Horses are fascinating… and always have been. With this exhibition, Pointe-à-Callière is inviting the public to admire this noble animal through the eyes of a man who was passionate about the subject matter: Émile Hermès.
The Museum presents the exclusive world premiere of the exhibition Of Horses and Men — The Émile Hermès Collection, Paris. For five months, the North American public will have the chance to explore the private collection of French businessman Émile Hermès.
For the first time in its history, Hermès of Paris has agreed to share 250 remarkable objects, which will travel from the enthusiast’s office at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. The tremendously rich collection—in terms of both history and heritage—traces the history of the horse and its relationship with man. Until now, only a few privileged visitors have been able to see the collection housed on a reserved floor at the prestigious Parisian address.
Over the course of the exhibition, produced by Pointe-à-Callière in close collaboration with Hermès of Paris, visitors will come to better understand Émile Hermès’ personality, taking delight in exploring his collection. This lover of the equestrian world and everything associated with it collected thousands of works of art, paintings, books, rare and unusual objects, everyday items, and upscale objects throughout his lifetime.
Paying tribute to the horse
Founded in Paris in 1837, the Hermès company was born as a harness and saddle manufacturer during the era when the horse was king. It was under the leadership of Émile Hermès (1871-1951)—the founder’s grandson—that the firm truly took off, adapting its products to the new lifestyles of an elite clientele. As the automobile unstoppably began to take over the horse’s position in daily life, the saddle maker-turned-leather merchant and avant-garde couturier realized the urgency of preserving the threatened treasures of equestrian heritage.
A symbol of wealth and token of power, the horse was, by force of circumstance, irrevocably associated with the monarchy, nobility, and the bourgeoisie, as well as with prestigious stables.
Clearly aware of this equine aura, Émile Hermès was able to transpose the saddle maker’s traditional values and know-how to his creations as a leather merchant and maker of quality goods, with a focus on maintaining Hermès’ international renown. Visitors will be able to admire the collector’s personal items, including the impressive rocking horse used by all of his children, in addition to exploring a family business whose artisanal values of excellence are recognized by even the most demanding of customers.
On the horse’s trail
Saddles, stirrups, spurs, and horse collars from around the world are just a few of the many objects that will take visitors along the horse’s trail, as they straddle four continents, on a journey from Antiquity to the Renaissance to the 20th century.
From a simple harness to paintings by the great masters
Ever since the horse came into the life of man, artists have endeavoured to express its beauty, strength, and courage, bringing famous, historical, and mythical horses—like Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology—back to life. The Hermès collection includes a wonderful selection of paintings by great and lesser-known masters, as well as bronzes, engravings, and drawings.
Keeping pace with the crew
Blacksmith farrier, cabman, and coachman: visitors will learn about a variety of horse-related occupations and their tools. A look at technological innovation testifies to the ingenuity demonstrated in each era to fight the cold and improve comfort and safety: carriage heaters, stirrup warmers, and blinders are just a few examples.
Mindful of innovation, Émile Hermès travelled to America during the First World War, on a mission to supply the French cavalry with harnesses. From his stay on this side of the Atlantic, he brought back an innovative system that he would adapt for use on his creations: the zipper, for which he obtained the rights to exclusive use in France. He imagined the many ways in which he could use the zip fastener—in addition to on vehicle tops—, adapting it to leather accessories, travel items, ladies’ handbags, and sports clothing.
You can’t separate horses from the idea of adventure! The exhibition will therefore also address the topic of travel with cases, bags, saddlebags, and trunks. However, over time, the utilitarian horse slowly saw its role relegated to leisure pursuits such as riding, hunting, racing, and horse shows… Several objects—including Hermès’ first bag, the shoulder bag—illustrate the transition from saddler to luggage merchant. Horsewomen also play a big part in Émile’s collection: sidesaddle and other riding habits, along with a host of women’s equestrian accessories, are sure to surprise!
Émile Hermès’ office: the soul of 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
Finally, the veil will be lifted on Émile’s private office, from where the master led the firm. It is filled with an eclectic abundance of works honouring the horse and equestrian practices: a small Mexican horse, a studded trunk, umbrellas, lanterns… as well as a big guest book, holding the signatures of many distinguished visitors, lovers of beautiful things.
The exhibition is enhanced by audio-visual and audio productions. Old books, catalogues, and—of course—silk scarves will also bear witness to a past that is still very much alive.
A stunning publication
The accompanying exhibition catalogue Of Horses and Men – The Émile Hermès Collection, Paris was produced thanks to the generous authorization of the Hermès family, including Pierre-Alexis and Philippe Dumas, the latter of whom also provided original drawings. This magnificently illustrated 128-page book features photographs of many items in the exhibition and documents from the Hermès Archives. It also contains previously unpublished texts, including a conversation between Philippe Dumas and Menehould du Chatelle, director of cultural heritage at Hermès International; articles by curators Jean-Paul Desroches and Nicolas Chaudun, and by Stéphane Laverrière, assistant curator at the cultural heritage department of Hermès International. The publication is available at the museum gift shop in English and French.
During the presentation of Of Horses and Men - The Émile Hermès Collection, Paris, from May 20 to October 16, 2016, 127 467 people visited the Museum.