Arthur Baessler - Ethnographic Collector and Photographer Arthur BaesslerEthnographic Collector and Photographer By Rainer F. Buschmann Arthur Baessler (1857-1907) was a German traveler and ethnographic collector who chiefly supported the ethnographic museums in Berlin, Dresden, and Stuttgart in return for numerous decorations and titles. His collection activity mainly focused on the Pacific and South America. He published two popular travelogues about his Pacific voyages. Towards the end of his life, Baessler endowed a foundation to support ethnographic studies in the Pacific. By 1910, the foundation would sponsor the journal Baessler Archiv that still publishes anthropological articles to the current day. Arthur Baessler, unknown photographer, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preuβischer Kulturbesitz Born into a wealthy family in Saxony, Baessler's father made a fortune in the textile industry. The young man studied natural science in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Munich until obtaining a doctorate in Chemistry. Following his university education, Baessler acquainted himself with the great influencers of anthropology in the German capital: Adolf Bastian and Rudolf Virchow. Both of these individuals swayed him to employ his wealth in the service of anthropology's salvage agenda. Baessler thus set out on several journeys around the world to collect ethnographica and to photograph vanishing cultures. His quest for titles and state decorations was of equal importance as he obtained such honors by gifting his collections to important state museums. As much as museum officials appreciated his patronage, some contemporary authors criticized his true motivations guiding his ethnographic acquisitions. For instance, Arthur Wichman, who authored a prominent exploration history of New Guinea, wrote that: "Baessler, who is driven by an obsession to obtain orders and decorations, has no trouble to disburse treasures." Often characterized as introverted and even shy, Baessler nevertheless knew how to entice museum officials to award him a medal. In 1899, for example, he wrote to Karl von Linden in Stuttgart: "I work exclusively in the interest of science. I am elated, however, should my efforts be recognized and would carry any decoration with a sense of pride." His first voyages took Baessler to South, Southeast, and East Asia between 1887 and 1889. Although some provenance histories have Baessler collecting artifacts from the Ramu River and the delta of the Sepik, a closer look at the reports indicates that he touched only the westernmost areas of New Guinea and never ventured into the regions recently annexed by the Germans. Unfortunately, the photographs taken on this journey were lost, but Baessler divided his ethnographic treasures between Berlin and the Saxon capital of Dresden. In Dresden, the traveler obtained a personal audience with the King and was awarded his first medal, the Knight's Cross of the Albrecht Order first class. Baessler's second journey lasted between 1891 and 1893 and took him to Australia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Hawai'i, and, finally, to German New Guinea. In April of 1892, he boarded a ship in Singapore to visit the coastal areas of Kaiser Wihelmsland, the German part of New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago. Baessler's travelogue "South Sea Images" (Südsee Bilder, 1895) reports fleeting interactions with coastal populations. It suggests that he acquired Ramu or Sepik figures and mask from employees of the New Guinea Company. Unfortunately, when the traveler returned from the Bismarck Archipelago to Madang in mid-May of 1892, malaria forced him to return to Singapore, cutting any intentions of a lengthy stay in the region short. For his ethnographic donations to the Berlin museum, Baessler would obtain the Order of the Crown III class. Solomon Island Village, photograph taken or purchased by Arthur Baessler, VIII B 2144, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preuβischer Kulturbesitz Artifact from the Solomon Islands collected by Arthur Baessler, VI 25087, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preuβischer Kulturbesitz Three plantation workers from Nusa, photograph taken or purchased by Arthur Baessler, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preuβischer Kulturbesitz Between 1896 and 1898, Baessler would return to Polynesia and visit French Polynesia, including the Marquesas, and the Cook Islands. From here, he would travel via Mexico to South America. In Lima, he acquired a large part of Theodor Wilhelm Gretzer's private collection of Peruvian antiquities. With a small ethnographic trove from Oceania, Baessler gifted Gretzer's well over 10,000 artifacts to the Berlin Museums. His efforts found the appropriate reward: The Prussian Order of the Crown, II class. His Polynesian travels would inspire his "New South Sea Images" (Neue Südsee Bilder, 1900). Around this time, Baessler offered a part of his collection to Stuttgart in return for Wurttemberg's Commander's Cross of the Frederic Order, II class. His native Saxon state would reward the wealthy traveler with the titles of honorary professor and privy councilor. Other artifact donations to the Berlin museum as well as the dedication of the four volume work based on Gretzer’s collection—Altperuanische Kunst, 1902-1903—landed Baessler an audience with the Prussian King and Emperor of all Germans Wilhelm II and the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle, II class. `U`u collected by Baessler in the Marquesas, VI 24954, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preuβischer Kulturbesitz Spoiled by the showering of honors from different German states, Baessler was initially disappointed by what he regarded as too low a decoration. Then, however, Berlin director of the African and Oceania collection Felix von Luschan alerted Baessler to direct his attention elsewhere. The establishment of a foundation in his name could, so Luschan said, set a monument to the traveler's accomplishment that no decoration would match. By 1903, Baessler promised 50,000 marks to initiate the foundation in his name. Initially, this institution sponsored ethnographic expeditions to hard-to-reach regions, which Luschan envisioned as Oceania, and was to facilitate resulting publications. The Baessler Foundation sponsored Richard Thurnwald's journey (1906-1909, see Oceanic Art Provenance biography) to German New Guinea as its first endeavor. In December of 1904, Baessler once again traveled to the Pacific to explore Easter Island. His journey, however, was cut short by illness, possibly a stroke. Returning to Berlin, the collector never recovered from his condition and passed in 1907. Following his death, the Berlin museum obtained additional artifacts and about 1,100 photographs from his travels. Much of his papers and diaries, however, were destroyed following Baessler's will. Part of his estate money supported the Foundation as well as the publication of the journal Baessler Archiv. Assessing Baessler's ethnographic collection methods is not an easy task. Since financial means were readily available to the traveler, he probably only traded a fraction of his collected objects with source communities. In the absence of his diaries and letters, the exact number of this fraction will forever be a mystery. Nevertheless, his travelogues reveal that Baessler did a fair amount of trading himself. In the regions to which he traveled, he also recorded many myths and genealogies. Baessler's family wealth, however, allowed him to immerse himself in the colonial, commercial, and missionary networks. Such connections reveal that he acquired many of the objects from already existing collections. More outrageous were Baessler's acquisitions of human remains, especially skulls. Frequently doubting the origins of the human bones indigenous peoples offered him for purchase, Baessler collected such specimens from burial sites and caves. In the Marquesas, for instance, he bribed local officials to obtain a secure location where he could pack his crates with the skeletal material. Similarly, Baessler exported the human remains by pretending that the boxes contained religious books.