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Galerie Espace 4

Dedicated exclusively to the Art of Japan and in particular the Art of the Samurai, Galerie Espace 4 opened its doors in 1996 before Laurence Souksi and Frantz Fray took over as directors in 2005. The areas of expertise and collections were then extended to the Far East as a whole, and in particular to the very specific field of Chinese snuff bottles.

Could you describe your background? Why did you specialise in Asian art? 

Laurence Souksi: My background is fairly traditional. I first went to ICART for three years before doing a degree in Law. Then, having decided that I wanted to be an auctioneer, I enrolled for a degree in Art History at the Sorbonne - Paris IV. I had the opportunity to do an internship with Eileen Lesouef who was working at the Musée Guimet and who, at the time, had a Far Eastern art gallery at the Louvre des Antiquaires. Specialising in porcelain from the 'transition' period, between the Ming and Qing dynasties, Eileen Lesouef organised many exhibitions in England, where I accompanied her. Preferring to stay in the action, I dropped my degree to work with her in the 90s. We ended our collaboration after three years, and then I worked with Pierrette Di-Donna who introduced me to Chinese snuff bottles, her speciality. A year later, I started working at another gallery, Galerie Bertrand de Lavergne, who also specialised in snuff bottles. We worked together for ten years at the Louvre des Antiquaires until the 2000s. Frantz Fray was an antique dealer and "chineur"; we met because he often sold the objects he found to Bertrand de Lavergne. In 2002, three years after leaving the Bertrand de Lavergne gallery, we decided to open our own gallery, at the time on rue Condorcet in the 9th arrondissement. In May 2005, we moved into the Espace 4 gallery, which had been opened in 1996 by four specialists in Japanese art. After they left, we became owners of the gallery. That was more than 18 years ago

Frantz Fray: As for me, I went to the École nationale supérieure des arts appliqués et métiers d'art, which has nothing to do with antiques. I did a BTS in volume plastic art, in other words, sculpting. This training gave me expertise in the materials used in objects, but not in the antique trade itself. I then became a teacher in an apprentice training centre and initially became interested in Japanese prints.In my spare time, I used to buy prints, but the limited range of prints on offer led me to broaden my interest to Asian objects as a whole. I'd got to know a dealer in my Swiss village, to whom I gave objects on consignment, and it worked well; in the 1980s, everything was selling.


Snuff bottle  in red overlay glass on a white opaque ground carved in very slight relief with carp, lotus, dragonflies and the "Xiaomei" seal.

China, Yangzhou School, executed by Wang Suo in the 1820s-1830s

Xiaomei is one of the seals of the Yangzhou painter Wang Suo (1794-1877). Only three other bottles by this artist have been documented so far.

H. 6.6 cm

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Drouot was a real revelation and I still go there regularly, with pleasure and interest. At the time, I had no knowledge of Asian art, so I learned everything on the job by browsing, reading books and talking to dealers. In 1993, I took the plunge and quit my job as a teacher to go into the antiques trade. At the time, I was scouring all over Paris. I bought from dealers, often non-specialists, and sold to specialist dealers. That's how I got to know the former members of this gallery and then met Laurence (Souksi) when I went to see Bertrand de Lavergne. When she left his gallery, I suggested we work together. So we opened our first gallery before joining Espace 4. We're a SEP (société en participation), which means that we share the costs of the gallery but our sales are independent of each other. We've been associated in this way for twenty years and it's worked out really well!

Could you describe your gallery? 


Frantz Fray: We sell everything in different fields: we are one of the few remaining Far Eastern galleries in Paris selling Japanese prints, paintings, bronzes, lacquer, samurai art, Chinese snuff bottles and Vietnamese art. In terms of exhibitions, we have a snuff bottles department, Laurence's speciality, and a samurai art section as this is the speciality of the gallery that I myself took over.


Laurence Souksi: We are open to all types of antique art, except archaeology, and we don't have any works of contemporary art: it's not the same spirit or the same clientele.


What partnerships does the gallery work together with? 


Frantz Fray: So we started working together as a gallery, but also as experts for Pierre Bergé & associés for about three years and, since 2020, for Ader. As the gallery's activity has slowed down a bit since Covid-19, keeping up this activity keeps us 'in the loop'. 


Laurence Souksi: It allows us to keep learning. And as part of our partnership with Ader, we hold two Asian art auctions a year, usually one in June and the other in December, after sorting the objects beforehand and putting together a coherent selection of lots. 


I'm also a member of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, an American association of collectors and dealers of Chinese snuff bottles.

This association is really the driving force behind the Chinese snuff bottle market. For over 50 years, it has organised an annual convention in October, each time in a different city whose museums have Chinese snuff bottles in their collections. This year, it's Philadelphia. Around 320 members attend, including dealers and collectors, amateurs, museum specialists and neophytes. Everyone brings their snuff bottles, which we exhibit for a week, and we have the opportunity to sell them to around a hundred collectors from all over the world. This annual event is an important way for me to exchange ideas with my colleagues and share my passion for Chinese snuff bottles.

