Following a mission to the Peshawar district on the Indo-Afghan frontier, Alfred Foucher brought back some 100 pieces, including the famous "Foucher" bodhisattva (AO 2907), which were exhibited in the Louvre in 1900. These schist objects from northwest India constitute the Gandhâra collection, now housed in the Musée Guimet. Gandhara art, the first to give iconographic form to the account of the Buddha’s life and to establish this iconography as canonical, flourished under the foreign "barbarian" dynasty of the Great Kouchans (1st-3rd century). The Kushans ruled over a vast territory that stretched from Northern India to the foothills of the Pamir, straddling three different worlds. Long-awaited proof of this was provided by the Begram treasure, discovered by Joseph Hackin in 1937, and which included a whole series of Mathurâ-style Indian ivories found alongside Greco-Roman glassware and typical Han period Chinese lacquerware.
Under the terms of an agreement drawn up between the French and Afghan governments in 1922, the "French Archeological Delegation in Afghanistan" (DAFA) was founded. In 1925, following on from prospection carried out by Alfred Foucher around Kabul, Hackin began excavations at the Païtava site where the "Buddha of the Great Miracle" (MG 17478) was discovered.
Jules Barthoux, who joined the DAFA between 1925 and 1928, carried out excavations at Hadda, an exceptionally rich site where, for instance, the outstanding "Spirit with Flowers" (MG 17190) was discovered, revealing the existence of a remarkably vibrant stucco art under the Kidara Kushans and the hephtalites (4th-5th centuries). Finally, Bâmyân, in the heart of the Hindu Kush, on the old road to India between Bactria and Taxila, emerged as the spatial and temporal "missing link" between Foucher’s "Greco-Buddhist" art and the art of Turkestan during the period of the Western Turks (6th-7th centuries).
Himalayan art has featured at the Musée Guimet since the museum was founded in Lyon in 1879, when a small series of Lamaist objects were on display. Today, the Himalayan collection includes some 1600 pieces.
In 1912, the museum acquired a large quantity of bronzes and paintings representative of 18th and 19th century Sino-Tibetan art brought back by Jacques Bacot (1877-1965) from his missions to Eastern Tibet, and for most of the last century this relatively late and Sinicized aspect of Tibetan art has formed the bulk of the collection. More recently, however, the Museum has been able to offer a more comprehensive display of Himalayan culture, notably in the field of Nepalese art.
In 1939, MM. Gustave and Charles Toussaint donated a series of 27 paintings, and this was followed by a number of smaller bequests and donations.
The collection of thang-ka and Nepalese and Tibetan bronzes was also enhanced thanks to the Fournier donation in 1989 which included some 100 pieces in all. Although 18th and 19th century Sino-Tibetan pieces still constitute the bulk of the collection, a number of acquisitions over the last ten years -including the Jean Mansion bequest in 1993 of twelve thang-ka- illustrate other movements in the history of Tibetan art. Nepalese art is particularly well represented by several painted book covers (12th-14th centuries), metal sculptures ranging from the 11th to the 19th centuries, as well as several wooden images (16th-18th centuries) and various liturgical objects.
The South East Asia Department was a result of a merger between two major collections of Khmer art, between 1927 and 1931: the old Musée Emile Guimet collection -with the series of Cambodian artefacts built up by Etienne Aymonier (1844-1929)- and the collection of the Trocadéro Musée Indochinois of which Louis Delaporte (1842-1925) had been the founder and curator. Up until 1936, these collections were supplemented by material sent by the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, including the Banteay Srei pediment (MG 18193). The range of Khmer sculptures provides an illustration of Cambodian art from its origins up to the present day, and is unique in the West. It reflects the French contribution to knowledge of this prestigious civilization. The Harihara from the Maha Rosei Ashram (MG 14190, 7th century), the Banteay Srei pediment (MG 18913, c. 967), and the head of Jayavarman VII (P 430, late 12th/early 13th century) are among the masterpieces of world sculpture.
