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Buaku Japanese masks from traditional Kyogen comic theatre are seen during a press visit of the exhibition "Jacques Chirac ou le dialogue des cultures" at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris, France, June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

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PARIS (Reuters) - Three antique Japanese theatre masks that bear a striking resemblance to former French president Jacques Chirac will go on display from Tuesday in a Paris museum he set up 10 years ago and that will now bear his name.

"There are thousands of Chiracs in Japan," said Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who served as culture minister during Chirac's presidency, explaining that the late 18th century masks represent a Japanese theatre character that was always carved with similar features.

The museum, which specialises in early art from Africa, Asia and the Americas, will be renamed "Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac".

The exhibition delves into his long-hidden passion for such works of art. The 83-year-old Chirac was better known for his taste for food and beer, and a pundit once said about him: "Men usually read Playboy hidden behind the cover of a poetry book, but Chirac reads poetry behind a copy of Playboy."

Saying she also spoke in his name, Chirac's wife Bernadette told reporters: "France is never greater than when it engages with other cultures, other people. It's a strong message and one that is very relevant now."

Chirac, a center-right politician who was a prominent figure in French politics for decades, was president from 1995 to 2007.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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