Musée de la Vie Romantique
16 Rue Chaptal
George Sand’s house is a small, charmingly cottagelike structure, with stained glass windows and bottle green shutters, surrounded by a garden filled with violets and Victorian roses. It’s set back from the street, down a narrow cobblestone road lined with enormous trees. In the rain, under the grey sky, walking down the path feels like approaching a farmhouse in Brittany. It’s hard to remember that the house is in what has become one of the busier, more touristy parts of the city. Outside the gates there is a shop selling embroidered berets, and just two blocks away, an enormous group of Japanese tourists take photos of the Moulin Rouge, but the Musee de la Vie Romantique is a universe of its own.
The house Sand lived in is small and bright. The top floor is devoted to Ary Scheffer, a simperingly romantic painter who also occupied (and often painted) the house on rue Chaptel, but the ground floor is filled with all sorts of Sand memorabilia, including military medals, a family tree and, bizarrely, a plaster model of the writer’s forearm. Pictures of Sand at various stages of her life litter the foyer; here she is as a fat baby in a christening cap, here again in a masculine jacket, looking coy, and again, older, in a shapeless black veil, covered in flowers. Her painting hangs in a gold frame above the fireplace.
The rooms are painted warm, dark colors, with elaborate tromp l’oeil detailing everywhere. The living room has been set up to look recently vacated. Chopin’s music is piped in softly, and the lights are set up to flicker in an electric simulacrum of candlelight. Some of the details are sort of odd; like the half finished piece of embroidery set up in the corner. Somehow Sand doesn’t strike me as the domestic type.
Her bedroom is also on the ground floor, a small, indigo wallpapered square of a space, with Sand’s watercolors covering the walls. At the end of her life, Sand became obsessed with the idea of spontaneous creation. She created paintings by making a sort of Rorschach watercolor blotch on a blank piece of paper, than painting around it to make a mountain range, or seascape. These paintings are clumsy, but they have a certain loneliness to them that is far more appealing than the perfectly executed, maudlin tripe that hangs upstairs.
George Sand was a controversial figure in her time. One of France’s first popular and critically respected female writers, Sand (whose Christian name was Amandine Dupin) was given to dressing in men’s clothes and smoking in public. Although nominally married to Baron Casmir Dudevant he had many affairs, most famously with Frederic Chopin. In the museum, there is a plaster cast model of his right hand in a case full of her jewelry. It is surprisingly small.
Even today, Sand inspires controversy. When I told my conservative Catholic landlady I had been to see Sand’s house she sniffed to herself disapprovingly. “Well,” she said, “ I am sure Miss Sand is was very fine writer. But she was certainly not a nice sort of lady!”