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Highlights from a visit at the Gallerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie

Last Updated: 18th Nov 2018

By Antoine Barthélemy


In early July 2017, I spent one week in Paris to visit an oceanography laboratory at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. I took this opportunity to discover the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, which was the last mineralogical museum that I had not yet visited in the French capital. During earlier trips, I had indeed already paid visits to the Collection de minéraux of Sorbonne Université, and to the Musée de minéralogie of MINES ParisTech.

Entrance of the Gallerie

I usually do not take pictures when I visit museums. But this time some specimens really caught my eyes and my interest, which prompted me to take photographs with my phone. Since some of them turned out to look acceptable, I quickly decided that they would form the basis of my first article here on Mindat.

Before going on, I must acknowledge that the following report is extremely biased towards my own collecting preferences :-) Also, I reported the localities as indicated on the labels, without trying to crosscheck them with the Mindat database.

The visit

What probably first strikes the visitor who enters the Gallerie is the collection of giant crystals. Mostly (but not only) quartz specimens up to several tons are displayed in the center of the exhibit. I tend to prefer small specimens, partly because perfection and lack of damage are important criteria to me, but the quartz crystal pictured below is in truly excellent condition for its size (between 1.5 and 2 m in length).

The collection of giant crystals in the center of the Gallerie
Quartz from Pedra Alta, Minas Gerais, Brazil (885 kg)

The first smaller pieces that raised my interest were a cabinet specimen of azurite from Utah and a lazulite from Yukon. Although the lazulite is not a very aesthetic specimen, the crystals are large for the species (up to 2 cm).

Azurite on malachite from San Juan County, Utah, USA
Lazulite from Rapid Creek, Yukon, Canada, and vanadinite from Mibladen, Meknès-Tafilalet, Morocco

The next two specimens are simply beautiful: two single crystals perfectly positioned on the matrix, forming artfully balanced pieces.

Corundum (var: ruby) from Pakistan
Fluorapatite on muscovite from Chumar-Bakar, Hunza, Pakistan

This large Moroccan anglesite crystal and a glistening Mexican mimetite would fit nicely in my suite of secondary lead minerals ;-)

Anglesite from Touissit, Oujda-Angad, Morocco
Mimetite from Santa Eulalia, Chihuahua, Mexico

Gem species are also on display in the Gallerie, either in single crystals or on matrix, like this superb blue topaz from Russia.

Topaz from Murzinska, Ural, Russia
Corundum (var: sapphire) from Monaragala, Badulla, Sri Lanka
Diamonds from Western Cape Province, South Africa (22.25 ct and 25 ct)

Euclase is represented in the museum by several specimens, including a single crystal brought from Brazil by J. Dombey in 1785 and a small but richly colored crystal on matrix from Colombia.

Euclase from Brazil
Euclase from Chivor, Boyaca, Colombia

In a part of the exhibit dedicated to color and color changes in minerals, a case lit alternatively by two light sources demonstrates the pleochroism of cordierite in an extremely nice manner.

The gold nugget shown below was discovered by the French Auguste Goné during the Californian gold rush of 1851. He brought it back to France, making it one the very rare nuggets of that time that was not melted for the precious metal.

Gold from California, USA (229.5 g)

Close two the end of the Gallerie, several cases are filled with specimens from historical contributions to the museum. Many secondary copper minerals are to be seen there.

Display cases in the Gallerie

Dioptase is one of my favorite mineral species, and the museum has two fascinating specimens on display. The first is the holotype: a single, small crystal from Kazakhstan, on which R. J. Haüy based his description of the species. The second in a large (close to 5 cm), elongated, freestanding crystal in a vug from Mindouli.

Dioptase from Kirghiz, Karagandy, Kazakhstan
Dioptase from Pimbi, Mindouli, Congo

It is not surprising to see many Chessy azurites in a French museum. The three antique pieces below are from the collection of R. J. Haüy.

Azurites from Chessy-les-Mines, Rhône, France
Azurite from Chessy-les-Mines, Rhône, France
Azurite with malachite from Chessy-les-Mines, Rhône, France

Aside from Chessy, other azurite localities are represented. A specimen with beautiful crystals up to 3 cm from the Calabona Mine in Sardinia is on display, but unfortunately I did not manage to make any decent photograph of it. And although they are not labeled as such, several Tsumeb pieces are displayed.

Azurite with malachite from Otavi, Otjozondjupa, Namibia

The photograph below does not make justice to the specimen, which is one of the best Bisbee azurite I have seen so far: large, isolated, electric blue crystals on a limonite matrix.

Azurite from Bisbee, Arizona, USA

The large cabinet specimen shown below hosts a cavity filled with needles of cuprite, the variety known as chalcotrichite.

Cuprite (var: chalcotrichite) from Tieshan, Hubei, China

Crystallographic instruments and models are also presented next to the specimens, like these terracotta models built for J. B. de Romé de l'Isle.

Terracotta crystallographic models built for J. B. de Romé de l'Isle

Finally, some very aesthetic specimens can be seen in a case that seems to be dedicated to more recent acquisitions.

Brazilianite on orthoclase from Linopolis, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Benitoite from San Benito, California, USA
Olivenite and malachite from Irubia, Bahia, Brazil
Crocoite from Adelaide Mine, Tasmania, Australia

A djurleite from the recent find in Morocco already made its way to the Gallerie display cases, thanks to Christophe Gobin.

Djurleite from Aït Ahmane, Taroudant, Morocco

Concluding remarks

Out of the three museums I visited in Paris, the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie is one of the two I liked the most. (The other one is the Collection de minéraux of Sorbonne Université, which recently moved to a new building, and which I would really like to visit again.) I especially enjoyed the aesthetic specimens displayed in modern and well lit cases. The explanatory board are also well presented and informative.

The Gallerie is set in the Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful park that also hosts other galleries of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle. If you are not into minerals, Paris certainly has one or two other things that deserve to be seen ;-)

The Jardin des Plantes

This article is linked to the following museum: Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Ile-de-France)

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Discuss this Article

28th Jul 2017 22:27 BSTNorman King Expert

Thank you for posting these photos. I love the historic specimens. The big quartz is wonderful, but I think my favorite is the brazilianite, which seems to be coating a feldspar crystal (yes, no?).

29th Jul 2017 18:03 BSTAntoine Barthélemy

Thanks for your comment Norman.

The brazilianite specimen is quite large (almost 30 cm) and made of two orthoclase crystals. The one in the foreground is very aesthetically rimmed with brazilianite, while the one on the back is more densely covered.
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