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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Le Musée de la Vie Romantique

Not far off the beaten path in Montmartre lies an oasis of tranquility and genteel country living perfect for whiling a way a few relaxing hours of conversation when one needs a place to absorb all the art and history Paris has to offer.

Once the home and studio of Dutch-born painter Ari Scheffer, Le Musée de la Vie Romantique lies much as it was in Scheffer's life, nestled at the bottom of La Butte, and to step down its quaint and secluded alley just off rue Chaptal is to step back in time. This tree-shaded passage opens onto a garden courtyard framed by the museum, a small complex of two buildings and a greenhouse, the former having once served as Scheffer's studio and home. The first now houses temporary exhibitions of artists from the Romantic movement, as well as a literary archive containing works by such notaries as French philosopher Ernest Renan, writer George Sand, and various members of the Psichari family. Once the site of Friday evening salons attended by the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Gioacchino Rossini, Eugène Delecroix, Charles Dickens and Sand, the house now contains a permanent collection consisting of personal memorabilia and furnishings belonging to Sand and donated to the City of Paris by her granddaughter Aurore Lauth-Sand, and a small collection of paintings by Scheffer himself, donated with the house to the city in 1983, a gift from the heirs of Scheffer and Renan. At this writing, it also houses a small exhibit of drawings of the South Seas Islands and indigenous peoples by French descriptive writer Pierre Loti (Louis Marie Julien Viaud).

Once you've finished exploring the house and studio, you arrive at my favorite part of the entire museum, the greenhouse, now converted to a garden cafe. Have a piece of rhubarb tart and a cup of any one of over a dozen choices of tea, or grab a hefty pot of tea for 9€ and sit a while in the delightful garden, soaking up the quiet atmosphere of Paris' well-worn and bygone past. It is easy, surveying the house and grounds from beneath the trees at the edge of the cafe, to imagine yourself thrown back 150, 200 years, to the Montmarte that was on peaceful summer evenings when Chopin was new and Paris was the center of the universe.

Le Musée de la Vie Romantique is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays), from 10 - 6, and the garden cafe operates May through September, serving tea, tarts, and salads. Admission is free to the permanent collections and 4.50€ for temporary exhibits. It is located in the 9e arrondissement (Montmartre) at 15, rue Chaptal, just off of rue Pierre Fontaine, between Place Blanche and Place Saint-Georges. Take Metro Line 2 and exit Blanche. Walk against traffic (southeast) on rue Pierre Fontaine and turn right on rue Chapital about 3 blocks down - you'll need to keep a sharp eye out for it, as it joins rue Pierre Fontaine with another street. The alleyway to number 16 is about midway down the street and marked with a small sign overhead.