Louvre should welcome certain exotic masterpieces that are no less moving that the beautiful examples of Western statuary.” In 1912, in a review published in theParis-Journal, Apollinaire taunted those who saw “nothing more than coarse fetishes, grotesque testaments to ridiculous superstitions”... and additionally called for the creation of “a large museum of Exotic Art, which would be to this Art what the Louvre is to European Art.”

In 1920, Félix Fénéon, widely revered for his acute art criticism, published his famous survey “Will Arts from Remote Places be Admitted into the Louvre?” in Le Bulletin de la vie artistique. The survey published the opinions of the “twenty ethnographers or explorers, artists or aestheticians, collectors or dealers” Fénéon had consulted, brilliantly demonstrating that it would be difficult to introduce these objects to museums, despite the excitement they had generated in Avant-Garde circles.

Félix Fénéon, « Enquête sur les arts lointains : seront-ils admis au Louvre ? » in Bulletin de la vie artistique, 1920. DR

In 1957, in a more discreet fashion, André Lefèvre donated part of his collection to the Louvre, conditional upon the fact that some of the African and Oceanic objects being displayed in the Louvre.  

More recently, on 15 March 1990, still via the press,Jacques Kerchache launched his manifesto in Libération“For Masterpieces of the Whole World to be Born Free and Equal [in] the Eighth Section of the Grand Louvre”. In 2000, at his instigation, one hundred masterpieces of “arts from Remote Places,” in this case, African, Oceanic, Pre- colombiand and Native American finally took their place at the heart of the Palais du Louvre.

Acquired in 1972 by Jacques Kerchache, who made it one of the icons of his collection, the Fang Mabea figure, formerly in the Félix Fénéon Collection, brought these two men together for nearly a century in a common manifesto: the recognition of masterpieces of African art within the Universal History of Art.

LE BLUES DU DÉCROCHAGE, Propper et Kerchache, 1987. Film réalisé par Michel Propper à l’occasion de l’exposition Scultura Aficana : Omaggio a André Malraux à la Villa Medici, Rome, 1986. 
© MP Productions

“The discourse says ‘no men should be excluded from culture’. But the morality of three-quarters of humanity is excluded from the Louvre. There is still a great paradox. Everyone talks about the great Louvre of the 21st century. Everyone talks about the pyramid. But what is important is what happens below.” 

Le Blues du décrochage, 1987