Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Maison Rouge & the Indian Ocean Decorative Art Museum

The Indian Ocean Decorative Art Museum (Musée des Arts Décoratifs de l'océan Indien, or MADOI) opened under its present form in December 2008 at Saint Louis

aerial view (source)

It consists of modern buildings housing temporary exhibitions, located on a former coffee and sugar estate known as Maison Rouge. The 'modern' buildings are in fact the estate's converted stables. 

aerial view (source)

Originally created in 1986, the MADOI received the Musée de France label in 2002 before its present renovation and re-opening in 2008. 

aerial view (source)

Its collections cover the decorative arts proper to the Indian Ocean: furniture, ceramics, photography, architecture, fine arts etc. When we visited (April 2013) the current exhibition was called "On the trail of the tiger - in search of the Dragon's breath" and centred on Chinese decorative art.

entrance to the MADOI

The main Maison Rouge house was built in 1750 by Jacques-Francois Desforges-Boucher, Governor of Bourbon (Reunion) at the time. Changing owners over the years it grew in size, and an upstairs floor was added around 1830. The central and elevated location of the master's house meant all the agricultural activity of the estate could be overseen.

Main house, Maison Rouge

While the front of the house was covered in wooden planks, the sides and back were covered in wooden shingles, known locally as bardeaux.

front and side of the house, showing planks and shingles respectively

The house has not been lived in since at least 1971, and a (badly needed) renovation project is currently underway. 

old photo of Maison Rouge (source)

Servants quarters and various outbuildings (kitchen(s), warehouses, pigeon loft, ironing room, cellar, patio, etc) were located behind the master's house.

Outbuildings to the side of the house; note the pond in front

Behind the main house and its annexes was a large orchard, a vegetable garden and a patch for growing medicinal plants.

calabash growing in the orchard

What makes Maison Rouge special is the fact that it is the last coffee estate in the French overseas departments from the 18th century to have withstood time, largely due to the fact that it is located between two steep-sided ravines.

part of the garden surrounding the house

Its layout is directly copied from the 17th century European rural manor house model: frontal access, a centrally positioned main house, the presence of farming and service buildings, a distinction between the front and the back of the estate, and a fence around the entire unit.

watercolour by Patu de Rosement of early 19th century
coffee cultivation on Bourbon (source)

Today it's still possible to see the argamasas or flat surfaces that were used to dry the coffee berries. As the cultivation of coffee declined on the island, sugar cane was introduced to the estate and a processing plant was constructed in 1835. However the latter was destroyed in 1920 when a large fertiliser warehouse was built to replace it.

Maison Rouge argamasas (source)

Across the road from the main part of the estate is a large banyan tree, which would have been used as a place of worship by the estate's Indian indentured labourers before the current temple was built. It was originally surrounded by a garden where plants known for their medicinal, magical or religious properties were grown.

Banyan tree

For more information visit http://madoi.re (in French only) or the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/madoireunion.

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Suggested reading (in French):

If you read French you might enjoy Fantômes Blancs, a graphic novel in two volumes (1: Maison rouge and 2: Bénédicte), set at Maison Rouge. The scenario is by Appollo, whose graphic novel Bourbon Island 1730 I review here.

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