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Musée Barbier-Mueller

Josef Mueller was born in 1887 into a middle-class family from Solothurn, in German-speaking Switzerland. As an adolescent, he had the chance to frequently visit the home of one of his schoolmates, whose parents were lovers of modern art and who, as early as 1906, owned a beautiful painting from Picasso's pink period.

By privation and through overcoming manifold difficulties, Josef Mueller put together a collection that, as early as 1918, included seven works by Cézanne, five by Matisse, and five by Renoir, without counting the Picassos, the Braques and as many other paintings by prestigious masters.
During that period, artists driven by novelty and desire began to explore the unknown. African fetishes found their place among contemporary art. Artists and collectors were excited to discover the expression that was essential to the tribal artists' magical and religious beliefs.

In 1957, at the age of seventy, Mueller decided to exhibit his African collection in the museum of his native town, Solothurn. Perhaps it was at this moment that the idea of a permanent museum of primitive art was conceived; an idea that would come into effect twenty years later, in Geneva.

Jean Paul Barbier had built up a collection of his own, and this was added to that of Mueller. He dedicated himself to seeking key works that would provide additional coherence to the overall collection. His son-in-law later succeeded in presenting a rationalised collection, which in turn became a "chef d'œuvre" of world renown.

Permanent Collection

The Barbier-Mueller Museum opened its doors in May, 1977, three months after the passing of Josef Mueller. The collection today assembles 7000 works of art, sculptures, masks, textiles, and objects of prestige or corporal adornment. This unique store, constantly enriched by Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, constitutes the greatest private collection of primitive art in the world. The principal sectors are, in order of importance, Africa, the East Indies ("primitive" Indonesia), Oceania, the Americas (pre- and post-Colombian), tribal Asia, and, in a more general manner, the prehistoric or archaic phases of great civilisations (Greece, Italy, Japan, the East Indies).


Highlights from the Musée Barbier-Mueller

26 April to 30 September, 2007
This anniversary exhibition is supported by a luxurious catalogue in which each of the works on display are given a plate and accompanied by a notice from a specialist. Indeed, forty-eight archaeologists, art historians and anthropologists were mandated to update our current knowledge of each object. Some of these objects had already featured in publications as early as 1930; thus, parallel to contributions from various collectors and museums, which had previously housed the Barbier-Mueller objects, is an account of the publication history of these objects.

Exhibitions (9)

Click on the images to enlarge



Adults: CHF 8
Concessions: CHF 5 (Retired, students, unemployed, pensioners and groups)
Free entry for children under 12 years, ICOM members and Friends of the Museum (+ 8 guests).
Guided tours upon request (CHF 150 + CHF 5 per person).

Opening hours

Open 365 days a year from 11:00am to 5:00pm