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Musee du Quai Branly Collections

Quai Branly Museum (in French – Musée du Quai Branly), located at the foot of the iconic Iron Lady of Paris – Eiffel Tower, is a premier cultural institution in Paris. Held within its walls is 200 years of history originating in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and The Americas featuring a collection of 300,000 works, 700,000 photographs, 320,000 documents, 10,000 musical instruments, and 25,000 pieces of textile or clothing.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Quai Branly Museum collections to make your visit an educational and pleasurable one.

Explore the Quai Branly Museum Collections

The Quai Branly Museum is one of Paris’s renowned museums featuring a collection of 300,000 works, 700,000 photographs, 320,000 documents, 10,000 musical instruments, and 25,000 pieces of textile or clothing. This historic collection ranges from the Neolithic period (+/- 10,000 B.C.) to the 20th century.

All the collections at the Quai Branly Museum highlight the rich cultural diversity of the non-European civilizations of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and The Americas. In the following sections we’ll dive into:

  1. History of the Collections
  2. The main Collections level
  3. Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière Collection
  4. The Pavillon des Sessions

History of the Collections

Following the tradition of French Presidents commissioning the construction of museums during their tenure, President Jacques Chirac fulfilled his vision by spearheading the creation of a new museum dedicated to a collection of indigenous art pieces from Asia, Africa, Oceania, and The Americas.

Since the early 20th century, prominent French figures like André Malraux, André Breton, and Claude Lévi-Strauss have advocated for a single institution dedicated to the display of indigenous art and culture, drawing upon collections amassed by French explorers and ethnologists. Jacques Kerchache, an art collector and ethnologist, made a proposal for such a museum to Chirac, who was then the Mayor of Paris, and became his advisor. In 1990, Kerchache published a manifesto in the newspaper Libération which read “The masterpieces of the entire world are born free and equal.” He got this signed by 300 artists, writers, philosophers, anthropologists and art historians, following which, in 1996, Chirac announced the creation of a new museum.

The “new museum” was a merger of collections from two different museums – the Musée national des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie and the laboratory of ethnology of Musée de l'Homme. The first venture of the new museum was an art gallery within the Louvre Museum in the Pavillon des Sessions, which faced immediate resistance. This issue was put to rest in 1998, when Jacques Chirac announced the construction of an entirely new museum on the banks of the Seine River.

The Main Collections Level

North Africa and the near east

Oceania and Insulindia is a geographical division which was inherited from the works of the French navigator J.-S. Dumont d'Urville and serves as a framework for visitors to the Oceania Collections at the Quai Branly Museum.

While Insulindia comprises Malaysia, Thailand, and a part of Myanmar, Oceania (then) comprised Australasia, Malesia, and Polynesia.

The Oceania Collection represents cultural and social themes such as the conquest of prestige, exchanges, initiation, funerary rituals, the relationship with ancestors and divinities, metamorphoses of bodies and modernity, all this through geographical distribution.

The Africa section comprises almost 1,000 works, organized by region. What this means is that, as a visitor, your tour begins with the arts of Mali (specially those of Dogon Country), continues with the masks and statues of West Africa, and finally concludes with a set of art works from Benin and Nigeria.

Between Mali, Benin, and Nigeria, the Africa Collection circuit covers the arts of Cameroon, magical objects from the Congo, passes through central and southern Africa, moves towards the east featuring funerary posts from east Africa and the Christian arts of Ethiopia. The final leg of the tour ends with a series of films, texts, and documents on the different works and their respective civilizations.

Located at the junction of Asia and Africas’ Collections, North Africa and the near east area is devoted to textile arts. Textile arts feature traditional costumes of men and women – dresses, overcoats, waistcoats, and caps, reflecting the variety and wealth of oriental clothing through its rich embroidery.

The tour starts off with the display of women’s face-veils and an imposing dromedary palanquin, which carried nomad women into the heart of the steppes of Syria. This section is then followed by display cases featuring talismans, amulets, and ex-votos and a rich collection of ceramics and arms of the museum. The middle section of the tour is dedicated to magic and agrarian rites, which includes traditional punishment dolls from Morocco and Ashura mannequins from Algeria.

Along the North facade, enclosed areas are dedicated to north Africa and near eastern arts, featuring shadow theater in Syria and Turkey, woven carpets from Morocco, Islam, and Judais and lastly, urban arts.

To make the experience of this section intimate, oriental paintings from the collections of the museum have been placed all along the tour.

The Americas collection at Quai Branly Museum is divided into two major sections - one presents Americas from the 17th century to the present day, and the other section presents pre-Hispanic America, before the European conquest. The Americas Collections has over 100,000 items on display, which, since the museum’s opening in 2006, have undergone extensive redesigns and renewals.

The junction where Africa ends and Americas begin is an area dedicated to “Afro-American cultures” which include objects from the Maroons of Guyana, the Candomblé productions from Brazil, Gauntlet with zoomorphic decoration, and a set of voodoo ritual parts of Haiti.

The Asia Collections pieces over 55,000 objects and artifacts, sourced and representing the entire continent, from Turkey to Japan. It presents arts, both minor and popular, from as early as the 19th century up to the present day.

Through Colonial Exhibitions, particularly that of 1931, many artisanal and everyday objects were gathered, which today constitute a significant part of Asia’s collections. Collections include costumes and jewelry, spanning the entire continent of Asia - Ainu dresses from Japan, Indian saris and Miao embroideries and jewelry from southern China. Themed spaces illustrate religious art, such as - Buddhism of south east Asia and the shamanism of Siberia.

Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière Collection

Designed by Jean Nouvel, this is a permanent exhibition space dedicated to house 36 exceptional works donated by the collector Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière to the French state. The collection comprises works from Africa and Oceania, providing an opportunity to delve deeper into understanding the history of these places. Major art pieces belonging to this collection resonated with the aesthetic emotions of Marc Ladreit as the Senufo and Lulua ‘maternity figures’, the malagan mask from Tabar Island in New Ireland and various other rare and lesser-known works. The Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière Collection thus paves the way for interesting study opportunities for the research community.

The Pavillon des Sessions

Inaugurated in April 2000, the Pavillon des Session, located to the south of the Louvre Museum between the Flore and Denon wings, is a permanent embassy of the Quai Branly Museum.

The 1,200 m2 interior space was designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte and houses over 120 sculptural masterpieces from across the world - African sculptures to Arctic masks. . The design is a minimalistic one, with pure lines and minimal partitioning, bathed in subdued light, a reflection of the Louvre’s original architecture principles that entail exhibiting it’s artworks to their maximum effect.

Visitor tips

  1. Opt for an audio guided tour to better understand the collections at the museum. The ticket for this can be bought at the museum’s ticketing office, at an additional cost. Under audio guides, you can opt to create your own itinerary and in a language of your choice (currently available in -  French, English, German, Italian, Spanish and French Sign Language).

  2. You can even opt for a guided tour of the collections for a better understanding. Currently there are 4 guided tours of the collections, each of which takes you through different routes, to discover a selection of different works. Tickets for this can be booked directly at the museum’s ticketing office.

  3. You can download ‘Guide to the Collection’, a pdf which will help you discover the museum from a new angle and give you access to its behind-the-scenes, to learn about acquisitions and storage reserve. The guide is currently available in German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic.