Le Musee d'Art Haitien du College St Pierre
Severely damaged by the 2010 Earthquake
Still closed to the public 5 years later
An Historical Institution
Painting was from the outset the faithful companion of the Haitian people. Out of the colonial matrix, it recorded all the great moments of its life from slavery to its heroic struggle to win his freedom to the uncertainties of today's society. Painting cried with the Haitian people, shared its defeats and disappointments. It sang its myths and beliefs. It plunged to the bottom of its most intimate dreams. If it lost an important part of its cultural heritage, the Haitian people would be deprived of the common impulses that shape the victories against the throes of destiny. It couldn’t measure progress, defend itself from the errors of the past, and believe in the future. It would sink into disarray and decline.
Two years after the catastrophic earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010, hundreds of thousands of people still live under weather-beaten tarps Even with the outpouring of support, the millions pledged, the frequent Hollywood visitors, and the promises made by government officials, only a small dent has been made in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Haiti’s capital city. Survival--food, safe water, medicine--must be first in the collective concern. No ambiguity about that, but we must also worry about the preservation of Haiti’s rich cultural heritage.
A lot has been accomplished already. On the first days after the disaster, a committee formed in agreement with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the UNESCO tried to recover archives, libraries, and collections of art while the Smithsonian attempted to save whatever was left of the Holy Trinity Church murals. Also, the “Haiti Cultural Recovery Project,” headed by the Smithsonian, is in the process of protecting and preserving Haitian artifacts of all kinds.
Yet the Musée d’Art Haitien, who was gravely hit by the earthquake, has not received the support it needs for its reconstruction. A total budget of about $200,000.00 is needed to repair it. It’s not enormous yet promises for funds, both national and international, have not materialized.
Bishop Voegeli in front of St Trinity Church in Haiti - 1948 - Voegeli Family Collection
The Musée d’Art Haitien was built in 1972 in the historic center of the city of Port-au-Prince, on the southeast outskirts of the Heroes of Independence Square, the main venue for public cultural events of the Haitian capital. The museum is the expression of the dream of Dewitt Peters, an American painter, who, seduced by the extraordinary richness and quality of Haitian painting, created the Centre d’Art in 1944 with the support of some Haitian artists and intellectuals. The Centre d’Art was a prelude to the museum and played a key role in promoting Haitian Folk and sophisticated art internationally.
Bishop Voegeli - 1967 - Voegeli Family Collection
This role was resumed, structured and amplified with the creation of the Musée d’Art Haitien of the St. Pierre College, which hosted much of the collection of the Centre d'Art, with the help of Alfred Voegeli, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Haiti. Bishop Voegeli was a personal friend of Dewitt Peters. He organized an auction to help the creation of the museum at the Park Bernet Gallery in New York with the help of the then U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Clinton E. Knox.
The Musée d’Art Haitien remains one of the few institutions that preserve the Haitian paintings of the twentieth century. Its collection includes irreplaceable work from what is considered the renewal of Haitian painting in 1944-1945 to today.
A Rich Collection
The collection contains the most prominent artists and some of their most outstanding work. From Hector Hyppolite, who was hailed by French writer and poet André Breton as one of the masters of Haitian painting, the museum has the well-known Le Dieu tout puissant and La femme aux oiseaux (or Erzulie) among many others.
Hector Hyppolite - La femme aux oiseaux
From Philomé Obin, founder of l’Ecole du Cap, known for his historical paintings, it has La cruxifixion de Charlemagne Péralte and La liberté en marche. Work from his brother, Senèque Obin is also present. It’s worth noting that Seneque’s four portraits of the Fathers of the Homeland are presently displayed at Le Louvre in Paris.Philomé Obin, Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud and Castera Bazile are some of the artists who painted the precious murals of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Their work is also part of the museum’s treasured collection, in particular, Wilson Bigaud’s Le paradis terrestre which is considered one of the masterpieces of international popular art.
Several of the Saint Soleil artists--Louisiane Saint Fleurant, Levoi Exil, Prospère Pierre-Louis, and Payas among them--are also represented. The Saint Soleil school was founded by Jean-Claude Garoute (known as TIGA) and its existence lead French novelist and art theorist André Malraux to describe Haiti as “a nation of painters.” The collection has several pieces from Préfète Duffaut (among them Ville imaginaire and La Vierge miracle) who has been saluted in the Dictionary of Surrealism as one of the masters of the genre.
Early on, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York acquired one of Jacques Anguerrand Gourgue’s paintings, La table magique. The Musée d’Art Haitien has several, including L’enfer and Nature morte.
We must also mention the presence of work by Lucien Price, the initiator of abstract art in Haiti and some of the first canvasses by Dieudonné Cédor, one of the Haitian masters. And we cannot forget Antonio Joseph, Roland Dorcely, Bernard Séjourné, Rosemarie Des Ruisseaux, Robert St. Brice, Jean René Jérome, Luckner Lazard, Philippe Dodard, Mario Benjamin.
Sculpture is also well represented in the collection with pieces by Patrick Vilaire, Ludovic Booz, André Liautaud, Georges Dimanche, and Serge Jolimeau. Patrick Vilaire is presently a research associate at the Smithsonian institution. George Liautaud’s forged iron crosses launched a flourishing art form born from oil metal drums.
Most of these works were shown in exhibits around the world, were listed in catalogs and art publications and have been displayed in major museums such as Le Louvre in France, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the MOMA in the U.S.A.
For a long time, together with the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Musée d’Art Haitien was a major point of attraction for tourists and art connoisseurs. The museum was also a center for learning where schoolchildren and students came to participate in workshops and listen to conferences.