Musty museums

I have developed a sensitivity to certain words as applied to museums and their collections, and one of these is “musty”. It’s always used negatively, and this was brought home to me on a recent trip to Paris. The Rough Guide to Paris, while commending the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, recommends you avoid the “musty” museums of anatomy, palaeontology and geology. I was already planning a visit, but this actually made me want to visit more. It’s my NLOB sense for the smaller museums, or for those in need of re-appreciation really.

So what was there to see in this avoidable museum? What sight awaited me when I entered its musty halls? It was this:

This is what you see when you enter the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée. It’s breathtaking, a wonderful sight, and surely jaw-dropping for anyone who visits?

Drag your eyes away from the central hall, and you find cabinets crammed with skulls and bones of a multitude of species, arranged taxonomically.

There are also preserved organs, and a small collection of monstres, freaks of birth such as two-headed chickens. Make it up a floor, and there is an equally impressive vertebrate palaeontology gallery, ringed by a balcony of invertebrate specimens.

The museum opened in 1898, the work of Jean Gaudry and Georges Pouchet. While there have been new additions since, it’s hard to escape a feeling you have wandered back 112 years. Long may it be so.

People have often said “You must see Paris once before you die”. I fully agree, but not for the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or the Louvre. Everyone should visit the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée at least once. Frankly, I’d consider myself quite fortunate to go back post-mortem!

One other note, I do like that Paris names many streets after famous naturalists, and provides a brief reference:

We should do more of this. Blackburn and Rossendale could campaign to have some of the names Mark uncovers referenced in the future.




Filed under Museums, Objects

6 responses to “Musty museums

  1. David Craven

    I’ve decided this is the heaven naturalists go to when they die. I put a few images on Flickr:

  2. A similar space full of dead naturalists would certainly be quite a sight!

    • David Craven

      In a way, it already is that too. The gardens have statues of the likes of Buffon and Lamarck, and the building that houses the Galeries de Paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée has busts of numerous French naturalists. There’s also the “hand” of dead naturalists in the displays, labels, and specimens.

  3. Alex Bird

    The general public and the media all have this perception that musems are old, dusty places and looking at these images I wish they were. This looks like one of the most fantastic museums I have ever seen and canne wait to visit it. Lets start a fan club for people who haven’t been.

  4. This collection of Paris museums are undoubtedly amongst my favorite places in the world.

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