Now entering its fourth decade as a public museum, the Musée de la vie romantique is a thoroughly charming collection dedicated to French romanticism (which reached full swing after the fall of Napoleon, some decades after its British counterpart ‘movement’).
It’s a crossover affair, and will delight those with an interest across the arts, including painting, being, as it was, the former home of Dutch-born, French-domiciled artist Ary Scheffer, who entertained a great many luminaries here at his Friday evening salons. The guest list regularly included novelist and memoirist George Sand, poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine, composer Chopin, and painters Delecroix and Ingres, and the collection commemorates the lives and works of Scheffer and his circle, though the padrone himself quite rightly dominates, along with the indefatigable Sand.
The Musée de la vie romantique: formerly known as the Musée Renan-Scheffer, which doesn’t sound quite so romantic
The look and layout of the house and its grounds are very suggestive. Scheffer’s studio occupied the space now dedicated to the ticket and book shop (while admittance to the permanent exhibition is free, visitors still need to get their tickets first). I’m told that tea and cakes are served in the garden during warmer months, and the main pavilion, which looks like a cross between a Swiss chalet and a French farmhouse, now contains the collection, split across two floors. Don’t be deterred by Thomas Phillips’s stern portrait of Scheffer that greets visitors on entering the house. Once you pass this first hurdle, there is a sumptuous collection of paintings and sculptures, photographs and mementos, to discover, all set amidst an atmosphere of boudourish opulence (and of particular note is the recreation of a panelled room from Sand’s Nohant home ). Take heed of the uneven, slightly perilous staircase, however, which is certainly not for the faint-hearted (nor indeed for the faint-kneed).
It’s all thoroughly lovely, but it might just lead some who cross its path to ponder why more wasn’t made of the connections between the great figures who grace its displays. And many of the international guests who visited Scheffer here aren’t represented at all. Surely a little Dickens-related something or other wouldn’t have gone amiss?
No, not the House of Horrors, but a display case from the Musée de la vie romantique, containing plaster casts of George Sand’s (somewhat masculine) right arm and Chopin’s (somewhat feminine) left hand. Don’t ask, just go!