Paris museums off the beaten path: Musée des Arts et Métiers

MyFrenchLife™ - Musée des Arts et Métiers - Paris museumsCome visit the sun-drenched, airy Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Trades) to learn about French scientific and technological history. This fascinating museum is a treasure trove of gadgetry, vehicles, artefacts and instruments that cast the visitor back in time.

The Musée des Arts et Métiers is an eye-catching museum set in a series of lofty, light-filled halls. On the surface, it’s about technology, arts and trades: a visual history of French transport, astronomy, cartography, medicine, guild work and research. The rooms are set out thematically and lead the viewer through the technological developments that characterised and advanced different periods in French history.

But as I wandered through the museum’s collection, contemplating the vast changes in technology across the centuries, it occurred to me that the museum was about much more than arts and trades. It was about time.

French science and technology through the ages

Stepping into the museum’s opening hall, a space dedicated to the evolution of transport, I felt as though I had stepped back in time. There were original model Ford cars, vintage bicycles and models of steam engines and ships. Strung from the ceiling were primitive, flimsy-looking planes, their wooden wings spanning from window to window.

MyFrenchLife™ - paris museums - flying contraption

Hovering above one of the staircases, there was even a wonderfully surreal, early flying contraption…

But as I progressed through the room, so did the objects around me. I passed a model of the ill-fated Concorde super plane, installations dedicated to the iconic Paris metro, and even a series of Vélibs, the hardy silver bicycles the brave Parisians hire to pedal around the city today.

A Paris museum of gadgetry, artistry and time travel

MyFrenchLife™ - paris museums - Arts et MetiersThe rooms full of smaller objects were no less striking for their relationship with time. The Musée des Arts et Métiers is a treasure trove of design and, for want of a better word, gadgetry.

Its rooms are brimming with astronomical devices, scales, automatons, music boxes, looms, globes, sewing machines and a darling collection of clocks. But far from being presented randomly, these beautiful objects are set out so as to show the growth of knowledge and practise over time.

In fact, in the museum which houses the Foucault pendulum, a nineteenth century gravitational experiment set up in a repurposed stone church, there is also a room dedicated to theories about humanoid robots.

French history looking to the future

Surprisingly whimsical considering its practical themes, the Musée des Arts et Métiers is the perfect blend of design and science, technology and artistry, past and present. And whether from the distant past, the twentieth century or even the present day, the museum’s innovative objects have one thing in common: they all look to the future.

Musée des Arts et Métiers
60 rue Réaumur, 75003
Metro: Réaumur-Sebastopol, Arts et Metiers.

Have you been to the Musée des Arts et Métiers? Does any other Paris museums take you back in time?

All images © Gemma King

About the Contributor

Gemma King

I’m a Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University specialising in contemporary French cinema and museums. You can read my blog 'Les Musées de Paris' and find me on Twitter here.

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  1. Ellen Burns Oct 30, 2014 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    I love the way you have written about this museum Gemma…this museum could sound quite dry on first glance, but you’ve made me so intrigued! I love the concept of seeing how far we’ve come as time has passed, the developments we’ve made in the last 100 years or so is really astounding. Sounds like a really well curated museum. 🙂

    • Gemma King Oct 31, 2014 at 3:46 AM - Reply

      Merci Ellen, I’m glad your interest is piqued! It’s one of my personal favourites in Paris, and that’s saying something!

  2. Sahara Wilson Nov 5, 2014 at 11:32 AM - Reply

    I love this museum Gemma, I lived right around the corner from it and went there multiple times – there is just so much to see! It is so interesting and they always have great temporary exhibitions.

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