A rare selection of Champa sculptures presents the main stages in the evolution of this ancient Indianized kingdom -formerly located in the centre and north of present-day Vietnam. Among these works, particular mention should be made of the great Shiva from Silver Towers (MG 18130, 11th/12th century).
While the section devoted to the arts of South East Asia is particularly rich in material from Cambodia and Indianized Vietnam (Champa) it also features a selection of works which provide a panoramic display of the arts of Thailand, Indonesia, Sinicized Vietnam, as well as Burma and Laos.
The importance of Central Asia (also known as Serindia) was revealed in the early 20th century by archeological discoveries that brought to light the outstanding Buddhist heritage along the route of the Silk Road. Unique documents, including manuscripts and major cycles of Buddhist religious imagery, had been conserved thanks to the desert climate, favourable to the preservation of organic material. The Musée Guimet collection had its origin in three French archeological missions led successively by Dutreuil de Rhins (1890-1895), Paul Pelliot (1906-1909) and, most importantly, Joseph Hackin (1931-1932). The objects collected illustrate the art of the great Buddhist centres which developed at the caravan staging posts along the eastern route of the Silk Road. Clay sculptures from the religious complex at Toqquz-Saraï are represented by the bodhisattva head EO 1059, while the meditating Buddha EO 1107 attests the pictorial art that flourished at the Duldur-Akhur monastic complex in the Kuchean region. There are also two hundred and fifty paintings, including "The Subjugation of Mara" (MG 17655), from the "Manuscripts Cave" at Dunhuang.
The Musée Guimet collection offers a uniquely comprehensive display of Central Asian artworks.
The Chinese Department of the Musée Guimet includes some 20 000 objects covering seven millennia of Chinese art, from the earliest times up until the 18th century.The archeological section opens with jades and ceramics from the Neolithic period and continues with major bronze works from the Shang and Zhou dynasties. In addition, there are large collections of harness equipment and saddlery, bronze mirrors and fasteners, coinage and lacquerwork.
In the statuary section, besides the large Buddhist sculpture (cf. The Buddhist Pantheon and The Central Asia Department), several donations-the Calmann, Rousset, Jacob, and Polain donations-have led to the establishment of an outstandingly varied collection of Han and Tang mingqi tomb figures.
The decorative arts section offers a highly comprehensive panoramic history of Chinese ceramics. A vast collection of some 10 000 stoneware, celadon and porcelain pieces covers the major centres of production, the key technical innovations, and the various aspects of taste involved in export or imperial commissions. The furniture collection includes major lacquerwork and rosewood pieces, while painting is represented by a thousand works ranging from the Tang to the Qing dynasties.
The creation of the Korean Department dates back to the Varat Mission, undertaken in 1888 with the assistance of Collin de Plancy, a French diplomat at the Seoul court. Thanks to its acquisition of a highly eclectic collection of objects, this mission revealed to the public for the very first time a country that had previously been closed to foreigners.
During the inter-war period, growing interest in Japanese civilization led to the removal of the Korean collections from the museum galleries. Subsequently, Korean pieces were acquired via Japan (for instance, the Ulrich Odin collection), or by the 1932 Joseph Hackin Mission to Korea.
In the 1950s, thanks to the Arthur Sachs donation in 1951, and the acquisition of the Densmore collection, an ensemble of Silla (57 BC-668 AD) gold and silverware was built up. A few years later, the Silla crown (MA 1642) - attesting to excavations carried out in Korea during the Japanese period-was acquired in Tokyo in 1954. This was followed by the Kim Hong-do screen (MA 2544), donated in 1962 by Mme. Louis Marin, and the Koryo celadons from the Michel Calmann donation in 1977.
The Korean collection includes some 1000 pieces covering practically all periods. Although there are relatively few specimens of punch’ong, landscapes or scholarly paintings, a major place is devoted to Buddhist art. The extension of the exhibition area from 69 m2 in the 1980s to 360 m2 today, together with new acquisitions such as bronzes from the Koryo period, secular scholarly paintings, or tomb sculptures from the Choson period, have enabled the widest possible panorama of Korean arts to be put on display.
