The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne is one of the most important ethnological museums in Germany and the only one of its kind in North Rhine-Westphalia. The collection contains approximately 65,000 objects and 100,000 historical photographs from the early days of photography to the 1980s.

Unlike some other ethnological collections, the RJM's holdings do not originate to a large extent from expeditions or collection journeys. Rather, they came to the museum mainly as donations or bequests from private individuals, as acquisitions financed by patrons, through the commitment of the Förderverein Museumsgesellschaft RJM e.V., founded in 1904, as well as through the so-called 'doublet exchange' with other German and European museums. In many cases, it is unclear under what circumstances the objects were acquired at their places of origin, when and by whom. The indexing and disclosure of object provenances is a major concern of the RJM, and several research projects are currently dedicated to this.


One focus of the Africa collection of around 13,500 objects is on masks and sculptures from West and Central Africa - including numerous masterpieces of African art. In accordance with the interests of collectors during the colonial period, weapons are another focus of the collection. Julius Lips, director of the RJM from 1928-1934, acquired numerous so-called "European representations," primarily from African countries. In 1966, the museum purchased the Africa collection of the Düsseldorf artist Klaus Clausmeyer, which numbered around 550 objects. A new focus of the collection is formed by around 2,000 brass objects from the Kapsiki and neighboring groups (North Cameroon/Northeast Nigeria).


The Americas collection comprises around 8,000 objects with a focus on South America. North and Mesoamerica each make up about a quarter of the collection. Well-known collectors of South American objects were Wilhelm Gretzer and Peter and Irene Ludwig (each with ancient Peruvian objects) and Alberto Vojtech Fric (Gran Chaco). Some outstanding pre-Columbian textiles are also included. For Mesoamerica, the collections of Irene and Peter Ludwig (ancient America) and Gerd and Renate Dörner (Mexican handicrafts) deserve mention. Highlights of the North American collection include the Umlauff Northwest Coast Collection and a Plains Collection funded by Carl Joest (both early 20th century).


The regional focus of the Asian collection of around 7,000 objects is on South and Southeast Asia, with a focus on the Thai, Mon and Khmer cultures. In addition to objects of everyday culture, ritual objects and textiles, there is a large number of stone and bronze sculptures. About 800 objects originate from the collection of Wilhelm Joest. Later, the collection was expanded through systematic purchases in the trade and donations from patrons such as Wilhelm Siegel and Irene and Peter Ludwig. From the ethnographica dealer J.F.G. Umlauff were acquired the collections on the cultures of the Ainu from northern Japan and of Sinhalese masks. In the 2010s, the collection was supplemented with donations of ritual objects from Myanmar and a new focus was established with those of Indian miniature painting and Jainist folios.

Photographic collection

The Photographic Collection, with its approximately 100,000 objects, includes glass plates, photographic negatives and positives, slides, postcards, as well as albums and portfolios, from the 1860s to the 1980s. It includes photographs taken by amateurs, colonial officials, missionaries, ethnologists, and professional photographers. Of these, around 25,000 photographs are part of the historical core collection, most of which come from Oceania, Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia. Almost half of them are the result of a donation from the estate of the Cologne citizen Georg Küppers-Loosen (1860-1910). In 1995, about 80,000 photographs from the estate of the well-known world traveler and photographer Hans Helfritz (1902-1995) were added.

Insular Southeast Asia

The collections from Insular Southeast Asia include about 9,000 inventory numbers from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan. The main focus is on Indonesia with almost 7,000 inventory numbers. Particularly noteworthy here are the holdings from the east of the archipelago and the textile collection. The largest object is an elaborately carved rice storehouse of the Sa'dan Toraja from the island of Sulawesi. In 2006, Balinese specialists made a bull coffin with a lotus throne as well as masks of Barong and Rangda for the themed exhibition. A Javanese gamelan ensemble can be played in the exhibition under guidance.


The approximately 18,500 objects in the Oceania collection come from numerous island states in the Pacific and Australia. Regional focal points are Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Everyday objects are present as well as ritual objects - including a number of high-caliber masks and sculptures. Almost 70 percent of the current collection was acquired before the First World War, during the heyday of ethnographic collecting. In some cases, this was done directly by people who had lived there for a long time, such as the stationmaster of the New Guinea Company Paul Lückers and its doctor Curt Danneil, who had traveled there, for example Wilhelm Joest or Georg Küppers-Loosen, or indirectly via the global art trade.

On the occasion of the book presentation by Götz Aly (Das Prachtboot. Wie Deutsche die Kunstschätze der Südsee raubten. Frankfurt: Fischer Verlag, 2021) on 11.6.2021 in our museum, you will find here an overview of our collection from the Hermit Islands as well as a corresponding excerpt from the inventory catalogue Art and Culture from the South Seas. Clausmeyer Collection. Melanesia by Waldemar Stöhr (curator of Indonesia and Oceania at the RJM from 1951 to 1987) from 1987. In 1966, the museum acquired the collection of the artist Klaus Clausmeyer (1887-1968), which comprised over 1,000 artefacts. Among them was a wooden figure (RJM 48567) which, according to the attached label, had been sold by Henning von Holtzendorff in 1884. He was one of the participants in the punitive action against the inhabitants of Luf Island from 26 December 1882 to New Year's Day 1883. Stöhr refers specifically to the "perverse punitive action" (1987:195).