The townhouse is rather unassuming — if you’re not looking for it, you’ll walk right past it. There is no imposing gate to attract (or deter) the curious; no garden to meander through to reach the entrance. Just an iron-black door, surprisingly light as you lean on it, which dumps you right into the entryway of the Musée Gustave Moreau.
It’s not ornate in the way you expect Paris to be, but already you are surrounded by paintings. There are two options: Go left into the ground-floor apartments of Moreau’s assistant, or mount the stairs. I scurried up the stairs, half-curious, half-trying to escape the gaze of the concierge. This museum really is a little secret, as I was one of the few visitors.
On the first floor is Moreau’s apartment and study. The entire house is rather sombre, with dark leather furniture and wallpapers with lavish detailing. Vases guided in gold, heavy mirrors, the most intricate chandelier I have ever seen.
The Gustave Moreau Museum is four stories, and above the apartment is the atelier (artist’s workshop). You are immediately met by gargantuan paintings covering the walls, encased in gold frames, baroque in nature. There is no noise, save the the creaking of the floorboards as you move about. The scenes are fantastic, though rather dark in nature and subject. The deep, dusty red walls add a richness to the room.
Who is Gustave Moreau? He was a symbolist painter (and the information cards are rife with explanations of symbols in his works) inspired by the Italian, Academic, and Romantic traditions. His life spanned the 19th century, and he was quite the traveler. Wandering through his workshop, I had seen the hints of Byzantine, Renaissance, and even Impressionism. Quite the eclectic man.
If you have heard of this museum, you may have seen photos of the most magnificent spiral staircase connecting the two floors of the atelier. To my absolute delight, you can climb these stairs to reach the last floor, and if you pause for a moment at the landing, you have a sweeping view of the room from above, and a closer proximity to the paintings mounted higher up.
This is a delightful way to spend a morning before exploring the neighbourhood. The Musée de la Vie Romantique is a short walk away.
Photographs on Ilford HP5, Rolleicord.
Visit the Musée Gustave Moreau
The Musée Gustave Moreau is located at 14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld 75009. The hours are Wednesday-Monday 10h-18h, and admission is 7€. If you are a resident of the EU, it is free with the presentation of your ID.
The 9th arrondissement is a particular pleasure to walk through, so be sure to explore after you’ve visited the museum. Some personal favorites include Bouillon Pigalle (located right outside the métro station) where you can have three courses plus wine for about 20€. There’s also KB Coffee and the Palais Garnier a walk away.