One of my favourite things about French history is the tradition of French salons. In the 18th and 19th centuries, artists, scholars, and philosophers would gather in private homes for an evening of spirited discussion and debate. Often with a healthy dose of drinking thrown in for good measure. These salons became the cultural hubs of high society, and were a crucial part of the Age of Enlightenment. Countless salons were held all over Paris, but one of the most famous took place in the home of Ary Scheffer, a Dutch-born artist and painter. Every Friday night, Scheffer and his daughter would host a salon that would welcome illuminaries such as George Sand, Frederic Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Franz Liszt, and Charles Dickens. Today, this home is known as the Musée de la Vie Romantique. Personally, I can’t think of a more appropriate name for this building.
The Musée de la Vie Romantique, or the Museum of Romantic Life, is one of the smaller museums in Paris. The Louvre it certainly is not, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm. The artwork on display is gorgeous, but my favourite part of the museum is the Salon George Sand. This beautifully restored living room features a lot of memorabilia of the famous French writer. Several of her paintings adorn the walls, and a portrait of Sand holds court over the mantle.
However, what I love most about this room is how easily I’m transported back in time. The last time I visited, I stood in a corner for several minutes, imagining this room two centuries ago on a Friday night. I imagined what it must have been like to be in the presence of such illustrious minds. To be a fly on the wall for their conversations and debates. Needless to say, this beautifully preserved room went a long way in enabling my imagination.
Ary Scheffer’s former home remained in private hands until relatively recently, as it wasn’t until 1982 that it was bequeathed to the city. In 1987, after an extensive renovation, it re-opened as the Musée de la Vie Romantique. In 2013, the museum was officially incorporated as one of the 14 City of Paris Museums. This means that entry to the permanent collections is free for all, with only the temporary exhibits charging a fee. As an added bonus, there’s a beautiful tea garden in the inner courtyard where you can rest and re-charge before continuing on with your day.
The Musée de la Vie Romantique may not be one of the most famous or most visited museums in Paris. But it is one of those beautiful hidden gems that should be on your radar. The next time you’re in Paris, put aside an hour and take a trip back in time to when salons were the height of French high society. It will be an hour well worth the trip.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.