My Newest Favorite Old Building – The Galeries de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée

June 15, 2010 — 13 Comments

The Galeries de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée (Gallery of Paleontology and Comparitive Anatomy) is a jewel. Part of the French Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (Natural Musuem of Natural History), it is located within the Jardin des Plantes in Paris near the metro stop for Gare d’Austerlitz.

The gallery, designed by French architect Frederic Dutert, was inaugurated in 1898 as part of the l’Expositions universelles de Paris of 1900 and was the creation of Professor of Paleontology Albert Guadry and Professor of Comparative Anatomy Georges Pouchet who wished to preserve and present to the public collections from the great expeditions of traveller-naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Entrance - Galeries de Paleontologie et d'Anatomie Comparée

Not exactly a warm welcome at the entry...

The sculpture at the entryway sets the tone right at the beginning – I don’t recall who did it but I thought it was awesomely awesome as a crazed monkey killing a guy could ever hope to be. Truth is, the sculpture is tame compared to some of the enjoyably odd things inside this museum. When we first decided to come here, this was purely us throwing a bone (zing!) to our daughter because she loves natural history museums and she asked to come to this one. I had no idea that I would enjoy the building as much as I did. After entering the building, I knew that despite my taste running more to the modern, this was a great space.

View of Level One from balcony

Let the Exploration Begin!

View of 'The Herd' one Level One

he looks happy to be here

Ever seen the baleen from a whale up close before?

You can see some influence from the Industrial Revolution beyond

The building is done in a architectural style called ‘Naturalism’, sort of a generic term for Art Nouveau, Organic Architecture, and Expressionism. Art Nouveau was an anti-historical movement that was predominantly in Europe between 1890 and 1914, and as a style was developed by a generation, most likely as a response to the Industrial Revolution, who sought to create an art form appropriate to the new modern age.

Yes - there are lot's of creepy things here too

Main Stair - Level 1 to Level 2

Main Stair - Level 2

Main Stair - Level 2

Main Stair - Handrail Detail

Some of these artists, designers, and architects enthusiastically embraced the new technologies while others deplored the shoddiness of mass-produced machine-made goods and sought to elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art by applying the highest level and standards of craftsmanship and design to everyday objects. The designers who flourished in this style rejected imitating past styles and focused rather on all the craft skills of the construction methods which were available. This included heavy use of colored artisanal ceramic, terra cotta and glass, wrought iron for slender lattice works and handrails, oriel windows, and heavy use of asymmetrical hierarchies. The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparitive Anatomy seems to have found a balance between the defining characteristics of the naturalism and the industrial periods, a match that works exceedingly well for it’s program and content.

The Gallery of Paleontology

The Gallery of Paleontology - View from 3rd Level

Always impressive...

What kid wouldn't think this is cool?

The Mastodon


Upper Level Balcony Ring

Gallery Handrail Detail

I have included a guide to The Gallery of Paleontology so that if you want you can explore the contents of the collection you could. As I mentioned in the beginning, this was a building that wasn’t on my radar and our decision to come here was loosely based on a request from my daughter. She didn’t care about the building so much but she did enjoy looking at all the bones. Looking at “architecture” with a child will do several things for you, the least of which is distill down the aspects of what good architecture means for you. Seeing and experiencing things with my daughter has made me focus on space and lighting to a much higher degree than before when I focused most of my energies on detailing and connections, materiality and texture. When I have limited time to walk through a building and critically evaluate it, all I have to do is go back through the pictures I took and see for myself what I was most interested in while I was there.

Museum Guide-1



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  • Vic Hubbard

    I LOVE this space. The forms of curvature intermixed with such rigidity go very well. I would have never considered this. I bit of an eye opener for my woodworking designs. Thanks, Bob!

    • Hi Vic,

      Thanks for commenting. Discovering this building was a complete accident but I know when I eventually get back to Paris, I will make time to revisit this place.


  • Richard

    It’s an impressive place to visit Bob and has some outstanding architectural details. More importantly, for real architectural wonders, visit the city of Lyon. It will leave you breathless. There are tours available with knowledgeable guides that are worth the asking price. It is not as well known as Paris but well worth the two hour drive to see. I was lucky enough to live in Baden Germany for four years and would spend my weekends doing architectural walking tours all over Europe.

  • lewism

    Bob, from the photos it looks like it's one of those Hybrid buildings, steel frame hidden by brick on the outside and decorated in the 'Naturalist ' style. Before Architects got all worried about ideas of 'truth' and all that. A wonderful building which I've never been to but its on my list for next time I visit Paris.

  • Hi Bob. That awesomely awesome sculpture is by Emmanuel Frémiet.

  • bobborson

    “Main Stair – Level 2” was my nickname for a few years before everyone settled in with “El Presidente”

  • modernsauce

    Not gonna lie – architecture took a backseat to your stunning pictures. 'Main Stair – Level 2' totally kicked that saber-toothed tiger's bony ass. Well done. This might be my new favorite old building that I've never been to!

  • bobborson

    Thanks Brian, I appreciate you taking a minute to comment.

    I might have another post in me from my trip to Paris, we'll have to see. There were about 5 or 6 rattling around in my head but I lost them (there's a lot of empty space up there!)


  • This architecture is only surpassed by the photography. I really enjoyed the post, the (Zing!) and especially the shot of your wife and daughter. (I am assuming) I hope that we will get to enjoy more of your vacation in future posts.

  • bobborson

    I've never been to (are you ready for it….) New York other than a High School Band trip where we marched in the Macy's Day Parade. At that time, I was more interested in trying to make out with band chicks than going to museums. I think we are going to try and plan a winter/ Xmas trip one of these years (hopefully sooner rather than later).

  • bobborson

    It is a bit ponderous from the outside isn't it? That probably added to my delight once I entered and found something that felt so different.

    I took about 50 more pictures of the inside – mostly different views of the same material in my post but there are loads of bone pictures I took that I didn't include. It was hard to draw the line on what went in and what stay out.

  • Wow and wow again. You portrayed this building and its exhibits perfectly for me! death, bones, extinction, art, and drama behind a tomb-like facade that is surprisingly open and light inside. What an earthy place. Equal doses of skeletons or architecture. Creepy indeed. thanks for giving us a peek.

  • Amazing post Bob, great building! I love the the Natural History Museum in New York for a lot of the same reasons you were so smitten with this Musee in Paris. Though they are done in completely different styles (the museum in New York is a mish mash of Victorian Gothic, neo-Romanesque and Beaux-Arts), it's interesting to walk through “statement” buildings from an earlier time. It helps that I'm a natural history nerd too.