Article by Iasmina Iordache who loves to discover the quiet contemplative spots of Paris.
The Musée de la Vie Romantique in the 9th arrondissement of Paris is one of those little-known yet fascinating places that played an important part in the history of Paris.
The museum is set in romantic painter Ary Scheffer’s former house and workshop, a beautiful and quaint Restoration-style residence in a neighborhood that used to be known as the “New Athens”, home of many of Paris’s romantic artists during the 19th century.
The 1820s, when the neighborhood was built, were a time of great population growth in Paris. Many of those who wanted to get away from the crowded and unsafe center of Paris made for the slopes of Montmartre, previously occupied by orchards and guinguettes (open-air drinking establishments).
“New Athens” refers to the classical architecture that inspired the new buildings- at the time, many romantic artists supported the Greek cause in the Greek War of Independence and there was a renewal of admiration for Antiquity. This can be felt in the whole neighborhood and the building that houses the Musée de la Vie Romantique is no exception.
Ary Scheffer, the building’s first tenant, was a prolific Dutch-born painter whose works were inspired by literary and religious topics. He also painted numerous portraits of influential people of his time. Many of his paintings are displayed in the permanent collection of the museum. He was very popular during his lifetime and held weekly soirées at his house, with guests such as Delacroix, Liszt, Alphonse de Lamartine, Dickens, Tourgenev, Chopin and George Sand, to name just a few.
The museum has several rooms dedicated to George Sand, the controversial and revolutionary female writer. Here you can see paintings, furniture and jewelry from her estate in Nohant.
Another important figure of the period represented in the museum is philosopher and historian Ernest Renan (the building that houses the museum is actually called the Hôtel Scheffer-Renan). He was not only a frequent visitor of Ary Scheffer’s, but he also married Scheffer’s niece. The museum showcases manuscripts, photos and letters that belonged to Renan. After Scheffer’s death, the house was bought by Scheffer’s daughter then owned by his grand-daughter. Both continued the tradition of receiving artists. In 1987, the house was sold to the state and it became the Museum of Romantic Life. [Romanticism or the Romantic era was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual period in Europe from about 1800 to 1890. –Ed.]
The museum’s permanent collection is free and gives a good idea of what life was like in Romantic Paris, not to mention a rare glimpse at the inside of a beautiful 19th century mansion. The museum also hosts frequent temporary exhibitions. The latest, Coeurs, du Romantisme Dans l’Art Contemporain (“Hearts. Romanticism in Contemporary Art”), invites 30 contemporary artists to display their artwork on the theme of the heart and aims to show that romanticism is alive and well in contemporary times, although in quite an altered form.
If you’re looking for a place where you can spend some time on your own with the artwork, look at it from different angles, try to understand the idea behind it; have time to feel whatever you want to feel about it and come back to it several times without having to worry about dealing with the crowd around you, this is the place. It made me wonder how much meaning I might have missed in other exhibitions, because of lack of space to enjoy and understand the artwork.
Once you have enjoyed the tranquility of the exhibition rooms, be sure to check out the cozy tea room, where you can get coffee, tea, sweet and savory tarts and admire the beautiful garden.
Musée de la Vie Romantique
Opening hours : From Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Mondays and some holidays. Reopening 16 June.
Access : Metro : Saint-Georges, Pigalle, Blanche
FREE permanent collection