Established in 1889 by prolific French art collector Emile Guimet, this vast museum named after him is one of France’s most important collections of art and artifacts from around the Asian continent.
The National Museum of Asian Arts/Guimet Museum comprises over 5,500m2/59,200ft2 of exhibition space– all filled with treasures from Asian cultures as diverse as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas, central Asia and southeast Asia.
This decidedly under-appreciated Paris collection takes you through some 5,000 years of rich artistic and cultural heritage. Paintings, statuary, ceramics, ceremonial/religious objects and pieces from daily life form the heart of the exhibitions, which are organized into themes around different cultural traditions and artistic practices.
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Temporary exhibits at the museum cast a spotlight on particular artists, periods, media or cultural practices. Meanwhile, the lush Japanese-style garden and separate Buddhist temple or “Pantheon” are genuine green havens in the urban landscape, and also well worth a visit.
In short, this quiet gem of a museum merits a morning or afternoon. Keep reading to learn more about why to visit, and for practical details on tickets and opening times.
A Bit of History
Emile Guimet (1836-1918) was a businessman and art enthusiast from Lyon who dreamt of opening a large museum devoted to the art of the “far east”. Having extensively traveled and acquired numerous precious works from various countries, Guimet first opened a small museum in Lyon in 1879.
His collections were later transferred to Paris, and the museum you see today opened in 1889 (perhaps not incidentally, this was the same year that the Eiffel Tower was unveiled for the World Exposition in the French capital).
It originally held a significant collection of Egyptian art and artifacts, but these were later transferred to the Louvre. In exchange, the Guimet received an enormous collection of precious works from the Louvre’s department of Asian Arts.
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Ever since, the Guimet has been devoted to preserving and displaying works from the Asian continent and greater region, including Afghanistan and India.
The late 20th century saw the addition of important collections from countries including Cambodia, as well as the creation of an onsite research library.
Highlights From the Permanent Collection at the Guimet Museum
The permanent collection at the Musee Guimet is divided into several important collections. I’d recommend you spend some time exploring at least two or three of these, including the following:
Afghanistan-Pakistan: Highlights include rare Afghan Buddha figures and other essentially Buddhist artifacts dating from the 1st to the 7th centuries AD.
China: This remarkable collection of Chinese art comprises some 20,000 objects and works spanning seven millenia of Chinese art and culture, up through the 18th century. Ornate, delicate ceramics, transluscent and precious works in jade and bronze, and objects from daily life such as mirrors are only a few of the highlights that await.
Japan: 11,000 works of art and applied arts (such as swords and decorative armor) await visitors in this section of the museum, which offers a panorama of Japanese artistic achievement from the 3rd to 2nd century BC to the mid-19th century.
Korea: A magnificent collection of bronzes, ceramics, decorative paintings, furniture, traditional costuming, and many other forms of art from Korea. Some of the collection originates in Japan and was formerly at the Louvre before the Musee Guimet’s creation in the late nineteenth century.
India: The galleries dedicated to Indian arts and culture hold a rich collection of sculptures in bronze, wood, stone and clay dating as far back as the 3rd millennium BC. It also holds an impressive collection of miniature or portable paintings dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Southwest Asia and Cambodia: This section is particularly rich in statuary and religious iconography from Cambodia and “Indianized Vietnam” (formerly known as Champa; this is reflected in the large number of Buddhist artifacts and images.) In this section you’ll also find an important number of works from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam (under later Chinese influence), Burma and Laos.
Visit this page for more information (in English) on the collections
Location & Contact Details
The museum is located in a quiet corner of the elegant 16th arrondissement (district) of Paris, in close reach of the world-famous Champs-Elysées district on one side, and not far away from the sprawling greenery of the Parc Monceau.
If visiting in the summer and weather permits, I strongly recommend enjoying a Parisian-style picnic in the park, then spending an afternoon exploring the museum. Doing this in reverse order is, of course, entirely possible.
- Address (Main Museum): 6, place d’Iéna, 75016 (16th arrondissement)
- Buddhist Pantheon Entrance: 19, avenue d’Iéna, 75016
- Metro: Iéna or Boissiere (lines 9 or 6)
- Tel : +33 (0)1 56 52 54 33
Visit the official website (in French only)
Is there access for disabled visitors? Yes. The main museum has a wheelchair-accessible ramp situated to the left of the escalators at the main entrance at 6 place d’Iéna. Elevators and lifts inside allow guests to access all floors.
Unfortunately, the Buddhist Patheon and Japanese garden at the Hotel d’Heidelbach is not currently accessible to visitors with limited mobility.
Opening Hours & Tickets
The museum is open every day excepting Tuesdays, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It’s closed on French bank holidays May 1st, December 25th (Christmas Day), and on January 1st.
The ticket counter closes at 5:15 pm. Make sure to arrive a few minutes earlier to ensure time to purchase tickets, or risk being turned away. Exposition halls on the 3rd and 4th floors close at 5:30 pm, and the others close at 5:45 pm. Also be aware that on days before bank holidays, doors close at the museum at 4:45 pm.
Tickets: Visit the official website for current ticket prices (information in French only, unfortunately) and for details on special rates for seniors, students, and others.
Alternatively, call the information line at +33 (0)1 1 56 52 54 33 (open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm). Entry is free for all visitors on the first Sunday of every month.
2 thoughts on “In Focus: The Guimet Museum in Paris, Dedicated to Asian Arts”
I was delighted it wasn’t as congested as the Louvre! As their collections essentially don’t overlap, if this had been renamed Musee Louvre-Guimet ( Asie ), and the QB into Louvre-Quai Branly, then the casual tourist crowds may have spilled into it.
Your first photo beautifully shows what I noticed for the sculptures. The British Museum and the V&A largely deploy standard museum lighting for these types of artefacts, well-illuminated and even lighting. For sculptures, the Guimet house style appears to be a more ‘aesthetic’ lighting philosophy, the use of spotlighting, the raking light typically focussed on the face for dramatic shadow contrasts.
The Af-Pak collections have what remains of the Begram treasure, the contents of a 2000-year-old storeroom or vault, excavated by French archaeologists before WW2, and shared with the Kabul Museum. The Kabul part was looted in the Taliban era, and some of the ivories and glass made it into the black market. The Guimet displays made no mention of this– if some of these Kabul works were confiscated by European authorities and then put on display here with the Guimet collection, the captions made no reference.
Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting comments, Ramesh. I entirely agree that museums in Paris need to be more transparent about where their collections come from. The Quai Branly museum, former President Chirac’s big legacy project, has been under intense scrutiny for holding objects that many have argued should be repatriated to formerly colonized countries of origin, as well as for curation practices some have characterized as stuck in a colonialist mentality. My impression is that all of France’s museums holding significant collections of art from Asia, Africa and Oceania are engaged in similar crises and debates.