East Meets West: The Asian Wonders of the Musée Guimet



The Louvre, the Quai d’Orsay, the Pompidou Center — and possibly the most recent addition — the Fondation Louis Vuitton, are the first museums that come to mind when considering Paris museums. At the Musée des Art Asiatiques Guimet in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, however, you may find the most extensive and most significant collection of Asian artefacts in Europe. The Musée Guimet provides a unique opportunity to embark on a meditative, artistic journey to uncover the essence of Asian art and culture, with a wide range of objects from the Buddhas of Afghanistan, the Zen monks of Japan, Samurai armour, Indian fabrics, fine Chinese art, and Khmer treasures.

Musée Guimet located at 6, Place d’Iéna, Paris. Image: Parisplusplus.com

“Illustrating the diverse cultures and civilisations of Asia, covering an area as vast in time (five millennia) as in space (from India to Japan)” is how the Musée Guimet portrays itself. You will never forget that this is an Asian art museum — you will be greeted with a big hall filled with statues, many of which are from Cambodia — as soon as you go through the library dome.

Impressive in quality and variety, the collections feature some 45,000 pieces dating back to the Neolithic era. Buddha, Amida, and Shiva statues coexist alongside calligraphy, Sumi paintings, and ornamental arts. They are arranged into sections so that you can examine and contrast the art of Southeast Asia, Central Asia, China, Korea, India, and Japan with that of Afghanistan/Pakistan, the Himalayas (where the Guimet has one of the best collections of Himalayan art in the West), and Southeast and Central Asia. You can also peruse the Library’s collection of historical photos and treasures, which includes works on Asian philosophy and religion in addition to art.

The museum’s library is under the giant dome. Image: Parisplusplus.com

Dedicated To His Work

Émile Guimet assembled the initial collection, which included hundreds of Chinese artefacts and Japanese works of art. Guimet (1836–1918), a prosperous businessman from Lyon, devoted his life to exploration and adventure. In the 19th century, the French government commissioned him to research Asian religions. He planned to create a museum dedicated to antiquity, ancient Egypt, and Asian faiths.

During his 1876 global tour, Guimet visited China, India, and Japan. Throughout the Silk Road, he collected many Asian artworks and artefacts. He was fascinated by modern works of art in addition to historical items. His collection was transferred to Paris in 1889, the year the Eiffel Tower was completed, from its original home at a museum in his city of Lyon.

The actual name of the museum, the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, changed during Guimet’s lifetime from focusing on the religions of Ancient Egypt to Asian civilisations’ art. Encouraged by Guimet, other archaeologists travelled to Cambodia and Siam (then known as Thailand) to study the local cultures and acquire more artefacts for the expanding museum. In 1884, Guimet gave his enormous collection to France. The Department of Asiatic Arts of the Musée du Louvre was founded in 1945 after the Oriental art treasures housed at the Louvre were moved to the Guimet. The Egyptian artefacts from the Musée Guimet were sent to the Musée du Louvre in return and are currently on display there.

Since Tibetan art collections became religious icons in 1912, the museum has gradually reduced the number of religious artefacts to highlight other Asian treasures. Extensive collections from China and Central Asia were added to the Musée Guimet during colonial rule, which began in 1927 when the French Museums Directorate took over.

Since then, the collections have expanded and become more diverse while retaining the interest in and admiration for Asian art and the region’s historical adaptability and inventiveness. The contributions of Paul Pelliot and Edouard de Chavannes from their travels to China and Central Asia, along with the initial artefacts gathered by Louis Delaport that served as the foundation for the Trocadéro’s Indochinese Museum, helped to expand the collections in 1927. In 1965, the museum focused primarily on developing its holdings related to ancient India.

