The Musée Guimet is a highly respected museum of Asian arts, founded in Lyon in 1879 and moved to Paris in 1889. It is located in this listed building on the Place d’Iéna in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.
The founder, Émile Guimet (1836-1918), was a wealthy industrialist from Lyon. He was also an author, a world traveler, a musician and a composer. Among other musical works he composed an oratorio Le feu du ciel, to a text by Victor Hugo, which was performed in Paris and London. And he even composed an opera with a Chinese subject, Taï-tsoung, which premiered in Marseille in 1894.
But his main interest was studying Asian religions and collecting Asian and Egyptian artworks. His Egyptian collection has long since been integrated into the collection of Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre, but the artworks he collected while traveling in Asia in 1876 are still on display at the Musée Guimet, along with many other pieces that have been added since then. The museum collection now consists of 45,000 sculptures, paintings and other objects of art from Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Japan, Korea, China, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
This Shiva is one of several pieces from the Champa culture in what is now Vietnam. The statue is described as being in the style of “Thap Mam” from the end of the eleventh century or the beginning of the twelfth. (I mentioned the Champa culture in my post New places in Vietnam 1995.)
Aside from being a major museum of Asian Art, the Musée Guimet also has a library specializing in ancient art and archeology of eastern and far-eastern Asia. The library was created in 1889, when the museum building was opened. There are currently over 100,000 volumes in all European and Asian languages, as well as collections of 1500 periodicals.
Use of the library is limited to those who have a plausible scholarly, professional or personal interest in the subject matter, at the discretion of the museum director.
The main part of the library is now located on the ground floor, but some of the historic nineteenth century volumes are still shelved in the rotunda on the second floor.
Above the library there are eight caryatids that function as pillars to hold up the dome of the roof. I tried taking photos from different angles, but couldn’t get more than three of the eight caryatids in any one photo.
Out in front of the Guimet Museum, in the middle of the Place d’Iéna, there is a statue of a man on horseback waving a sword in the air.
Since the Place d’Iéna was named after a glorious battle (near the German city of Jena) in which Napoléon’s Grande Armée won a glorious victory in 1806, I assumed the man on horseback would be Maréchal Murat (Napoléon’s brother-in-law), the officer who led the glorious (but unnecessary) French cavalry charge during that battle. But no. The man on horseback turns out to be George Washington, the first president of the United States. Washington no doubt rode around on horseback quite a bit during his lifetime, but he was definitely not present at the battle of Jena since he died in 1799, which was seven years before the battle took place.
The Place d’Iéna is also the site of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE), which I must admit I had never heard of before, even though it is theoretically an important part of the French governmental apparatus. The council was established as the National Economic Council in 1924. The word Social wasn’t added to the name until 1960, and the word Environmental was an afterthought added in 2008.
The building, called the Palais d’Iéna, was designed in 1939 by the architect Auguste Perret (1874-1954), who had also designed the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées back in 1913.
Location, aerial view and photo of the Guimet Museum on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on Museums in Paris.