A magnificent townhouse furnished with artefacts from 1799 to 1830. The collection focuses heavily on two painters – Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot. But there are works by other artists like Manet and Renoir on display too.
If you’re a fan of Monet and his contemporary artists, this is the place for you. As an added bonus, the spotlight is (also) on a female artist. Keep reading to find out more!
The museum isn’t a top priority for your first trip to Paris. Think of it more as a place to go if you’re a Paris pro.
Monet is hiding somewhere in the museum, but you’ll have to search high and low to find him. Head through the museum shop, down the stairs, through a room, down some more stairs, around the corner and voilà!
The museum is located in a magnificent Parisian town house that was entrusted to the Académie des Beaux-Arts after its owner, Paul Marmottan, died in 1932 with no heirs.
The elegant furnishings and countless works of art that Marmottan had collected throughout his life became the starting point for the museum, which opened its doors in 1934. It showcases the Empire style that prevailed under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Marble statues of the imperial family are on display alongside furniture from the Tuileries Palace, one of Napoleon’s residences in Paris (including his bed!). The museum is filled with ornate chandeliers, golden candlesticks and ornaments, marble and all kinds of other valuables.
The sculpture of Cupid and Psyche is very pretty – and it might remind you of Antonio Canova’s piece called ‘Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss’ (on display in the Louvre).
What I found quite pleasant, but that is of course a matter of taste: in contrast to another well-known private house, the Musée Jacquemart-André, which is furnished in the exuberant style of the Second Empire, it seems much more orderly here. Splendid and noble, but not overloaded.
Follow the beautifully curved staircase and the surprisingly on-trend wall hanging of the Eiffel Tower to make your way up to the first floor.
There’s an entire room dedicated to the work of the French female painter Berthe Morisot (1841–1895) up there. Morisot was married to Eugène Manet, the brother of the famous painter Edouard Manet, who made her his muse. And yet she was so much more than just a model for somebody else’s masterpieces. She was a painter in her own right, and her husband supported her in her career. This is all the more admirable when you remember that painting was seen to be nothing more than a hobby for women at the time.
Morisot is known for the bright, pastel colours in her paintings. Her daughter was her favourite subject, and she would often paint girls and young women from her family and circle of friends. Flowers are another common appearance in her artwork. A smaller room is home to works from Berthe Morisot’s own art collection, including a portrait of her painted by Manet. She also collected paintings by Degas, Renoir and other artists.
Remember that warning about Monet being almost impossible to find earlier? Well, this is your reminder that you have to head through the museum shop, down three flights of stairs and around a few corners to get there.
At the heart of the Monet collection is his famous painting called ‘Impression, Sunrise’. That’s the one credited with inspiring the name of the impressionist movement. The name was coined by critic Louis Leroy, who actually took the title of the painting to satirise the artists. You see, the impressionists were not taken seriously by their contemporaries to begin with. Their painting style was originally labelled as unfinished and amateurish.
But art thieves clearly didn’t agree with that review when they stormed Musée Marmottan back in 1985 and stole this painting along with eight others. Luckily, their spoils were found five years later on Corsica!
The counterpart to ‘Impression, Sunrise’ – called ‘Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect’ – is currently on display at the Petit Palais.
The Musée Marmottan Monet has many water lily pictures in the Nymphéas series in its collection. Just be warned that they look tiny compared to the humongous murals on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Monet drew inspiration from his garden in the countryside, but Paris also inspired him. One of his paintings of the Tuileries Garden is on display here. At least, it was when we visited the museum. But we know that the collection exceeds 100 works and the paintings being revealed to the public on a rotation.
Musée Marmottan Monet A bit of History
The museum is named after an industrialist called Jules Marmottan. He bought the building in 1882 from the heir to François Christophe Edmond Kellermann, the man who built it. Marmottan was an art enthusiast, who started his collection with Italian, Flemish and German primitivism pieces to decorate his townhouse in Paris. He died one year later at the age of 53 and his only son, Paul, inherited his entire estate.
Despite having just embarked upon a career in the civil service, he gave up his job after his father died. He didn’t have any children of his own and his marriage ended in divorce after nine years. After that, he lived a bachelor lifestyle and studied art and history. He used that knowledge to follow in his father’s footsteps and added to his existing art collection.
Paul Marmottan died on 15 March 1932 and left the building and collection to the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
A good two years passed before the Académie opened the museum in June 1934. According to Paul’s wishes, some of the smaller rooms were extended to make the building more accessible to the public. It wasn’t long before the museum was accepting its first gifts and bequests.
A special gift in 1940 changed the future of the museum… Victorine Donop had inherited a sizeable art collection from her father, Dr Georges de Bellio. And that collection just so happened to feature eleven Monet paintings. This was a turning point! You see, Paul Marmottan and the Académie had made their opinions of the young impressionists very clear, and they weren’t allowed in their salon. Dr. de Bellio, on the other hand, was one of Monet’s first patrons.
The museum didn’t actually become a shrine to Monet until Michel Monet’s bequest in 1966. The younger son of Claude Monet was the sole heir after the death of his brother. It’s hard to believe nowadays, but the largest collection of paintings by Monet in the world (with over 100 of them) was worth next to nothing at the time.
Marmottan and the Académie weren’t the only ones with reservations, after all. The first Monet exhibition, held in 1927, was a scandal (it featured the large-scale water lily murals that are currently on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie). Monet must have seen that reaction coming because he requested that his paintings were not presented to the public until after his death (in 1926). Monet’s son tried in vain to get his father’s enormous works of art seen.
Now, it wasn’t just Monet’s own work that his son gifted to the museum in his will. His collection starred other big names like Delacroix, Boudin, Renoir and Morisot.
Berthe Morisot is the other main artist – alongside Monet – to be featured heavily in the museum’s collection. The Rouart family (Morisot’s grandchildren) donated 25 of her paintings to the museum in 1993 alongside artwork by the likes of Manet and Degas.
During the 1990s, the Académie des Beaux-Arts decided to officially recognise Monet by changing the museum’s name to Musée Marmottan Monet.