The Romantic era, with heroes and fantasies.
This is new museum for us in Paris, different to many of the other “big” museums, but it’s really interesting and well worth a few hours.
What does Romanticism conjure up in our minds? What do we think of, and whom do we usually imagine as Romantic figures?
It means different things to different people, but generally we think of it as the Romantic style in art, music and literature, as opposed to the classical style. Definitions say that in the late 18th and early 19th centuries a social and aesthetic movement began as a reaction to neo-classicism. It wanted to free the individual from unpleasant realities by appealing to his aspirations for wonder and mystery. This movement emphasized a love for strange beauty, for the past and the far away, and for the wild or irregular in nature. Its followers found creative expression in spontaneity (hence the Impromptu in music, one of Chopin’s specialities), lyricism, reverie, sentimentalism, and individualism. They favored free expression, sensuousness, and subjects that were fanciful, idealistic and imaginative.
Wow! A good definition but rather dry. For me, when I think of the Romantics I imagine Lord Byron, Chopin, George Sand, for example, and they are featured in this museum.
I’d say that George Sand personifies the Romantics’ ideals in many ways: she dared to take on a male name, smoked cigars, and took various lovers, and yet was attractive and feminine at the same time. She was both a writer and a talented artist.
This is not a major museum, but covers what it does well: it features the owner Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) as an artist, in the context of the Romantic period. It does a good job of explaining the house, the times, and what went on in painting and other arts, and who the visitors to the house were. A parade of prestigious local guests came regularly, notably George Sand, Chopin, Delacroix and the politician Thiers. They met Dickens, Liszt, French sisters and musicians Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot, Turgueniev, and English singer/actress Harriet Smithson with her lover and future husband Hector Berlioz. I wonder what language(s) they all spoke to each other?
This museum is in a charming private home, in the New Athens district, below Montmartre and close to PIgalle. It’s a lovely little museum, an unexpected find, a romantic gem. You walk off the street (Chaptal), down a secluded alleyway shaded by Robinia trees, and there it is, white with green trim. We can easily imagine horses clip-clopping up the alleyway, which in those days had sand strewn over it to muffle the sound of horses’ hooves. We can imagine how elegant and gorgeous the house was in its time and why it became an artists’ mecca. At the end of the alleyway is a paved courtyard, with a studio on either side. Both were built for painting and teaching.
The mansion was built in 1830 in the Italian style in the early days of King Louis Philippe’s monarchy. The property was bequeathed to the city of Paris in 1983 by the heirs (Renan) of the original owner, the famous romantic painter Ary Scheffer. After renovation it opened in 1987 as the “Museum of the Romantic Life”.
Visitors now can go into the 8 main rooms of the house, which make up the permanent collection. You can wander at will, but you really do need the audio guides to get the information and understand this place and make the house and life real. It’s in many languages and costs 5 euros, with credit card, no cash. First is the antechamber/entrance hall, then the Cabinet des Bijoux (room of jewels). Here is a collection of pictures, jewelry, keepsakes, furniture and souvenirs, many related to George Sand. In 1923, her granddaughter, Aurore Lauth-Sand, bequeathed about 200 artefacts that had been in Nohant, her grandmother’s old country house in Berry, central France. Many of these items came from George’s grandmother, Marie-Aurore de Saxe, the illegitimate daughter of notorious Marechal de Saxe. We note paintings of her ancestors, a beautiful inlaid jewelry box, a ruby ring and her grandfather’s snuff box. There’s also a famous painting of George Sand by Auguste Charpentier, and plaster casts of the hands of both George Sand and Chopin, done by Auguste Clesinger, her son-in-law. We found those two hands very touching. We discover that her son, Maurice Sand, was also an artist.
The next room is called the salon of George Sand, which invites visitors to enter into the world of the romantic artist. Drawings and paintings by Ingres, Delacroix and others, and sculptures by Barre, David d’Angers, and Clesinger give an evocative insight into the arts of the 1820-1850 period.
Upstairs is mostly dedicated to French art. Ary Scheffer’s (1795-1858) work is especially showcased. The French Dutch-born artist arrived in Paris in 1811 as an art student. He soon became a renowned portrait painter. As an art teacher he became a friend of the children of the Duc d’Orleans, who was crowned King Louis Philippe. The French royal family sat for him many times, and we see some really beautiful portraits, such as of the Princess de Joinville (1844).
Princess Marie d’Orleans (1813-1839) was a sculptor in her own right and we see a couple of her pieces, such as Joan of Arc Praying. Also on view are paintings, sculptures and objects d’art by other artists, all helping to evoke the atmosphere of Romanticism in Paris.
We were there on the cusp of spring, so there were some early daffodils and other early flowers. I would love to see the garden in the warmer, greener, weather—it probably qualifies as a “secluded garden” in Paris, as you won’t find it by just walking past. We had a coffee in the enclosed Conservatory/cafe, another interesting feature, as it has a gentle waterfall and a rock wall, with many plants growing on it—just as it did in Ary Scheffer’s day, although he called it a “winter garden”.
Entrance to the permanent collections is free. Open daily except Mondays and public holidays, 10am-6pm.
Metro: Blanche, St George, or Pigalle.