The Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris holds extension collections of objects acquired during the travels of French industrialist Émile Guimet in Japan, China, India, Cambodia, Nepal, and other regions of the Far East. In this post, we’ll review the museum, share photos from our visit, and offer thoughts on whether Musée Guimet is worth your time as a tourist in Paris.
Guimet originally founded the museum in Lyon, France in 1879 with a focus on religious artifacts and classical antiquities from Asia. A decade later, the museum’s collection was transferred to Paris, where it was also expanded to focus more broadly on Asian civilizations. It would seem this is where the museum’s holdings still stand today, although the original emphasis on religious iconography can still be seen. (Although I suppose the same could be said about virtually any art museum.)
Now, it may seem counter-intuitive to visit France to see Asian art, but Musée Guimet is home to the western world’s largest collection of Asian art, and has a diverse holding representative of numerous regions of Asia, spanning a range of periods and civilizations. It’s without question the most diverse selection of Asian art I’ve ever seen…
The history of Musée Guimet, its founder, and how it intersects with other museums in Paris, (most notably the Louvre) is fairly fascinating. I don’t think that’s worth regurgitating here in full, but you can read about it on the Asia-Europe Museum Network’s site.
My favorite exhibit in was the Chinese Department of the Musée Guimet, which includes over 20,000 objects covering seven millennia, from the earliest times up until the 18th century.
I particularly liked the decorative arts section, which features a comprehensive history of Chinese ceramics. While the 10,000 pieces of stoneware, celadon, and porcelain are gorgeous and fascinating, it’s the accompanying history of China’s dynasties (ranging from tang to Qing) that interested me. It was like a cultural history lesson through the prism of ceramics.
The Departments of Himalayan art and Indian art were also fascinating and contained some beautiful pieces. These are art styles we’ve had little exposure to in the past, so the broad overview Guimet provided was nice.
The Japanese Department was less impressive to us, even though this is one of our favorite types of Asian art, but that’s likely because we’ve experienced better, more comprehensive exhibits of Japanese art elsewhere.
With that said, there were some beautiful screen paintings and kimonos in these exhibits.
Speaking of kimonos, the temporary exhibit during our visit featured exactly that. We really wanted to do this, but it was not included with our Paris Museum Pass, and there was no way to do it as an add-on. We would’ve had to pay the full price for a combined permanent and temporary exhibit ticket, which seemed excessive.
We had a lot of other things to see in Paris that day, anyway…
Whether the Musée National des arts asiatiques Guimet is worth your time on a visit to Paris probably depends upon how much time you have in Paris, your interest level in Asian art, and your access to similar museums.
If it’s your first visit to Paris and you only have a few days in the city, I’d be very hesitant to recommend this museum, regardless of your interest level in Asian art. There are just so many uniquely Parisian things to do that it’s hard to make a compelling argument for this.
If you’ve been to Paris before, or have a bit more time, Musée Guimet is potentially worth visiting. While we have traveled to most of the countries featured in this museum’s exhibits, we’ve yet to encounter anything quite like Musée Guimet.
Rather than having a narrow focus and delving into that, Musée Guimet is more like Asian Art 101, offering a nice survey of different periods and civilizations. I can’t say with certainty this is the largest cross-section of Asian art on display anywhere, but it’s likely among the largest in the world.
Without question, that’s the biggest selling point of Musée Guimet from my perspective. It’s great exposure to an array of different Asian art, and provides a jumping off point for subsequent visits to more focused museums.
In terms of tips, it’s conveniently located on the walk between Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower (assuming you elect to walk between the two, which I’d recommend). It’s also within walking distance of Grand Palais, Musee de l’Orangerie, and numerous other points of interest in Paris.
Given that, it’s pretty easy to plug Musée Guimet into a walking itinerary of Paris. This is exactly what we did on the day we were heading to Musee de l’Orangerie, and it was a convenient stop along the way.
Since we were walking that way, anyway, and we had the Paris Museum Pass (Musée Guimet is included on the pass), and we enjoy Asian art, and we’ve been to Paris several times (and and and!), stopping at Musée Guimet made sense for us.
Even if you don’t have all of those “ands”, if you have the Paris Museum Pass, it might make sense to make a stop here if it’s convenient, and see whether this museum appeals to you.
There was no line when we visited and Musée Guimet seems under the radar as compared to the most popular museums in Paris, so it’s not a huge time commitment, and you’re not out much if you quickly discover it is not for you.
Overall, the Guimet Museum of Asian Art is an excellent museum for what it is. We were satisfied with our experience here, and were glad we did it. I’d also say it provides nice artistic diversity to Paris’ culture landscape. With all of that said, I would not consider Musée Guimet a must-do for anyone. It’s not the type of experience most people are going to Paris to have, and even though it’s a well-done museum, it’s not an essential Parisian experience. At best, it serves the role of filling out an itinerary for those to whom it does appeal and have a gap in their schedules. That’s not meant as a knock on Musée Guimet–just an acknowledgment of Musée Guimet’s place among a formidable lineup of famed art museums in Paris.
Planning your own trip to Paris, France? Check out our posts about Paris for more ideas of what to do in the City of Lights. If you’re venturing beyond Paris, you’ll also want to consult our France posts, which cover a variety of places, from Normandy to the Loire Valley. In addition to these posts, I recommend planning with Rick Steves Paris and Rick Steves France guidebooks.
Have you visited Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris? If so, what did you think of it? Is it something you’d add to your itinerary for Paris, or does it not strike you as the kind of ‘Parisian’ experience that is a reason for visiting France? Any other tips or recommendations you have regarding Musée Guimet? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!