Having a free morning before getting on the Eurostar I decided to visit a museum in an area of Paris that I don’t usually wander through. In the 1800s this area in the 9th arrondissement was popular with artists and musicians and today is known as the New Athens. The Musée de la Vie romantique is in a lovely old house built in 1830 and owned by the Scheffer-Renan family until they transferred the title to the City of Paris in 1983.
It became the Musée dedicated to the arts and literature of the early 19th Century with many pieces previously owned by the writer George Sand (1804-1876). Ary Scheffer was a Dutch French painter who would entertain guests including Chopin, Delacroix, Rossini, Liszt and George Sand who had been Chopin’s lover in his later life. The house is filled with paintings and sculptures, furniture and memorabilia set in a small but pretty garden with a lovely courtyard that is used as a café.
I didn’t know a great deal about George Sand and haven’t read her works but the musée intrigued me to learn a little more about her. What an unusual woman she must have been for her time. Not conventionally pretty, but her intelligence and her passion interest in people gave her a certain irresistible attractiveness to men and women.
Called Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, her infancy was spent in military camps until she was sent to be raised at her Grandmother’s country estate, Nohant. Her father was a lieutenant in the French army who had married a low-born Parisian woman who was excluded from the estate and from her daughter. Aurore grew up with very little formal education and socialised with people in the village and on the estate. These experiences later influenced her writing.
When she was 13 years old she was sent to a convent in Paris for three years until her Grandmother on hearing that Aurore was considering entering the Church brought her back to Nohant where she lived an untraditional life, often dressed as a boy and riding astride when her brother visited her. After inheriting a substantial amount of money from her Grandmother, she went to live with her mother before marrying a country squire and lawyer, Casimir Dudevant who then gained control of her inheritance. It wasn’t a happy marriage and although she adored her son and daughter, she negotiated a stipend and moved to Paris with her daughter. Aurore quickly slipped into the bohemian life, mixing with writers and artists. She survived financially by working at Le Figaro and with her then lover, Jules Sandeau, published her first novel. From this time on, she assumed the name George Sand.
Throughout her life she wrote prolifically, over 60 novels and 25 plays, using many of her life experiences as the basis for her stories and earned a modest living from these novels. She wrote over 40,000 letters to friends and family documenting her life and the events happening around her .She would have embraced social media with enthusiasm.
She scandalised society with her lifestyle, cross-dressing in men’s clothing and smoking cigars and the hookah. She was proud of the numerous affairs with other artists although it seems that she couldn’t sustain the passion that she sought from either the men or women with whom she formed transitory relationships. She was independent at a time when it was very difficult for a woman to be so and managed to regain her inheritance from her husband that helped fund her wanderings and lifestyle.
From all accounts George Sand was an interesting woman; intelligent, questioning and observant. She loved her family and was intensely interested in the people around her. She challenged conventional social mores and seemed to thrive intellectually on this. She tried to participate in as many of life’s pleasures as she could and doesn’t seem to have regretted any of it. I am going to have to read some of her novels so that I can begin to understand and know what drove her to become one of the more interesting women of her time.
I could have spent a couple of days exploring the area that still has cobbled streets and interesting coffee shops. It is easy to get to on the Metro and I exited at the Pigalle station. The museum is a few minutes walk downhill. Around this area are other museums including the Musée de l’érotisme, Musée de Montmartre once home to Renoir and l’Espace Dalí with 300 pieces of his work. The Sacré Coeur isn’t far nor is the Gare Saint-Lazare – which has featured in many paintings including those by Manet, Monet, and in photographs by Henri Cartier Bresson. Ary Scheffer is buried nearby at the Cimetière de Montmartre where you will also find Degas, Dumas, Foucault, Nijinsky and Offenbach to name a few. This area is definitely going to be my next planned excursion in Paris.