Ca. 1930s. Oblong Folio album (ca. 32,5x43 cm). 35 card stock leaves. With 214 mounted gelatin silver photos of various sizes. 111 photos from the South Pacific and Dutch East Indies cruise include 29 large images from ca. 21x26,5 cm (8 ¼ x 10 ½ in) to ca. 15x21 cm (6 x 8 ¼ in); the rest of the photos are ca. 9x12,5 cm (3 ½ x 5 in) or slightly smaller. No captions. At least one of the larger photos with an ink stamp on verso “Copyright Photograph by Edgar.” With 103 private photos of various sizes, from ca. 18x24 cm (7 x 9 ½ in) to ca. 3,5x5,5 cm (1 ½ x 2 ¼ in); three photos with manuscript ink presentation inscriptions dated 1929. Period dark brown full sheep soft cover album fastened with a string. Both boards with elaborate blind-stamped ornaments; moire endpaper. About ten photos were previously removed from the album (including six from the “South Pacific and Dutch East Indies” part), covers slightly rubbed on extremities, but overall a very good album with very interesting strong photos.
Historically significant collection of excellent portraits of the indigenous people of Polynesia, Melanesia and Indonesia, taken during Baron Jean Empain’s cruise around South Pacific, New Guinea and Dutch East Indies in 1933. A Belgian industrialist and millionaire, Jean Empain owned or had shares in over eighty banks and companies worldwide, including the Paris metro and oil concessions in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). He inherited his wealth from his father, Edouard Joseph Empain (1852-1929), who made a fortune in constructing electric urban tramlines in Europe, Russia, China, the Belgian Congo, and Cairo. In the 1930s, Jean Empain led a lavish lifestyle, and every summer went on cruises on board his luxury yacht “Heliopolis,” accompanied by a group of friends. In summer-autumn 1933, Empain organized an around-the-world cruise, visiting the Marquesas, Tahiti, Moorea and the other Society Islands, Fiji, New Guinea, Sumatra, Bali, Java, and Singapore (see more: Palatial Yacht. Baron Empain’s Cruise in the Pacific// The Pacific Islands Monthly. Vol. IV, No. 2, Sydney, 20 September 1933, p. 21; A Woman Peeps at Singapore// Sunday Tribune (Singapore), 8 October 1933, P. 6).
The album contains about 111 photos taken and collected during the cruise, including twenty-nine excellent large ethnographic photos portraying the people of Polynesia, Melanesia (apparently, New Guinea), and Indonesia. The portraits powerfully convey the emotions of the photographed people. They also capture traditional costumes, hairstyles, jewelry, tattoos and scarification. The other large photos show Indonesian temples and volcanoes, a wooden statue from New Guinea, etc. The smaller photos are vernacular snapshots taken by Empain or his party members on board the “Heliopolis” and during visits to native villages. Interesting images include portraits of the Melanesian people, views of native villages and traditional houses, canoes, scenes with native people dancing, interacting with the tourists, etc. Several photos show the celebration of crossing the Equator on board of “Heliopolis.” The album also contains 103 photos, illustrating Empain’s later life and other voyages onboard the “Heliopolis,” social gatherings, fishing and hunting trips, life in Egypt and France, his friends and family, etc.
Overall a rare collection of beautiful, expressive photos of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Indonesian people, taken in the first half of the 20th century.
The following excerpt from a contemporary Singapore newspaper’s article gives more details about the cruise and lists all guests on the yacht, some of whom are present on the photos: “Leaving Ostend on June 1, the 30-year old but sturdy yacht crossed the Atlantic past Las Palmas to the West Indies and swung into the Panama Canal to later reach Mexico. The yacht then wended its way to the South Seas, visiting the various islands where the Baron’s guests spent a glorious time in delightful weather. After weeks in the southern clime, the pleasure-seekers sailed to British New Guinea, up the Torres Strait to Thursday Island and Dutch New Guinea. After calling at Timor, the “Heliopolis” went on to the Dutch East Indies, touching at Batavia and Belawan on its way here. The yacht sails on Thursday for Colombo on its return to Belgium by way of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. The owner of the yacht, Baron Jean Empain, is a big electrical magnate in Europe, the head of many large electrical firms in Belgium and France. He has extensive interests in the Belgian Congo and is one of the best-known personalities in Egypt, where he “owns” the city of Heliopolis near Cairo, after which his yacht is named. He is a young man of 30. His guests are: Count Philip de Pret (Belgian); Count de Baillet Latour, a canned fruit producer (Belgian); Mrs. Jasper Mignot and Miss Olga Thioux, both of Belgium; Mr. Maurice Cabriel, Miss Masie Louise Hermitte and Miss Alice Milon, all French; Mr. Pio de Fonville Ethier, a French Canadian engineer and his wife; Miss Seigfried Knudsen, of Norway; Dr. P.A. Garizzo, a well-known Italian painter; Mr. W. Woods Plakinton of the United States; Miss M. Bishop, a young English woman. The crew of 33 are all British” (Belgian Yacht in Singapore. “Heliopolis” on World Cruise// Malaya Tribune, 3 October 1933, p. 7; https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/maltribune19331003-1.2.49?ST=1&AT=search&k=empain&SortBy=Oldest&filterS=0&Display=0&QT=empain&oref=article).