Inaugurated in 2006, The Musée du Quai Branly (Quai Branly Museum) harbors one of Paris’ most important collections, dedicated to arts and artifacts from Africa, Asia, the Near East, Oceania and the Americas. Known as the keystone project of former French President Jacques Chirac (much as the Centre Pompidou was the eponymous president’s), the museum regularly hosts thematic exhibits that offer an in-depth appreciating at the civilizations and artistic heritage of indigenous cultures in the regions mentioned above. It also boasts an impressive and monumental permanent collection that comprises some 3,500 artifacts and artworks, laid out in a “circuit” that wends around a central aisle designed to resemble a river.
Housed in a vast, strikingly contemporary building designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum is an essential site in west Paris, and I recommend that you pay a visit when exploring the area around the Eiffel Tower and Invalides.
In addition to its vast exhibition spaces, the museum, located in close reach of the Tower and perched right on the banks of the Seine River, boasts an enormous garden with nearly 170 trees and indoor green walls cultivated with some 150 species of plants. There’s also a pleasant garden-side cafe and a full-service panoramic restaurant with indoor terrace seating, offering spectacular views of the Seine and iconic tower.
A Bit of History
When the Musée Quai Branly -Jacques Chirac opened in 2006, it was not without controversy. Its collections are drawn largely from historical ethnographic collections that were once displayed at the Musée de l’Homme at the Trocadero (Museum of Man) and at the now-defunct National Museum of African and Oceanian Art.
Since many artifacts in the collection were obtained, often without permission, from former French colonies during the colonial period, debates around rights to repatriation and restitution of cultural heritage have frequently cropped up in relation to the museum’s holdings. For example, some 70,000 of the 90,000 Subsharan artifacts currently in France are held in the Quai Branly’s collections or archives, and many argue that any that were unlawfully acquired or looted should be returned to their countries of origins if requested.
Recently, the government of Benin successfully petitioned for 26 art objects that were looted from the country to be returned from the Quai Branly museum, and curators and art historians at this institution and others around France are now closely collaborating with concerned countries to continue restitution efforts.
And where the Musée de l’Homme and the former colonial-era museums and curiosity cabinets often vehicled deeply ethnocentric or even racist perspectives, the Musée Quai Branly has, especially in recent years, made efforts to directly confront the atrocities of colonial history and to critically engage with the history of how many of its artifacts were acquired.
Layout of the Permanent Collections
The Quai Branly Museum’s permanent collections take up two dedicated levels of the building and are laid out in several thematic and geographic areas, spanning the period from 10,000 BC to the 20th century. The some 3,000 artifacts displayed at a given time in the permanent exhibition are frequently refreshed and circulated, both to ensure their long-term preservation and to better reflect the museum’s rich holdings– comprising over 370,000 objects in total. You can see a complete map and guide to the collections at the official website, here.
The permanent collection at the Musee du Quai Branly features in-depth departments dedicated to artistic and cultural artifacts from indigenous cultures around the world, so during a first visit you might want to try to focus on just two, three or four of these to appreciate the collections to the fullest and come away with a more in-depth understanding.
The layout of the permanent collection is innovative for the way it presents the main geographical regions– Oceania, Asia, Africa, and the Americas– in fluid, slightly overlapping ways. Visitors are encouraged to observe the major crossroads between different cultures: Asia-Oceania, Insulindia, and Mashreck-Maghreb. At the same time, each individual section of the exhibition offers a remarkable concentration of objects which bring to life the cultures, traditions and artistic practices in question.
A section dedicated to indigenous cultures of the Americas explores the arts and cultural practices of Native American civilizations from South and North America. It’s divided into two main sections: one presenting the Americas from the 17th century to the present day, and a second that explores pre-Hispanic America before the European conquest.
Masks from Alaska and Greenland and ivory objects from Inuit tribes are highlights, as are leatherwork, belts and headdresses from Californian Native Americans. In the central and South American wings, traditional Mexican, Mayan and Aztec objets d’art are on display, along with costumes, ritual objects, adornments and masks from from many regional cultures. There is also a dedicated section consecrated to Afro-American art and cultural objects.
Artifacts in this section are organized by geographical origin but also highlight common themes among cultures of the Pacific regions. Remarkable artworks and objects of daily life from eastern Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia and Australia comprise the collections here, from masks to objects of personal adornment.
The museum’s rich African collections are broadly divided into sections dedicated to North African, Subsaharan, central and coastal African cultures. Highlights from the some 1,000-strong collection of artifacts include remarkable furniture, jewelry, textiles and ceramics from the Berber cultures of North Africa; superb rural frescoes from the Gondar region of Ethiopia, and exceptional masks and sculpture from Cameroon.
The enormous collection of Asian art and artifacts reflects the tremendous diversity of the Asian continent, and the curators have emphasized the rich inter-cultural influences that have developed over the millenia. Highlights include Japanese stencil decoration, Indian and Central Asian art and cultural practices, and specialized sections dedicated to Siberian shamanic traditions, Buddhist practices throughout the continent, weaponry and armor from the Middle East, and artifacts stemming from ethnic minorities in China, including the Miao and Dong.
Other Exhibitions, Collections & Events
In addition to the main permanent exhibition, the museum hosts regular temporary exhibits and events to spotlight particular cultural and artistic practices, periods or artists from the regions it represents.
There’s also a recently installed permanent exhibit called the Marc Ladreit de Charriére Collection, which displays works from Africa and Oceania and boasts a particularly interesting collection of African statuary and art.
Restaurants & Shopping at the Museum
The museum offers several options for dining and souvenir shopping on its premises, whether you’re craving a light bite or drink, full sit-down meal, or an opportunity to browse gifts and souvenir items related to the collections.
For a light, casual meal, cold and hot drinks, settle into a table at Café Jacques, located in the leafy garden and offering both indoor and outdoor seating.
For a formal or special occasion, book a table in advance at Les Ombres, a rooftop French restaurant with enormous glass windows and a design from Jean Nouvel. Views of the Eiffel Tower are dramatic from the restaurant, and its metallic lattice patterns often reflect on the windows at various points in the day. The food is reputed to be excellent, too, with a creative gastronomic menu from Chef Rui Martins.
Meanwhile. visit the bookshop and giftshop for a selection of books, prints, postcards, DVDs, exhibtion catalogues, and ethical objects and gifts made by artisans in the countries represented by the museum– from jewelry to textiles.
Getting There, Location and Contact Information
The Quai Branly Museum is located in Paris’ 7th arrondissement (district), in close reach of the Eiffel Tower and not far from the Musee d’Orsay.
- Address: 37, quai Branly, 75007 Paris
- Metro/RER: M Alma-Marceau, Iena, Ecole Militaire or Bir Hakeim; RER C– Pont de l’Alma or Tour Eiffel stations
- Tel : +33(0)1 56 61 70 00
- Visit the official website
Opening Hours and Tickets
The museum is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 am to 7pm (ticket office closes at 6pm). On Thursday, the museum opens at 10:30 and closes at 10:00 pm. (ticket office closes at 9pm). The garden opens at 9:15 am on museum opening days and closes at 7:30, expect for Thursdays when it closes at 10:15 pm.
The museum is closed on Mondays, May 1st and December 25th.
Tickets: See current ticket prices here. The admission fee is waived for European visitors under 25 with a valid photo ID (does not include temporary exhibitions). Entrance is free to all visitors on the first Sunday of the month. Entry to the garden is free for all.
Sights and Attractions Nearby Quai Branly:
- Eiffel Tower
- Musée d’Orsay
- Musée Rodin
- Passy Neighborhood: Village-Like Charms Right in the City