When you visit Paris, why not venture a little further outside the crowded downtown’s museums and explore authentic artists’ headquarters? Here’s a selection of five houses that witnessed the lives and art of famous painters, writers, architects and collectors. Intense creative stories still live behind these walls – discover the spirit of these talents and enjoy an intimate experience of history with masterworks of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. From the magnificent garden that inspired Rodin to the majestic trees surrounding Chateaubriand’s house, each location retains the unique atmosphere that belonged to its owner. How lucky we are to have this heritage – and to have all these places open to the public!
An hour’s drive west of Paris you’ll find a nice little road in the middle of the countryside, which takes you to Bazoches Sur Guyonne and the House Louis Carré – named after its owner, an art gallerist who had a collection of works by Léger, Picasso, Giacometti and others. You wouldn’t expect the heart of the Yvelines to shelter a masterpiece designed by a Finnish architect, but this house has a soul – and a strong one. Alvar Aalto’s last remaining building in France is a time machine that will launch you back to the 1960s. Surrounded by all kinds of wood and simple organic lines, you won’t feel at all like you’re in some empty museum. If you saw Alexandre Astier’s 2012 film David et Madame Hansen with Isabelle Adjani, you’ll probably recognize the house and the pool she used to live in. Although Aalto is less well known for his design, he was also pushing the boundaries in creating the lights and furniture of the house – and everything is still as it was. The crown jewel is the library, where you immediately feel like sitting down and writing.
The house is now open to the public for exhibitions, and you can also rent it for private events.
Maison Cocteau is like Jean Cocteau: elegant and full of poetry. Even now, transformed into a museum, you can still feel Cocteau’s spirit, on the first floor and in the garden where you get to talk with the roses as he used to do. The artist once wrote that the house ‘was waiting for’ him, and a few months after he bought this residence in 1947, fashion designer Christian Dior moved to this cute little town too. You’ll see Cocteau’s letters, drawings, pictures and sculptures. He also drew the ceiling of the incredibly gorgeous chapel from Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, located only a few kilometers away.
It is open in the afternoons on weekends only until 12th January .
This house, a ‘chartreuse’, was bought in 1807 and is so well taken care of, you feel as though Chateaubriand has just left the room. It must feel funny to visit here on October 4th, the date on which the famous writer François-René de Chateaubriand would give a huge dinner for his friends, celebrating his own ‘fête’ on the calendar, Saint-François. It’s all still in perfect shape: the dining room, the majestic double stairs, the winter garden, the kitchen – all of the ground floor and first floor. Juliette Récamier’s bedroom (his muse) is exquisitely pink, and Chateaubriand’s bedroom will give you a taste of the mood of his writings in 3D. Don’t miss the adorable little tearoom in the back of the house, where you can enjoy brunch or a drink with delicious homemade tarts and Mariage Frères teas in the middle of the rose trees. Here you are instantly in the heart of the 19th century. The land around the house takes you back even further, to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finances for Louis XIV, who bought the area in 1683. (You can still see a plaque on the house next door.) Neighbor to the house is the ‘Arboretum Vallée aux Loups’, a magnificent park with all kinds of trees from all over the world, guaranteeing a beautiful walk whatever the season. Chateaubriand’s attachment here was strong – he declared that his trees were his only family and that he knew all of them by their names, like some kids in Mémoires d’outre-tombe, the masterpiece that he shaped in the middle of this majestic English-style park.
Chateaubriand’s Park is open every day except 25th December 25th and 1st January. The house is open from 10am to 5pm until February.
Everybody knows the Rodin museum in Paris, a fixture on every tourist’s check list, but this house is the real one! Located on the charming Avenue Auguste Rodin in Meudon, ten minutes from Paris, the ‘Villa des Brillants’ was Auguste Rodin’s house from 1895 until his death 22 years later. Although he used to work in Paris almost every day, the sculptor had his creative nest and real artistic HQ here: at one point Rodin had 50 people working around him in this high narrow villa of the Louis XIII style. Today it remains an inspirational place, with its huge veranda and main room filled with daylight – formerly Rodin’s ‘atelier’, now filled with some of his giant studies (although the reason why they put the bed in the middle of it is a mystery…). Below you will find another building that hides even more sculptures, figures and studies – with the cherry on the sundae, the statue of the Thinker protecting the graves of both Rodin and his lifelong companion, Rose Beuret. The park around the residence is huge, and when the weather is good you can sit there and enjoy the view over Boulogne-Billancourt and Saint-Cloud over the Seine.
The park and the house are open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1pm to 6pm.
Australia may have a black replica of this major architectural signature, but Le Corbusier’s masterpiece in Poissy, 30 minutes northwest of Paris, is nevertheless a truly unique house. The great surprise is discovering a Le Corbusier building with the space it deserves, in the middle of a manicured lawn, rather than wedged between two buildings, like his atelier in Paris or his house in Boulogne-Billancourt. As a result the first impression is palpably strong. And square: A White Cube floating on thin pillows, this weekend residence for the wealthy Savoye family, who made their fortune in insurance at the beginning of the 20th century, was named by them’ Les Heures Claires’. Built in 1928, today it is an historical residence where exhibitions are held. Like most of Le Corbusier’s houses, it is so modern you just want to move right in – especially for the master room’s bathtub (no spoiler here!). And be sure not to miss the gardener’s house on the right at the entrance of the property.
Open every day except Monday, but closed at lunch time (a good reason to make a stop at L’Esturgeon restaurant in Poissy, overlooking the Seine).