Monday, 14 April 2008

Romantic Paris - The Museum of Romantic Life

When the French say “Romantic” they are more likely to be refering to the school of writing, painting and music that sprang up at the end of the 18th century. Romanticism emphasized imagination and emotions over reason and intellect. Individualism, nature worship and an exaltation of physical passion were the order of the day

The famous painting by Casper David Friedrich of the lone man with his back to us gazing down from the summit of a snowy mountain is the ultimate romantic image. Berlioz, Chopin, Schumann were great romantic composers, Baudelaire, Byron and Shelley their poets.In the 19th century, this quiet neighbourhood attractednumerous Romantic artists because it mixed country life with elegance. The gathering of poets, painters and composers and the fascination with ancient Greek culture led to the hill leading down from Pigalle being called La Nouvelle Athenes. But a look at the list of names who lived here and at the lives they led will confirm that these people were conducting romantic lives in every sense of the word. Chopin, George Sand, Liszt and the Russian novelist Turgenev were all regular visitors at our first stop, a house that is now the Musee de La Vie Romantique, a five minute walk from the Metro St Georges.
In the Rue Chaptal at number 16 tucked up an alley way lined with poplarsis a tiny little patch of French country life – the Musee de la Vie Romantique. I can hear bird song at the end of the alley and there is a garden that even in winter still holds a few roses, vines and hibiscus. This ochre coloured house with its green shutters belonged to the artist,Ary Scheffer. It was the venue for Friday night gatherings of artists and writers such as Ingres, Liszt, Chopin, George Sand and Turgenev. Charles Dickens was a regular visitor for a couple of months in 1856 while sitting for Scheffer for a portrait destined for the National gallery in London.
The museum is devoted to George Sand – her family bequeathed all her memorabilia to the museum. Like her English contemporary, George Eliot, the Baronne Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin published her novels under a man’s name. George Sand was as famous for her love affairs with prominent artistic figures such as Alfred de Musset and Frederic Chopin as she was for her writing.Sand smoked a pipe, dressed as a man and wrote novels defending free love for men and women. She has even attracted the attention of Celine Dion who, in her 2007 album ‘D’Elles’ featured a song based on a love letter from Sand to Alfred de Musset.The rooms on the ground floor are reminiscent of the homes that the writer had in the neighbourhood – over-furnished, the walls lined with portraits, the shelves and occasional tables topped with busts and candelabras. A display case exhibits Sand’s jewelry and a cast of Chopin’s delicate hands. For a while, George Sand lived round the corner with Chopin at 16 Rue Pigalle. But the robust, free-spirited writer and the delicate, consumptive pianist soon went on to live in separate apartments.

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