Snuff bottle in moulded porcelain enamelled in red in imitation of Peking lacquer and enhanced with gilding. It is decorated with eight Buddhist emblems on a stylised background. 

Original porcelain stopper.

Qianlong mark in gilding.

China, Imperial, Jingdezhen kilns, 1770-1799

H. 6.2 cm

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Namban shokendai

Momoyama period

H. 31 cm

Folding namban lectern in lacquered wood, decorated with leaves

and flowers in mother-of-pearl inlays, and branches in hiramaki-e.

A key artwork ?


Laurence Souksi: I can't choose just one snuff bottle, I love them all. It's an object that you can't think of as a single piece because each one is part of a context. They're all so different in terms of material and subject that it's impossible for me to choose just one. And it makes no sense to buy just one snuff bottle. It's true that a snuff bottle is a utilitarian object that can stand on its own, but they 'work' better as a whole. 


Frantz Fray: For me, I'd say it's the beautiful daimyo armour you can see at the entrance to the gallery, which is quite impressive. 

In terms of rarity, what I like most are objects like the kakemon shell we have in the gallery or a 17th-century Japanese porcelain with a Louis XV bronze base. It's an object that I love and that stays in a cupboard. There's also this Namban object dating from the 16th century, made for a Portuguese Catholic clientele, which is quite rare and which I really like.

Is there an exhibition or fair that has stood out for you? 


Frantz Fray: TEFAF in Maastricht. It's the most impressive event that I've attended in my career. The first few times you go there, it's really incredible. 


Laurence Souksi: The last time I went to London was as part of the English association of snuff bottles collectors. With Colin Sheaf as our contact, we went to see the snuff bottles in the Percival David Collection at the British Museum. They have set up a large room on the second floor to display them, and the quality of the objects is astounding. This collection is 'eye-watering' because we see so many fakes in our daily lives that it's like a refresher course when we come across such pieces.


Frantz Fray: I visited the Percival David Collection as a young man before it became part of the British Museum. It was a very small museum at the time. I agree with Laurence: the collection made a huge impression on me, and I've still got the black and white catalogues! When I went there with my mother, I still knew nothing about Asian art. But it just goes to show that a great collection can impress even the most uninitiated. 


A favourite museum? 


Frantz Fray: I love the Victoria & Albert Museum. The collections there are very rich and the educational tour is very well done. I find that English museums are really well organised and the intellectual approach is less elitist than in France. 


Laurence Souksi: I agree. On the ground floor of the Victoria & Albert Museum, there's a whole room where both real and fake pieces are on display, and you can even touch the porcelain. It really is a wonderful experience. 


I'm also very fond of the Baur Foundation in Geneva. It's a hôtel particulier housing collections built up by one man, Alfred Baur. An 'empirical' collector, he was helped in his choices by Japanese dealers. Although Baur was very eclectic in his choice of period and materials, the collection of snuff bottles he assembled is absolutely magnificent. Unfortunately, only a small part of it is on display, but it can be viewed by appointment.  


A reference text? 

Frantz Fray:  For me, it's Weber's Ko-Ji Hô-Ten, which dates from 1923. It's a bit like the bible of Japanese art, a kind of encyclopaedia with a whole host of legends about the objects and how they are used. It's quite an old edition, but it's definitely a safe bet. 

Laurence Souksi: In my opinion, it's Hugh Moss's seven volumes on Chinese snuff bottles. Hugh Moss, an English dealer who started out very young in Asian art, carried out the very first research into Chinese snuff bottles in the 1960s. Seven tomes in 14 volumes in all, classifying snuff bottles by material (jade, porcelain, glass, etc.). 


What are your artistic passions? 

Laurence Souksi : I'm passionate about paintings of Brittany. I come from a small village in Brittany, Audierne, which has often been painted, particularly by great artists like Albert Marquet. I now have quite a large collection. I also have a collection of English and French hatpins from the 1900s. 


Frantz Fray: It's more complicated for me to answer this question because I collect a bit of everything. In Japanese art, I keep a lot of objects, particularly nō theatre masks. Outside this field, one of the first works that thrilled me when I was young was Dutch painting by painters such as Jérôme Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. 


What are your future plans? 

Frantz Fray: I've been in this business for thirty years and I'm nearing the end, retiring as a dealer next year. The merchandise is running out, the gallery is ageing and so are our customers. But in this business it's hard to stop because it's a passion. So I'm going to keep my appraisal activity, which allows me to maintain a link with the artworks. 


Laurence Souksi: I'm going to keep working on my Chinese snuff bottles, because that's what I like best. I intend to continue my work with all the collectors of the american International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society; that's what motivates me. 


Find out more: 


Galerie Espace 4

9 rue Mazarine

75006 Paris 

+33 (0)1 75 00 54 62

Open Tuesday to Wednesday, from 2pm to 6pm.

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