The Royal Collections (2)

The French Revolution destroyed this system linking cabinets de curiosités and arts and science collections to the Crown, the aristocracy, and the clergy. The collections were seized, nationalized and, for those considered to be items of value as national heritage, sent to new conservation institutions.

Grande Galerie RF1952-15 CROYAN
Robert Hubert, Layout project fot the Great Gallery, about 1789. Louvre Museum, Department of Paintings, RF1952-15
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maréchalle


A turbulent institutional history

Thus the National Library was founded in 1792, the King's Garden became the National Museum of Natural History, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle de Paris, on 10 June 1793, and the Muséum central des Arts at the Louvre Palace was established in 1794. These changes were intended to streamline the Parisian national collections, dividing them between three major conservation bodies, respectively for books, natural history specimens, and works of art.

The holdings from the King's Garden were in part transferred to the Louvre Palace, and stored in the annexes of the National Library, which, apart from assembling books and precious works, became a sort of center for objects collected from other institutions, if they illustrated human creations distant in time and space, specifically collections of antiquities and ethnographic material. Among these, the collections of the former Cabinet du Roi, as Cabinet des Médailles (Collection of medals) founded in the seventeenth century, and renamed the Muséum des Antiques (Museum of Antiquities), took pride of place.

Panel bag, United States, probably Central Plains or Western Great Lakes, early 18th century. Hide, porcupine quills, copper, deerhair, pigments, sinew, 52 x 24 cm. Former collection of the Cabinet of Medals from the National Library. Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.128
© musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries, Valérie Torre

Under the Napoleonic Empire and the Restoration, further changes took place. Others museums sprang up, sometimes inheriting non-European collections, for example, the Dauphin Museum in the Louvre Palace, inaugurated by Charles X in 1828, and renamed the Naval or Maritime Museum. It displayed models of ships and navigational instruments, and had a room devoted to ethnographic objects brought back by navigators. Due to the many donations received from the King himself, Navy personnel, and travelers, leading eventually to the establishment of an Ethnographic Museum, which quickly overflowed into other rooms, and became the first institution devoted to distant cultures within the Louvre Palace. The Museum of Celtic and Gallo-Roman Antiquities (today the National Archaeological Museum), founded in 1862 by Napoleon III at Saint-Germain-en-Laye to enable comparative research to be carried out on archaeological, typological series from all over the world, received other artefacts from Native North America. From 1905 to 1911, this museum received the ethnographic collections form the Maritime Museum at the Louvre Palace.

Man’s shirt, Northern Plains, first half of 19th century. Hide, porcupine quills, hair, pigments, sinew, 124 x 99 cm.
 Former collection of the Maritime Museum in the Louvre Palace. Loan from the National Museum of Archeology.
Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 71.1909.19.24 Am D.
© musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries, Valérie Torre

The Trocadéro Ethnographic Museum

The turning-point came in 1878, with the creation of the musée d’Ethnographie de Paris, the first national museum devoted solely to the material cultures of civilizations from all the five continents. It was housed in the Trocadéro Palace, which was built in 1878 for the Universal Exhibition, and opened its doors to the public in 1882.

Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro Paris CROYAN PV0020304
Prince Roland Bonaparte, [Sans titre] palais du Trocadéro, housing the musée d’Ethnographie, seen from the Champ de Mars, Universal Exhibition of 1889. Silver gelatin-bromide glass plate negative. Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, PV0020304.
Bonaparte, Roland Prince © musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac

The Trocadéro Museum took over the ethnographic collections from the Cabinet des Médailles et des Antiques (the Cabinet of Medals and Antiquities) at the National Library, followed by the collections of the musée américain, formerly at the Louvre, in 1887. Some of the collections which had been moved to Saint-Germain-en-Laye museum also entered the Trocadéro Museum, in 1909.

Then, in 1917, the Ethnographic Museum received an important collection from the "ethnographic gallery" of the Army Museum, which had been part of the Artillery Museum since 1877, consisting of eighty life-size mannequins bearing a selection of arms and military finery from all over the world.

Guerrier Amérique du Nord Musée Armée CROYAN MA 272385
A North American warrior, mannequin no. 40 from the ethnographic gallery of the Artillery Museum.
Musée de l’Armée, MA 272385
© musée de l'Armée, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image musée de l'Armée

Finally, a collection from the Versailles Public Library, which had received a cabinet of curiosities in 1806, including some very old Native American items from North America, was transfered to the the Trocadéro Museum, in 1934. Thus the ethnographic collections which had begun arriving in France in the 17th century, and had been dispersed between different institutions in the early 19th century, were gradually assembled under one roof.

However, by the 1930s, this Ethnography Museum was over-full and out of date. It reemerged, entirely recast, in 1938, as the new musée de l'Homme, and so it remained until 2004, when these collections from its Laboratoire d’Ethnologie were relocated, by governmental ordinance, to the newly-created musée du quai Branly, where they can be visited and admired today.

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