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Ary Scheffer's Studio Present Day
I walk up the front stairs through the front double doors into a large foyer. To the left is a room devoted to jewelry and memorabilia. Antique cabinets and cases display de Saxe family heirlooms. In this modestly decorated living space I do not see the trappings of the brash, masculine author George Sand but mementos belonging to a more gentle, feminine Aurora de Saxe Dupin Dudevant - daughter and mother, lover and wife. Displayed here is Auguste Clesinger's cast of her lower arm and hand gently resting on a delicately embroidered hankerchef snuggled seductively next to a caste of Chopin's hand. Strands of her hair are preserved in a glass medallion encircled with tiny diamonds. Even more touching is her gold bracelet with photographs of her children Maurice and Solonge.
Wall and Cabinet
George Sand's Watercolors
Apparently Ary Scheffer was a very successful and sociable painter. He frequently hosted soirees in his studio. On any given Friday you might find Ary's friends Franz Liszt or Frederic Chopin playing the piano and George Sand and Pauline Viadot listening intently to them play. I longingly wish I could spend time with them basking in the aura of their artistic, musical, and literary genius.
There are two separate studios on the grounds. On my left, as I face the house, is Ary's studio. This is where he entertained his friends. On my right is the studio that belonged to his brother Henri. Certainly the expansive windows in both would have provided ample daylight to create their masterpieces. What about at night? Would the sky have been dark enough for me to see the stars?
Today the studios are used to display two yearly temporary exhibits which highlight the creativity and culture of this bygone era. Admission is charged for temporary exhibits and tickets can purchased on site. There are also public restrooms in the lower level of Henri's studio.
Tucked into a corner of the main parlor is a partially finished rose on her embroidery screen. I wonder if the activity was too boring or did she just not have the energy. I know, from my own life, how tiring it is to juggle career, family, and personal endeavors.
Intrigued by these new revelations about George Sand I go back to the first room and retrace my steps. It seems a good strategy to deal with my feelings of emotional disorientation. Seeing a statuette of her in later life I hear her ask me, "Why not male and female. I want to experience the world from both perspectives. How else can I truthfully write about life?"
Self Portrait of Artist
Down a narrow cobbled passage lies the family home of Ari and Henri Scheffer. The Hotel Scheffer-Renan, an Italianate mansion built in 1830, is aptly named the Museum of Romantic Life. Just looking at it makes me feel as if I have stepped into a perfectly preserved hidden corner of nineteenth century Paris.
However, I notice from a painting of the mansion, the color scheme and landscaping has changed over the years. In the 1830's a row of Robina trees led to the mansion rather than the walled-in alley I walked today. The door and shutters were painted a sedate brown instead of the lively green of today. The vines next to the door, however, still tenaciously cling to the house.
Inside the wrought iron gate sits a young guard. She greets me, hands me a free ticket and guide, and invites me to explore the museum. Nostalgically I wonder what it would have been like to live here. The brochure says it was lived in by the Scheffer-Renan family up until 1953. The mansion is lovely. I can easily understand why they kept their home for so long before transferring ownership of it to the City of Paris.
Portrait of Marie-Aurore De Saxe as Diana
Adelaide Labille-Guiard 1777
The main floor of the mansion is decorated with furniture, decorative items, art pieces, and paintings from George Sand's country home in Nohant, France. On the table I see a beautiful inlaid jewelry box chest that belonged to her mother. To the left is the front of the house painted in 1865 by Arie Johannes Lamme.
Maria Wodinska 1819
Joan of Arc in Prayer
Original at Versailles
Marie d'Orleans 1837
Paysage - dendrite watercolor technique
developed by George Sand
It seems ironic to me that she and I share the same first name, except mine is the masculine Gallic version. My grandfather disliked it and always called me Aurora. In this museum I can see growing up female both of us were trained in the domestic skill of needle work and the art of water color painting.
I know, from reading Belinda Jack's book George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large, as a student Aurora indulged in her passion for writing and participated in her convent school performing arts program. So did I as a public school student. In adulthood we also both continued professionally writing and working in the theater.
I suspect we also both learned early in life from our male relatives and family friends men seem to have more freedom, opportunities, and power than women. To get her work published Aurora adopted the name George Sand and dressed in men's clothing to see the world more fully. To get my work recognized I used the masculine form of my name and wore suits to appear more professional.
Sand's essays, plays, and novels are extensive. She was an incredibly self-disciplined and productive writer. I personally find her choice of topics and development of characters profound and illuminating. If you would like to read her writing much of it is available on www.gutenberg.com/georgesand as free downloads in English and French.
She also appreciated the work of other women artists. Many are displayed in the mansion. Among her women friends were the singer and composer Pauline Viardot, the Comedie Francaise actress Marie Duval, and the painter Princess Mathilde.
Having spent so much time on the lower level of the mansion a kindly woman guide reminds me there is a second floor. Ascending a narrow winding staircase I spend the last half hour before closing viewing art by Ari Scheffer and friends. Among Scheffer's paintings are portraits of his royal patronesses, the Queen Marie-Amelie and Princess de Joinville, and his lovely wife nee Sophie Marin.
As I leave the mansion there is no question in my mind about returning. I already know I will be coming back here again. The museum is inspiring and a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Paris and a place to learn more about one of the most important women of the 19th century.
Ari Scheffer's Studio
An experience to be relished in the future is tea in the courtyard cafe of the Scheffer House. Inside green house doors I find a quaint fern covered grotto with a cascading fountain of porous stone built into the wall. Water slowly trickles down the stones inviting me to slow down and enjoy the ambiance of this secluded spot.
The brochure informs me the restaurant is open from late May to early October. It is late October now and the restaurant is officially closed. However, there are still bisto tables and chairs in the courtyard. So I can enjoy eating my solitary picnic lunch here amid the tranquility and beauty of green foliage and golden leaves on this brisk autumn day.
For Women About Women By Women
Paris for Free - Museum of Romantic Life
Musee de la Vie Romantique de la Ville de Paris
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