Antiquities Galore

Photo Credit: LUXUO

The Musée Guimet is a haven for artwork and artefacts during wars and conflicts. From December 2006 to April 2007, it housed items from the National Museum of Afghanistan, popularly known as the Kabul Museum. These included antiquities from the Indo-Scythian treasure of Tillia Tepe and archaeological artefacts from the Greco-Bactrian city of Ai-Khanoum. The “Bactrian gold hoard” comprised around 20,600 ornaments, including coins, jewellery, and other items crafted from gold, silver, ivory, and an astounding gold crown.

Photo Credit: LUXUO
Photo Credit: LUXUO
Photo Credit: LUXUO

The 70 per cent of the 100,000 exhibits on display at the museum in Kabul were lost when the civil war in Afghanistan broke out in 1992 due to repeated looting and missile damage. Other organisations, such as museums in Germany and the United Kingdom, also successfully rescued numerous items. Since 2007, these organisations have assisted in recovering more than 8,000 stolen works and have returned the items in their custody to Afghanistan. Regretfully, since the Taliban have just returned, it is unknown what has happened to the items housed in the National Museum of Afghanistan.

Photo Credit: LUXUO
Photo Credit: LUXUO
Photo Credit: LUXUO

Thanks to the extensive refurbishment work that began in 1996, Guimet now has access to the latest technological developments in museology to present and protect art items. The program’s inception dates back to 1991, when the museum relocated to the Buddhist Pantheon, a nearby structure, to make room for a more extensive renovation. The institution’s primary goal was to establish itself as a leading hub for information about Asian civilisations in the centre of Europe.

Photo Credit: LUXUO
Photo Credit: LUXUO

The permanent galleries also prioritised creating open viewpoints and letting in more light. These more extensive areas guarantee a relaxing experience in serene, wide spaces while helping visitors comprehend the connections and distinctions among the many Asian artistic traditions.

Highlights of the Museum

The ground floor houses artefacts from India and Southeast Asia, such as Hindu, Buddhist, and Khmer pieces. Notable exhibits include Indian art and textiles from the Jean and Krishna Riboud collection, which included beautiful works of art and jewellery from India from the 17th and 19th centuries, which were donated in February 2020

The Asian-themed cafe located at Musee Guimet.

The Greco-Roman glassware, lacquerware from the Han Chinese period, and some of India’s oldest known ivories are to be noticed. The astounding Chinese collections comprise over 20,000 objects spanning seven millennia of art. These include jade discs, ceramics and bronzes from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. There are also paintings from the Tang and Qing dynasties. Please don’t skip the Japanese section, a diverse and rich presentation of Japanese art from its origins during the third and second millennia BCE until the Meiji era (1868).

For the Korean exhibitions, the collection includes stunning celadon, alongside bronzes from the Koryo period and paintings from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Library on the third floor offers European and Asian books and journals for visitors to peruse.

After immersing yourself in these fantastic and rich visual cultures, you can head down to the cafe on the lower ground floor named Salon des Porcelaines, where the food predominantly focuses on an Asian theme. After refreshments, you can browse the books at the museum’s boutique bookshop. There is also a handful of beautiful merchandise, such as jewellery, silk scarves, and tableware.

The library-cum-boutique offers books and an array of museum-related merchandise. Image: Parisplusplus.com

Visitors to the Musée Guimet should expect an entirely different kind of cultural encounter than what they would often find in Paris. The building’s interior is highly contemporary, airy, and expansive, which beautifully highlights the treasures on display even if its exterior has maintained chiefly its original aspect. Despite the contrast, the outcome is a peaceful, enjoyable, and unwinding experience. Look for posters on the street announcing special exhibitions; these are usually excellent and should not be missed if you happen to be in Paris during that period.

Musée Guimet is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with the exception of Tuesday. It is situated in the 16th arrondissement at 6 Place d’Iéna. The closest metro stations are Boissière (Line 6) and Iéna (Line 9), directly across the street. You can reach the Eiffel Tower on foot in five minutes by crossing the Pont d’Iéna.

For the latest in art and culture reads, click here.

The post East Meets West: The Asian Wonders of the Musée Guimet appeared first on LUXUO.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *