The exhibition presents more than 200 works (sculptures, three-dimensional objects and documents such as invitation cards, posters and catalogues).
the universe of Charles Ratton – between curiosity and scholarship
The exhibition opens with the reconstruction of Charles Ratton's office. Created as a cabinet of curiosities, this first space presents the works of art that surrounded Charles Ratton on a daily basis in his office. This section also collects his notes and sketches that indicate his extremely accurate working method. Objects with a variety of provenances both geographical (the Far East, Africa, Oceania etc.) and temporal (Antiquity, Middle Ages) emphasise the diversity of his purchases and of his links with the Surrealists, including Tristan Tzara, Roland Tual and Paul Éluard.
The surrealist dealer and his work in the United States
In the 1920s, Charles Ratton became established as the learned connoisseur of disregarded and poorly understood cultures by adopting the role of a scholarly art dealer. He developed a network of purchasers and lenders in which wealthy amateurs rubbed shoulders with impoverished avant-garde artists and Surrealist poets.
Very quickly, Charles Ratton understood that it was not enough to be the first in Paris, but that it was necessary to be international and he set out to establish himself in the United States. Finally, he employed all types of modern communication: press, photography and film. In this section, the visitor discovers Charles Ratton through the exhibitions and sales with which he was associated both in France and in the United States.
Charles Tatton and Art Brut
From their encounter in 1944 until the late 1950s, Ratton and Jean Dubuffet met and corresponded often. Ratton presented Dubuffet to Pierre Matisse, who introduced him to the United States. He also acquainted him with African sculpture and showed him works created by the insane. His role was decisive in the invention of the concept of "Art Brut" (outsider art) and the creation of the Compagnie de l'Art Brut which he co-founded in 1948 with André Breton and Henri-Pierre Roché. He encouraged Georges Henri Rivière and one of his great collectors, Baron Eduard von der Heydt, to join. Part of the correspondence between Charles Ratton and Jean Dubuffet is displayed in this section.
After the war
Charles Ratton remained in Paris during the Occupation, and following the end of the war he continued to pursue his activity as an international art dealer while re-establishing contact with the Surrealists on their return from exile in America. There, he appeared as the supreme authority on African and Oceanian art and his gallery, rue de Marignan, was visited by all of the important figures in the world of amateurs and scholars. Despite his age and the appearance of a new generation of travelling dealers, he maintained his foremost postion amongst art dealers until the 1970s, contributing to the triumph and regularly promoting the value of objects that are increasingly considered as world heritage masterpieces.
A mystery remains
In the 1980s Charles Ratton attempted to donate the cream of his collection to the musée du Louvre. However, the institution did not to open its doors to non-Western art until 20 years later, after having refused the art dealer's proposed donations on several occasions.
Whilst Charles Ratton contributed to make known some aspects of non-Western artistic creation and in particular the court arts, the nature of the relationships which he had with these works remains a mystery. Keen to preserve the memory of each work that passed through his hands, but also to control its image, he photographed every object. However, there is one work that he never sold and which may offer some clues as to the relationship between the collector and art: this work represents a seated, immobile man, whose head is swallowed by the jaws of a horned snake.
A rare work, undoubtedly produced for the European market, and which embodies the discretion of a man who never wanted to reveal anything of his life or work. Strange and contradictory, an expression of predation and devoration, it can be interpreted as a deformed reflection of the relationship between Charles Ratton, art and the market: passionate, sometimes blinding but always controlled and emotionally charged.