Exploring the Art of Collecting

Few 19th-century women were able to assemble art collections, let alone build museums to house their treasures. Yet that is precisely what working-class Frenchwoman Clémence d’Ennery was able to do.

With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Montclair State Professor of French Elizabeth Emery, who is one of just 80 recipients nationwide to receive a 2015 NEH award, is conducting archival research and will complete a book about d’Ennery.

Example of Asian objet d'art.

Against the odds, d’Ennery built a museum in Paris to house her collection of 6,000 small-scale Asian objets d’art. Bequeathed to France upon her death, the Musée d’Ennery continues today to offer a remarkable glimpse into the mind and eye of a collector.

“It seems almost unimaginable that she could have amassed so many pieces without traveling to Japan or China, and yet it is true,”  says Emery.

Just as remarkable, with the encouragement of her second husband, playwright and librettist Adolphe d’Ennery, she was able to design and build the house near the Bois de Boulogne that displays her collection.‌

Emery’s book, Clémence d’Ennery: A Female Connoisseur in the Age of Male Collecting, will explore the obstacles that the working class — and women collectors — faced in accessing elite cultural institutions, as well as d’Ennery’s own determined efforts to share her collection with the public.

“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by the NEH because of its dedication to bringing widespread public attention to ideas and events that continue to impact human development,” Emery says.