With great art, champagne and loyal friends, you can have a great party without the usual Washington trappings of shrimp, scotch and senators.

The National Museum of African Art proved the thesis last night with the opening of the "African Masterpieces From the Muse'e de l'Homme."

"People kept calling and asking, 'Can we come,' and we said 'yes' to everybody. We didn't turn anyone away," said museum spokeswoman Margaret Bertin. "We were expecting about 900 people."

They weren't disappointed. The narrow winding steps and the maze of galleries in the Frederick Douglass town house were full of Washington museum professionals, art lovers and a delegation from the International Council of the Friends of the Mus'ee de l'Homme, headed by its president Marie-Alice de Beaumarchais.

Lois Fern, a free-lance editor, backed herself firmly to the wall for safety and said, "I'm coming again to see the show when I won't be afraid of being trampled."

Even so, newly arrived French Ambassador Emmanuel de Margerie, once head of all French museums, was delighted with the intimate museum. As the museum's director, Sylvia Williams, maneuvered a way for him and Pierre Collombert, the embassy's cultural attache', to the elevator for the upstairs exhibit, de Margerie stopped long enough to say passionately, "The way the art is displayed! So beautiful! Elegant!"

"We have done our best to send testimony as to the importance of this culture," de Margerie said. "We are proud to have opened our doors and windows and said, 'Take what you like.' "

Susan Vogel, curator of the exhibit, said she made some discoveries in the Muse'ee's attic. "Two of the pieces still had 19th-century accession marks and had never been exhibited or published: a Central African harp and a Congolese calabash figure."

"But we have a few more than the 100 listed in the catalogue," said Vogel, who is also executive director of the Center for African Art in New York. "The Muse'e de l'Homme was so generous, they let me poke through all their reserves. The 'God of War' from Benin is the only one ever displayed in the U.S. -- in 1935. When it came back, it had been separated from its sword -- but I found the weapon."

Reflections in the glass cases:

* Jeannine Smith Clark, Smithsonian regent, sighed: "The different media is fascinating, but the gold . . ."

* Warren Robbins, founder of the museum, gloated, "All these objects we know from publications, how wonderful to have them here."

* Steve Weil, Hirshhorn deputy director, said he'd seen the famous French sculptor, Pol Bury, admiring the show in an upstairs gallery.

* Lee Kimchee McGrath, a Washington art consultant, told friends she's on her way to Saudi Arabia to plan a cultural park.

* Annemarie Pope, founder of the International Exhibition Service, brought one of the first large African art shows here in 1970. "I never thought we could get objects from the Muse'e de l'Homme," she said.

* Two golden retrievers, tied to traditional wrought-iron fencing outside the museum, held their own receiving line.