In 2021, Fundação Oriente was donated a collection of 180 Chinese pieces by Xavier Monnet, an antique dealer who, in the 1980s, disheartened by the Chinese erudite art sales business, ventured into the search for artefacts at the time unknown to European gallerists.
Monnet quickly moved from treasure hunting to ethnographic resilience, settling for long periods of time among Chinese minority groups, which allowed him to collect material testimonies, especially from the different subgroups of the Miao people - also called Hmong.
Protective deities (ca. 1950) by Hmong peopleMuseu do Oriente
This gathering of pieces was possible due to the isolation in which Monnet found these populations to be living, in the mountainous landscape that also protected them from the onslaughts of the Chinese Han majority.
Shoes (ca. 1960-70) by Hmong peopleMuseu do Oriente
In 1949, the denomination Miao, connotated with barbarians, is officially attributed to a number of linguistically related communities in southern China, or to all non-Han peoples, in order to distinguish and classify them in the political and administrative apparatus.
Baby carrier support (ca. 1960) by Miao peopleMuseu do Oriente
However, these communities continue to use their own denominations, varying by region, distinguishable by their festivities and costumes and exacerbated by tourists’ curiosity.
Babby carrier Babby carrier (ca. 1940-1950) by Miao peopleMuseu do Oriente
Xavier Monnet’s collection and subsquent donation represent one of the ways through which museums incorporate artifacts, and its overall understanding cannot be dissociated from the life history of the collector, from a project driven by a dedication to art and antiques.
Hornbill skull (ca. 1920) by Han groupMuseu do Oriente
As a young man, he avidly visited museums, exhibitions, galleries, antique shops, auctions and thrift shops, where he began to chiner, or hunting for bargains. Thus began the gradual acquisition of old and curious objects.
Gau (ca. 1900) by unknownMuseu do Oriente
From the start, Monnet was involved in the world of Asian antiques. His selection of pieces from China, Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal proved the most successful at the international antiques fairs.
Dowry necklace (ca. 1920) by Miao peopleMuseu do Oriente
In his expeditions to southern China, to the Yunnan, Guanxi, Guizhou, Hunan and Hainan regions, he noted in particular the beauty, detail and diversity of the Miao costumes and jewellery, which, according to Monnet, are their passport.
Dowry jar (ca. 1950) by Hmong peopleMuseu do Oriente
Women hold an interventive role in the social life of these communities and are particularly credited with the decorative techniques and patterns applied in artefacts which, from the 1980s on, have attained a high commercial value.
Indigo skirt and pleating instrument (ca. 1950) by Miao peopleMuseu do Oriente
The pleated indigo skirt is one of the material testimonies and symbols of Miao weddings and festivities. The artifact next to the skirt is used to set the pleating.
Festive bowls (ca. 1960-70) by Yao peopleMuseu do Oriente
The donation also includes textiles, domestic and personal objects, adornments and curiosities from the Dong, Yao, Yi, Naxi and Shui - other communities that largely also inhabit southern China.
Shih-hua, dream stone (ca. 1960-70) by Han peopleMuseu do Oriente
"I became an expert on the art of these minorities. I have gathered a large collection and a library devoted to it, which I sold to private collectors, however keeping and cherishing some of the most beautiful and interesting pieces".
© Fundação Oriente - Museu do Oriente
Photography: Xavier Monnet, Gonçalo Barriga