Although MEG was founded in 1901 by the City of Geneva, its collections were built up much earlier. The oldest of them were assembled two centuries earlier with ethnographic objects that tell us not only about more or less distant populations, but also about our own history and our interest in others.
From the simple cabinet of curiosities to the beginnings of ethnography
In 1702, the College's library gathered the "wonders" of art and nature that were offered to it in a cabinet of curiosities. These were the first objects to be listed in the public collections of Geneva. They were then transferred to the Academic Museum, founded in 1818 by Genevan scientists. From 1863 onwards, its curator Hippolyte Jean Gosse reorganized the collections, reinforcing the interest for what was beginning to be called ethnography.
Hippolyte Jean Gosse, the precursor
In 1870, Hippolyte Jean Gosse was also the curator of the Musée historique genevois, also known as the Salle des armures. Following an expansion of its premises, the museum expanded its collections beyond Switzerland and regularly acquired exotic arms and armor. More than a hundred pieces from this museum were added to the MEG's collections in 1901. In 1872, the Academic Museum was split in two and gave birth to the Museum of Natural History and the Archaeological Museum, of which Hippolyte Jean Gosse remained the curator. MEG was created directly from this in 1901.
The important legacy of three Geneva museums
In 1876, the Society of Evangelical Missions of Geneva created a museum whose collections were made up of the contributions of missionaries working around the world. Thanks to Eugène Pittard's connections, the museum's collections were donated to the city in 1901, when MEG was created. Created in 1884, the Ariana Museum is a palace dedicated to the decorative arts. The City of Geneva inherited it in 1890. At the end of the 1930s, many objects were transferred to MEG. The Museum of Decorative Arts, created in 1885, collected objects of exotic inspiration that were later transferred to MEG. Today, MEG brings together private and public collections from the Archaeological Museum, the Ariana Museum, the Museum of Art and History and the Museum of the Society of Evangelical Missions of Geneva.
The advent of MEG
It was in 1901, during the reorganization of Geneva's public collections, that MEG, then called the Ethnographic Museum, took shape. The ethnographic collections were separated from the archaeological collections and enriched by donations from individuals and the Museum of Missions. They were installed in the Villa Plantamour in Mon-Repos Park, which served as an annex to the municipal museums and which also exhibited paintings. It was not until 1910 that the entire space was devoted to ethnography. Eugène Pittard became the curator and then the director. He gave the institution scientific and educational ambitions, and contributed to the influence of the young museum, notably through his relations with the League of Nations, which was based nearby.
The installation on boulevard Carl-Vogt
Thanks to the involvement and dynamism of Eugène Pittard, the ethnographic collections of MEG grew rapidly. The organization of temporary exhibitions made the lack of space even more critical. In 1941, Eugène Pittard insisted that the institution move to a larger building on Boulevard CarlVogt 67. It was a former school. There he used a museography that he tried to make more and more educational. In 1952, the long reign of this legendary director, then 85 years old, came to an end, and his succession fell to his former assistant, Marguerite Lobsiger-Dellenbach.
The annex in Conches
Acquired by the City of Geneva in 1972, the villa located at Chemin Calandrini in the village of Conches, at the gates of Geneva, was inaugurated in 1976 as an annex to the Museum of Ethnography. For thirty-seven years, it was the site of temporary exhibitions mainly devoted to the European domain, around the Georges Amoudruz collection. MEG Conches closed its doors in 2013.
A new building for MEG
After many unfulfilled dreams of building a larger museum, Geneva finally decided in 2014 to offer its tercentenary collections a modern building at boulevard Carl-Vogt 65, on the esplanade of the old museum. Testifying to traditions that are sometimes past or still alive, ethnographic objects can appear as archives of human diversity itself caught up in the movement of history.