Musee de la Vie Romantique is a charming, peaceful oasis at the foot of Montmartre in Paris. It’s one of three literary museums in Paris (the others are devoted to the writers Honore de Balzac and Victor Hugo).
The house, built in 1830, belonged to the painter Ary Scheffer, who was well-known at the time and had royal connections. Scheffer hosted weekly salon evenings which attracted artists of the Romantic period. George Sand, one of the most notorious and talented women of her day, attended regularly with the most famous of her many lovers, the composer Frederic Chopin. Her real name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. She married a Baron, had two children, but soon tired of a confined life. She ran off with her two children and famously started dressing in men’s clothing, which she considered more practical than the full skirts and flounces of the day. Dressing as a man also let her enter places where women were not allowed–she had boundless curiosity and creativity. She also began collecting lovers. The poet Alfred de Musset, one of them, said she was “the most womanly woman.” She also began writing novels, essays, criticism and memoirs. Certainly her colorful life gave her plenty of material.
Other regular guests at the house were Frederic Chopin (of course, considering his 8-year liaison with Geoge Sand), his friend the composer Franz Liszt, opera composer Gioacchino Rossini, and the painters Eugene Delacroix and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, among many other artists of the Romantic Period. Later on, Charles Dickens, Ivan Turgenev, and Charles Gounod also frequented the house.
The house became a museum in 1982. Heirs of George Sand donated furniture, portraits, household items, jewelry and personal effects. For example, there is a plaster cast of Chopin’s left hand, and another of George Sand’s right arm–her writing arm, one assumes. Upstairs, there are numerous Romantic paintings, manuscripts and other artifacts. The museum is free. A separate gallery charges for special exhibits, which I’ve have found are worth it.
If you plan to go, check the hours–like many small museums, staff takes a long lunch hour. The audioguide is worthwhile. In the summer months, there is a lovely tea garden. The food is nothing special, but it’s a wonderful place to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the Paris of the past.
Naturally, George Sand has been the subject of many books and movies. Today I located the 1991 movie Impromptu streaming on Netflix. I’ve seen it before, but I’ll be watching it again. Who can resist Judy Davis as George Sand and Hugh Grant as Frederic Chopin, right at the beginning of their tumultuous affair? More on that tomorrow.
Exploring the art and history of Europe is anything but a serious chore. Join me next time!