In 2010, the Institute concluded a memorandum of understanding on cooperative research and exchanges with the Guimet Museum in France. During his visit to Japan, Hubert Guimet, a director of the Museum and great-grandson of Émile Guimet, gave a lecture at the Institute on April 5th entitled “Émile Guimet: From manufacturer of artificial ultramarine to founder of the Guimet Museum.” From the 19th to the early 20th century, Émile Guimet visited Egypt and crossed the Indian Ocean to visit various countries, including Japan. The Guimet Museum is an art museum that curates and exhibits cultural properties related to Oriental religions that Émile Guimet collected from around the world. The Museum curates a number of Buddhist artworks from Japan and is one of the foremost Oriental art museums in France.
Émile Guimet’s father, Jean-Baptiste Guimet (1795–1871), invented a method of manufacturing artificial ultramarine in 1826. Ultramarine is a blue pigment made by pulverizing lapis lazuli collected from places like Afghanistan. In Europe at the time, ultramarine could not be obtained unless it was imported and it was so expensive that it was bought and sold at prices on par with gold. The method that Guimet invented led to the instant spread of artificial ultramarine that had been scientifically manufactured. In 1855, Guimet and Henry Merle founded the Compagnie des Produits Chimiques d’Alais et de la Camargue, forerunner of the Pechiney conglomerate. In the 1850s, the firm’s volume of production rose 100-fold from when the company was originally founded. The finances for Émile Guimet’s travels and art collecting stem from the firm’s success.
Naturally, painters used artificial ultramarine to produce paintings, and the pigment can be found in works by neoclassical masters such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Hubert Guimet’s lecture revealed part of the Guimet family history that outsiders were unfamiliar with. The lecture also noted substantial changes in terms of materials in the history of 19th century European painting. With an audience of close to 90, the lecture proved a success.