native american collections of new france

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New France in 1750, detail (exhibition catalogue for “Premières Nations – Collections Royales (First Nations – Royal Collections) © Museum of Ethnology, Vienna)


The Musée du quai Branly holds a vast collection of more than 100,000 objects from the Americas, including an exceptional selection arising from the initial contacts established between Native Americans and Europeans in North America.  These objects were exchanged and collected in the 17th and 18th centuries during the exploration and French colonisation of North America, in the vast territory of New France, which extended from Quebec to Louisiana and out towards the American West.


Around 350 objects were collected as part of this history of New France, primarily in the region of Saint-Laurent and the Great Lakes and in the Mississippi Valley. They initially arrived in France before the French Revolution and they are a unique testimony of the Native American populations and their interactions with the first French explorers and colonisers.  These collections include painted skins, moccasins, wampum, headdresses, bags, weapons and calumets; these objects were in the most part offered as diplomatic gifts during alliances agreed between the French colonists and the indigenous peoples, or seized during conflicts as a sign of victory.

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Bonnet (71.1934.33.32) © musée du quai Branly, photo by Patrick Gries, Bruno Descoings


collections undergoing research

For most of these objects collected before the French Revolution, there is no information on the site of collection or the Native American tribes who produced the objects. Research into these collections, which are exceptional in terms of their age, must therefore continue.

Archive research is carried out in various locations, starting at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, as well as in the archives and inventories of the various museums and institutions concerned.

At the same time, an ethnographic study of objects is conducted, which aims to identify the indigenous cultures of origin, the uses, materials and meanings of the objects.  This type of inventory and research is expected to grow in other museums in the regions of France, some of which (Besançon and Lille for example) own collections originating from the Kings’ Cabinets or, elsewhere, collections originating from the cabinets of curiosities owned by the aristocracy. 

This time-consuming work is carried out in collaboration with various researchers and institutions, including, in addition to the museums of France and Canada concerned, several universities, the Commission Franco-Québécoise sur les Lieux de Mémoire Communs, ICOM France and the Société des Musées Québécois.

Bibliographic entries

Feest, Christian ed. (2007).Premières Nations, collections royales: les Indiens des forêts et des prairies d’Amérique du nord. [First Nations, Royal Collections: Indians of the Forests and Prairies of North America].
Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux & Musée du quai Branly, 2007, 96 p. (catalogue published for the exhibition “Premières Nations – Collections Royales”, from 13 February to 13 May 2007) ISBN 9-782-9151-3345-5
AM 180 .Pari MQB   and N-A-004232   Médiathèque d’Étude et de Recherche
AM 180 .Pari MQB   Salle de Documentation des Collections
N-B-005935 et N-B-002916     Salon de lecture J. Kerchache 

Havard, Gilles & Vidal, Cécile (2006). Histoire de l’Amérique française. [History of French America].
Paris: Flammarion, revised edition 2006, 863 p. ISBN 2-08-080121-XF 1030 HAV   Médiathèque d’Étude et de Recherche
N-A-012021  Salon de lecture J. Kerchache 

Vitard, Anne ed. (1993).Parures d’histoire: peaux de bisons peintes des Indiens d’Amérique du Nord. [Robes of History: Painted Buffalo Hides of the North American Indians]
Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux & Musée de l’Homme, 1993, 144 p. ISBN 2-7118-2711-9
A 46232 and A 29429  and N-A-002420  and MH-L-A-018795 and E 98 .C8 Par   Médiathèque d’Étude et de Recherche

Vitart, Anne (1992). (1992).Chronique d’une rencontre: en terre de Canad.In Daniel Lévine ed.Amérique continent imprévu: la rencontre des deux mondes.
Paris: Bordas, 1992. 
ISBN 2-04-019588-2. P. 89-114
N-B-000923  and B 14649   and MH-L-B-008362    Médiathèque d’Étude et de Recherche