The Colonial Legacy of Non-Western Art in French Museums

  • Robert Aldrich


French museums, in common with many in Europe, contain countless artworks and everyday objects from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the pre-Columbian Americas. Many come from France’s old colonies and were collected during the imperial age by explorers, administrators, missionaries and soldiers, private individuals and official expeditions. Collections include pieces brought home as curios and souvenirs, as well as works carefully selected by art experts and anthropologists. Indigenous people made free will gifts of some objects and sold others. Europeans commissioned works, and local artisans produced some specifically for trade. Occasionally Europeans simply recovered objects discarded when their ritual functions came to an end. Other items, however, were pilfered from areas of conquest. Museums have continued collecting non-Western art since the end of the colonial era, mostly at art sales and auctions, though with episodic controversies about provenance, authenticity and price.


Colonial Past Source Society Exhibition Space Provincial Museum French Collection 
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Copyright information

© Robert Aldrich 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Aldrich
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SydneyAustralia

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