Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Museum of Romantic Life

“What shall we do this morning?”

It was a grey day in a wintry Paris. I was there with my husband on a quick business trip and we had a half-day opening in our schedule. No children in tow. What to do?

“I know, let’s go to the Museum of Romantic Life which had been highly recommended to me as an unknown but worthwhile small museum in a section of Pigalle which had once been known as New Athens because of the large number of 19th century artists, writers and composers who lived there.

Jeff was sceptical, thinking that he would be dragged through yet another “namby pamby Chic-lit” experience when a whip round the Army Museum at the Invalides was more his style, but he was game to explore a different neighbourhood and therefore agreeable.

Readers of NoCrowds know that I am a sucker for just about any experience that resembles a time warp and on that score, Romantic Life delivers. The minute you walk down the cobblestone and ivy covered alleyway, you are transported out of Paris and back to the 19th century countryside. The Italianate mansion, set in a rose and lilac garden that must be gorgeous in summer, was once the home and studio of the fashionable court painter, Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), who counted amongst his friends the leaders of the Romantic Movement such as Delacroix, Gericault, George Sand, Chopin, Liszt and Rossini who were all regular guests at his soirees. I couldn’t wait to get inside and begin my romantic experience.

The ground floor of the house is devoted to the George Sand Collection which contains the furniture, paintings, jewellery and memorabilia from Sand’s country chateau, Nohant. Highlights include side-by-side evocative plaster casts of the hands of George Sand and Chopin (they were together for eight years) and a drawing of Nohant by Delacroix who was a frequent guest there as well as drawings and paintings by Sand of her surroundings, family and friends. You won’t find much insight in the collection as to why Sand abandoned her aristocratic husband, started smoking cigars and wearing men’s clothes and embarking on affairs with famous artists but the rooms are atmospheric and when we were there, quite deserted. Thanks to Sand’s aristocratic great grandfather who was the winner of the battle of Fontenoy and the Grand Elector of Saxony and future King of Poland, there are some engaging military portraits and busts which interested Jeff. On the next floor of the house, one finds the works of Ary Scheffer whose style has been described as “frigidly classical” and includes themes from Faust, religious paintings and some interesting portraits of Scheffer’s fashionable friends.

Jeff and I liked this small museum which was a welcome change from the many art behemoths in Paris which demand so much stamina. The mood is very “Recherche du Temps Perdu” and I think if we had gone in the summer when the flowers are in full bloom and you can take tea in the garden (the tearoom is open from May to September), we would have been even more enthusiastic. This is a museum that you can see in under an hour and if you still have an appetite for art and artists studios, the Gustave Moreau Museum is a short walk away and well worth visiting.

After our romantic interlude in New Athens, Jeff and I headed for rue Saint Marc in the 2nd District near the Paris Stock Exchange for an even more romantic lunch at the wonderful “Aux Lyonnais”. This bistro, which has been in operation since 1890, is my idea of restaurant heaven. The décor is the classic belle époque with yellowing walls, tile floors and large etched glass mirrors. The atmosphere is relaxed while the service is attentive and professional but not stuffy. Best of all, the food is fabulous, being restaurant legend Alan Ducasse’s take on traditional Lyonnais fare. There is a €28 prix fixe lunch menu which is great value for this calibre experience. With wine, water and coffee, we ended up spending €45 a head for one of the best lunches I have had in Paris.

Useful Addresses

The Museum of Romantic Life
16, rue Chaptal
75009 Paris
Tel: 01 55 31 95 67
Fax: 01 48 74 28 42
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm

Gustave Moreau Museum
14, rue de La Rochefoucauld
75009 Paris
Tel: 01 48 74 38 50
Open every day except Tuesday from 10 am to 12:45 pm and from 2:00 pm to 5:15 pm

Aux Lyonnais
32 rue Saint Marc
75002 Paris
Tel: 01 42 96 65 04
Fax: 01 42 97 42 95


  1. I don't thing one snap per entry is enough.

    Snapping out,


  2. Thats an interesting comment and I've thought about it alot but always ended up thinking that one good image tells the story. If you were to counter with the claim that my Romantic Life shot is nothing exceptional, I would have to agree. I'm working on my photography skills. Watch this space and thanks for the comment.


  3. You got into Aux Lyonnais w/o a reservation... terrific! Do you remember what you had? I hear it can be very earthy - like pigs feet, and have wanted to go for some time, but I'll make a reservation for lunch. BTW a belated thanks for your suggestions on the film I'm trying to track down. Love your blog.

  4. We were lucky getting into Aux Lyonnais without a reservation but we also got there early, about 12:15. As for the menu, while you will see earthy specialties (likes pigs trotters), the Alain Ducasse treatment means everything is lighter and more refined than traditional lyonnais fare. We had the quenelle de brochet with a crayfish sauce which were sublime. My husband, who grew up in France and orders pike quenelles whenever and wherever he finds them, says that the quenelles at Lyonnais were the best he has ever eaten.

    I'd love to hear about your experience after you've been there. I don't think you will be disappointed.