The house mu­se­ums of Paris

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MATILDA BATHURST THE SPEC­TA­TOR

IT doesn’t mat­ter how many times they ex­pand the Lou­vre or the Musee d’Or­say, Paris’s past is so colos­sally rich that it could never be squeezed into its great pub­lic build­ings.

The city has in­stead de­vel­oped its own breed of house mu­seum — ready­made mon­u­ments to its dis­tin­guished in­hab­i­tants.

And it’s not just reg­u­lar tourist stops like the Mai­son de Vic­tor Hugo, ei­ther.

In Mont­par­nasse, the stu­dios of artists Os­sip Zad­kine and An­toine Bour­delle dis­play sub­lime sculpted fig­ures in shaded gar­dens, and across the Seine from the Eif­fel Tower you will find Balzac’s for­mer vil­lage home, cramped among the Belle Epoque curves and 1970s lux­ury tow­ers of the 16th ar­rondisse­ment.

Up by the folly-flecked Parc Mon­ceau is the Musee Nis­sim de Ca­mondo, a house in­hab­ited by a col­lec­tion that even­tu­ally con­sumed its col­lec­tor, and down in Saint-Ger­main the Musee Delacroix can be found clois­tered within a se­ries of court­yards and stair­cases. It was here that Delacroix ac­com­plished his

T Mmon­u­men­tal paint­ings for Sain­tSulpice. Ex­hausted, he never painted again.

The best house mu­se­ums have ap­plied a touch of artis­tic li­cence to their rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the build­ing’s ear­lier life. But the most metic­u­lous pro­jec­tion of pos­ter­ity is the Musee Gus­tave Moreau, a home ‘‘frozen in time’’ ac­cord­ing to the artist’s own de­sign.

Fear­ing the on­set of ob­scu­rity, Moreau trans­formed the pro­vin­cial-look­ing house he had shared with his mother into his grande oeu­vre. Equally idio­syn­cratic is the Musee de la Vie Ro­man­tique, lit­tle more than a stone’s throw from the seamy stretch of the Pi­galle.

A tree-lined path leads to­wards a 19th-cen­tury Ital­ianate villa, the for­mer home of the painter Ary Scheffer. It is now ded­i­cated to key fig­ures of Parisian ro­man­ti­cism — most no­tably nov­el­ist Ge­orge Sand.

While its ex­te­rior could not be more pic­ture-per­fect (most head di­rectly to the gar­den tea rooms), the in­te­ri­ors ap­pear to cel­e­brate all that was in the worst taste about Ro­man­ti­cism.

There are some truly ter­ri­ble paint­ings, and the vis­i­tor lis­tens to piped-in Chopin and the dis­tant hum of a vac­uum cleaner.

Fun­nily enough, this house mu­seum per­fectly ex­presses the re­al­ity of the 19th- cen­tury Ro­man­tic — as­pir­ing to­wards truth and beauty but of­ten slip­ping into the mun­dane.

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