The Indian section in the Musée Guimet includes, on the one hand, terracotta, stone, bronze and wood sculptures ranging from the 3rd millennium BC to the 18th/19th centuries AD, and, on the other, paintings and miniatures from the 15th to 19th centuries. Archeological objects, mainly from Southern India and revealing links between India and the Roman Empire during the early centuries of the present era, sculpted representations of the Buddha and episodes from Buddhist legend, together with effigies of the principal deities in the Brahmanic pantheon, illustrate the different esthetic trends which flourished in India and which influenced in various ways the art of neighbouring countries, notably in South East Asia.
The Japanese Department collections include some 11000 works, offering an extremely rich and diversified panorama of Japanese art since its origins during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC up until the beginning of the Meiji era (1868).
Following on from the archeological phases of the Jomon (terracotta vases and figurines), Yayoi, and Kofun (haniwa MA 1338, acquired in an exchange with the Tokyo National Museum) cultures, the collections illustrate in particular essential developments in Japanese Buddhist art, the stylistic and iconographic evolution of which is traced from the 8th to the 15th centuries AD through a remarkably comprehensive and prestigious ensemble of sculptures and silk paintings.
Besides this major section of the collections, kakemono, makimono and screens dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries offer an insight into other secular trends in the history of Japanese painting. In particular, the Ukioyo-e ("Pictures of the Floating World"), are represented by a series of almost 3000 prints collected at the beginning of the 20th century by major connoisseurs (Camondo, Koechlin etc.), including "The Plain of Musashi" EO 2007.
Finally, collections of lacquerwork, ceramics (Tea Ceremony stoneware and porcelain), ivories (netsuke) and sword hilts evoke the sheer diversity of the applied arts in Japan.
The library, established when the museum was opened in 1889, specializes in the ancient art and archeology of East and Far Eastern Asia. Its collection of over 100,000 volumes includes books and revues in all European and Asian languages together with 1500 periodicals. These are indexed in the catalogue du Système universitaire de documentation (http://www.sudoc.abes.fr). As the museum was originally founded as a museum of the history of religions, the library has inherited a major collection of works relating to Oriental religions, in particular Buddhism.
In addition to European texts from the 17th and 18th centuries, the library possesses a number of special collections, including a series of 700 illustrated Japanese books from the Edo period, over 2000 Tibetan works (including Alexandra David-Neel’s library), the Arnold Vissière collection of Qing dynasty Chinese maps, Urdu texts donated by Garcin de Tassy, fragments of Uigur manuscripts, and the papers of orientalists such as A. Barth, E. Chavannes, R. Ghirshman, P. Pelliot etc.
The museum’s Photographic Archives was set up in 1920 by Victor Goloubew (1878-1945). It consists of a major collection specializing in Asian art and archeology, and also includes numerous ethnographic collections covering the latter half of the 19th century. These are supplemented by documentary photographs of works in the national collections. Early photography is represented from the second half of the 19th century with an album covering Turkey (1854-1856) and Persia (1858-1861) taken by the French military mission led by Victor-François Brogniart. There are photographs of India from 1860 by Ernest Grandidier, and of Cambodia in 1866 by the Mekong exploration mission led by Doudart de Lagrée (1823-1868). The collection also includes a major series of photographs on Japan, from the late 1860s, and on China, around 1870 and at the turn of the century with the Auguste François (1857-1935) collection for Southern China, and the Louis Marin (1871-1960) collection for Northern China, as well as the Middle East, Far Eastern Siberia, and Korea. The Chinese series is remarkably supplemented by photographs from the French archeological missions led by Edouard Chavannes (1865-1918), Victor Segalen (1878-1919) and Paul Pelliot (1878-1945) in Central Asia. In addition, the archives of the French Archeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA), founded in 1922 by Alfred Foucher (1865-1952) who was succeeded by Joseph Hackin (1886-1941), record sixty years of fieldwork.
The Department also houses numerous photographic documents on the art (architecture, graphic arts, objets d’art, painting, sculpture) of India, Southeast Asian countries, and the Far East.