The Swiss collector Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller died on 22 December in Geneva, aged 86. A "gentleman collector" of ethnographic art, as described by the French newspaper Le Figaro
, Barbier-Mueller amassed one of the largest private collections of Pre-Columbian, African and Oceanic art in Europe, together with his wife Monique Barbier-Mueller. The couple were also instrumental in establishing the Musée du quai Branly—Jacques Chirac in Paris by providing more than 1,200 works to the museum’s collection, half of them as donations.
Born in Geneva in 1930, the son of a surgeon-dentist, Jean Paul Barbier studied law. Before he could pass the bar, however, he became the director of a Swiss bank and soon started his own financial company.
The family collection was started by Monique’s father, Josef Mueller, who obsessively amassed works from across history and geography, including paintings by European Modern artists like Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, classical antiquities and Pre-Columbian art. Jean Paul picked up the collecting bug when he married Monique in 1954, adding African and Oceanic works as well as volumes by French Renaissance poets like Pierre de Ronsard. (He later also took on his influential father-in-law’s surname.)
After Josef’s death in 1977, the couple opened the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva to house more than 7,000 pieces of “primitive” art. The family foundation also organises numerous loan exhibitions and research into early civilisations. In 1997, Barbier-Mueller moved a large part of the Pre-Columbian collection to Barcelona, but a deal with the state to buy the art permanently for €20m fell through, and it was auctioned off at Sotheby’s Paris in 2013.