Paris boasts a collection of nearly 100 museums! Prestigious, world-famous institutions like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay rank high on most people’s list of museums to visit. However, for adventurous spirits, the major museums are just an introduction to the pleasures of discovering the capital’s art treasures. The unique atmosphere of well-known artists’ studios, now open to the public as museums, can’t be beat. Eccentric private and public collections highlight just about every subject imaginable. There are superb museums devoted to the history of wine, counterfeits, locks, perfumes, musical instruments and fashion – to mention just a few. The following suggestions will take you off the beaten track to some interesting homes and studios where famous artists once lived.
Although the Musée Rodin and Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau’s house are perhaps the most frequently visited “artist’s home museums,” one that does an equally fine job of opening the artist’s former studio space to the public is the Musée Antoine Bourdelle.
The sculptor/architect Bourdelle moved into the impasse du Maine in 1885 and lived and worked there until his death in 1929. Some 20 years later, through the efforts of his wife and daughter, this private home became a museum with a large exhibition hall to house his plaster models, as well as a sculpture garden and Bourdelle’s original studio. The furnishings have scarcely changed; the long table and paneling are just as they were when the artist carved his reliefs for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.
These decorative friezes were directly inspired by the American dancer Isadora Duncan. In 1913, Bourdelle wrote: “All the Muses in the theatre represent the gestures of Isadora in her soaring interpretation of movement. She was my main source: Isadora, captured in the giddying ecstasy of dance and reckless abandon.”
Several large open spaces highlight bronze equestrian figures of monumental proportions, while more intimate rooms house Bourdelle’s eclectic personal collection and some 6,000 drawings. A research library is available to scholars wishing to consult a wealth of documents that have been conserved since the beginning of Bourdelle’s career. The great Rodin himself once said of his former assistant, “There are men and artists whose names should be known. Bourdelle is among them. He lights the way to the future.”
Musée Bourdelle: 16, rue Antoine Bourdelle, 15e, Mº Montparnasse, tel: 126.96.36.199. Open daily, 10 am to 5:40 pm. Closed Mondays and holidays.
The late 19th century house in which the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine lived and worked was turned into a museum in April 1982. The sculpture installation in the pleasant garden has altered very little since Zadkine’s death. A number of large bronzes are exhibited, together with several stone sculptures, including the exquisite two-faced “Femme à l’Oiseau” from 1930.
This fine collection spans the artist’s entire career from 1908 through 1967 and includes a wide range of influences, from primitivism to cubism and highly geometric compositions. There are some fine examples of Zadkine’s grouped figures. While most 20th century sculptors have produced mainly isolated figures, he frequently portrayed groups. “Les Trois Graces” and “Trio Musical” from the ’20s mark a transition from the earlier Cubist period toward a unique expression based on complex multiple line harmonies.
Although the artist’s atelier was transformed to allow a large number of works to be on permanent exhibit, there is still a very personal feel to this small museum. The Zadkine archives are accessible by appointment, and lecture tours are available by request. There are also individual tours for the visually handicapped.
Musée Zadkine, 100 bis, rue d’Assas, 6e, Mº Vavin, tel: 188.8.131.52. Open daily, 10 am to 5:40 pm. Closed Mondays and holidays. Free on Sunday.
The streetfront entrance does not publicize the presence of the Jean Dubuffet Foundation. However, once inside the courtyard, a flower-bordered walk leads through a peaceful country garden to the charming private house that was once Dubuffet’s studio. During the late ’60s the artist also stored his private collection of Art Brut in the building before donating more than 5,000 pieces to the museum in Lausanne where these astounding works of “outsider art” can be seen today.
Changing exhibitions showcase different periods of Dubuffet’s long career. The foundation’s impressive collection includes over 1,000 works by Dubuffet as well as the artist’s personal archives (open to scholars). The exhibitions include paintings, drawings, models and sculpture. Dubuffet’s early academic works are on view, notably “Lili,” a portrait of the artist’s wife; and his 12-year “Hourloupe” period of gestural, graffiti-like figures is always well-represented.
Jean Dubuffet’s controversial work and writings are still a dynamic force in the international art world some eight years after his death. The artist’s essays and about 40 volumes that catalogue his work and writings concerning each period have been published by the foundation. There is always much to see, so be sure to have time to linger. This very special house quickly casts a spell on its visitors.
Fondation Jean Dubuffet, 137, rue de Sèvres, 6e, Mº Duroc, tel: 184.108.40.206. Open Tuesdays, 2-6 pm.
The exotic decor of the Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner is a perfect setting for the large collection of paintings and drawings by this celebrated Second Empire artist. Although Henner never lived in the fine building that now houses the collection, the profusion of sketches, documents and souvenirs reveals a great deal about the man. The museum director, Georges Cheyssial, has created a unique environment in which to discover the artist’s entire life work.
In many cases, the multitude of sketches and studies done at every stage are on view with the finished painting and with texts written by the major critics of the day.
Four floors of exhibition space within the large house permit a detailed presentation of the artist’s evolution. In one room, “Atala,” the artist’s last work, is displayed together with one of his early self-portraits. Henner excelled at portraits. There are more than 130 in the collection, along with his treatment of mythical themes and figures in dream landscapes that verge on Symbolism. A superb museum to discover on a leisurely Sunday afternoon.
Musée Jean-Jacques Henner, 43, ave. de Villiers, 17e, Mº Malesherbes, tel: 220.127.116.11. Open daily, 10 am to noon and 2-5 pm. Closed Mondays.
Other Museums in Artist’s Homes:
Musée Henri Bouchard: 25, rue de l’Yvette, 16e, Mº Jasmin, tel: 18.104.22.168. Open Wednesday and Saturday, 2-7 pm.
Musée Delacroix: 6, place de Furstenburg, 6e . Mº Saint-Germain des Près, tel: 43.54.04.87. Open daily, 9:45 am to 12:30 pm and 2-5:15 pm.
Musée National Hebert: 85, rue du Cherche-Midi, 6e, Mº Vaneau, tel: 22.214.171.124. Open daily, 12:30-6 pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Musée Gustave Moreau: 14, rue de la Rochefoucauld, 9e . Mº Trinite, tel: 126.96.36.199. Open daily, 10 am to 12:45 pm and 2-5:15 pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Musée Rodin: 77, rue de Varenne, 7e, Mº Varenne, tel: 47.05.01.34. Open daily, 10 am to 5 pm. Closed Mondays.
Maison Renan Scheffer: 16, rue Chaptal, 9e, Mº St. Georges, tel: 188.8.131.52. Open daily, 10 am to 5:45 pm. Closed Mondays.