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The Paris Purchases

The Paris Purchases

On 1st August 1939, Jacques Ochs, Auguste Buisseret and Olympe Gilbart visited Paris, seeking paintings by modern artists that they wished to obtain for the Fine Arts Museum of Liège. At the end of their journey, nine paintings had been bought for the sum of 186,231 Belgian Francs, thanks to the surplus of the sum provided by the City of Liège within the scope of the famous Lucerne sale: Shells and Shellfish by James Ensor, The Port of Antwerp by Othon Friesz, Peasant with Fagot by Marcel Gromaire, Lock at the Bouchardon Mill at Crozant by Armand Guillaumin, Nude by Charles Picart Le Doux, Comblat castle by Paul Signac, Moulin de la Galette by Maurice Utrillo, The Violinist by Kees Van Dongen and Red Flowers by Maurice de Vlaminck.

This approach was part of a twofold cultural policy: whilst the aim was to focus on the primitive Mosan arts and the pioneers of the Renaissance, modern art was also to be ardently represented, from the impressionists to the most recent masters and especially those of the Paris School. Furthermore, for 1938, the Liège City archives contain a file related to the acquisition of modern works by three artists who where exhibited at the Salon des XXVI Lettres de l’Alphabet (26 letters of the alphabet fair): Othon Friesz, Maurice Utrillo and Maurice de Vlaminck. These three names reappeared in the list of purchases referred to as the “Paris Purchases”.

Unfortunately, as regards the above, few elements relating to them have been discovered. The Museum possesses a written and typed report by Jules Bosmant addressed to Auguste Buisseret, probably dating from 1948-1949. A very brief summary of the conditions in which the works were acquired in Lucerne and in Paris is featured. The document was likely to have been drafted on the request of Auguste Buisseret who, following the destruction of his house during the war, probably lost all the important archives that were kept there. In his report, Jules Bosmant writes: “As regards the Paris Purchases that followed, at the time I was mostly kept in the dark. I believe that Gilbart and Ochs accompanied you again. In any case, you brought back: Friesz – The Port or Antwerp, Gromaire – Stained Glass, Picart Le Doux – Nude, Van Dongen – The Violinist, Utrillo – Moulin de la Galette, Guillaumin – Lock at the Bouchardon Mill, Ensor – Shells and Shellfish, Vlaminck – Red Flowers, Signac – Combelaz [sic] Castle”.

Several letters have also been retrieved. None of them mention the future Paris Purchases. However, two of them provide information on the journey to Paris of the small delegation from Liège. In the first, dated 31st July 1939 addressed to Joseph Élie Bois, the chief editor of the Petit Parisien, Jules Bosmant indicates that he will come to Paris the following day, in the company of Auguste Buisseret and Olympe Gilbart, because “We have decided to make the Museum of Liège one of the finest museums of modern French art”. At their destination, the men from Liège visited workshops and art dealers. After the voyage to Paris, they still planned to go to Amsterdam and then to London. A letter from Bernheim-Jeune & Co. to Auguste Buisseret, dated 18th August 1939, again confirms their visit to Paris: “During your recent visit, I forgot to show you three important paintings worthy of your fine museum”.

Additionally, the Fine Arts Museum possesses several letters addressed to Jules Bosmant or Jacques Ochs. They were sent by collectors proposing to the museum to acquire primitive, Renaissance or classical works. The replies confirm the acquisitions policy of the Fine Arts Museum in this era. In a letter dated 14th August 1939 addressed to Céline Dangotte, Jacques Ochs confirms that “[…] the benefactors from Liège currently interested in our Museum have expressed their desire to purchase, for the moment, the works emanating from the French modern school”.

Finally, other letters make up exchanges of information which, whilst they do not provide us with information on the works themselves, shed light on the climate in Europe at the time. In July 1939, Emile Langui wrote to Auguste Buisseret: “[…] Further to our conversation yesterday, please find a summary of the confidential information entrusted to me by one of my friends in Paris: ‘A Swiss museum director has told me that apart from the paintings that he bought in Lucerne, in Berlin he managed to acquire an entire series of important works […]’”. He concludes: “I am convinced that Liège could also benefit from these secret sales. There is every reason to believe that this latter system will henceforth be the preferred German method, after the retrospective propaganda of the Lucerne sale”.


Christelle Schoonbroodt
Research Assistant at the City of Liège Museums


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