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History of the collections

The Musée Cernuschi is a unique historical institution among the museums of the City of Paris. It has continued the work begun by the exceptional Henri Cernuschi (1821-1896) and forms a link between the French capital, China and other Asian civilizations.

Born in Milan, Enrico Cernuschi was an Italian patriot, and in the wake of the 1848 Revolution fled to France. He was an economist and the a banker, and made his fortune at the end of the Second Empire (1852-1870). An ardent republican, he actively supported efforts to create the Third Republic. He was troubled by the tragic events of the Paris Commune and undertook a round-the-world trip from September 1871 to January 1873 in the company of his friend, the art critic Théodore Duret (1838-1927). As he traveled through Japan and then China, he acquired nearly 5 000 works of art, including many bronzes. On his return, the collection was exhibited for a few months at the Palais de l'Industrie and contributed to the emergence of Japonisme in France.

Henri Cernuschi commissioned the architect William Bouwens der Boijen (1834-1907) to construct his private mansion on Avenue Vélasquez, which he bequeathed, with his collection of Asian art, to the City of Paris. Eugène Benoît Causse, Henri Cernuschi's secretary, converted the residence into a museum, inaugurated on October 26, 1898.

Henri d'Ardenne de Tizac (1877-1932), curator from 1905 to 1932, transformed the traveler's home into a modern cultural institution, with the cooperation of scholars, and starting in 1922, the support of an active Friends of the Cernuschi Museum association. He focused the museum on the art and archeology of ancient China, from the prehistoric period to the thirteeen century. This orientation continued  under successive curators: René Grousset (1885) from 1933 to 1952; Vadime Elisseeff (1918-2002) from 1952 to 1982; Marie-Thérèse Bobot (1929-2011) from 1982 to 1994; Gilles Béguin (1946-) from 1994 to 2011,and Christine Shimizu (1950-) since 2011.


The collection grew regularly through purchases and gifts. Today, the museum has one of the leading collections of Chinese art in Europe. Since 1911, it has also held temporary exhibitions of international stature.