In 1939, strange sculptures appeared on the Paris antiquities market. Josef Müller (1887-1977), the founder of the collection of the Barbier-Müller museum in Geneva, acquired about twenty of them. Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) discovered them in 1945. He was fascinated by these creations and baptized them “Barbus Müller”, probably after the beard that certain pieces sport and the name of Josef Müller.. He published them in a small leaflet, which contains the founding text on his concept of Art Brut.
Nothing was known about these statues. Various provenances were attributed to them over time, including the Americas and Oceania. Thanks to a study the identity of the sculptor has been revealed: Antoine Rabany (1844-1919) from Chambon-sur-Lac, in the department of Puy-de-Dôme. Between 1907 and 1919 he is said to have produced a total of about fifty pieces. He started as an autodidact in 1907. Nowadays these statues are worth up to 50 000 euros each.
Assembling some twenty Barbus from its own collection and from private and public lenders, the exhibition (Les Barbus Müller-leur énigmatique sculpteur enfin démasqué) juxtaposes them with works from faraway cultures selected from its collections, in order to assess the resemblances and differences.