This morning, I visited the Jean-Jacques Henner Museum, a ravishing mansion in the Plaine-Monceau neighborhood. The mansion was constructed during the 3rd Republic for the young painter, Guillaume Dubufe, nephew of the composer Gounod. Murals done by Guillaume Dubufe decorate the Train Bleu restaurant at the train station in Lyon; some of the artist’s murals also decorate the walls of the Comédie Française and even l’Elysée.
The house is a charming place which escapes time with its various workshops, a winter garden, and a Moroccan lounge of the sort one loves to discover while strolling along the streets of Paris. In 1921, Marie Henner, the painter’s niece, acquired the estate in order to fill it with her uncle’s works, around 1500 drawings, canvases, and sculptures.
It was quite amusing to find myself in front of furniture, personal belongings, tools, and of all things, a cast of Raphaël that Dubufe had kept. One interesting detail: a spot of paint located on the cast’s forehead, which might have been removed at the time of the piece’s restauration had a photographer not recognized it as the proof that the painter had himself created the cast. And so, I divulge into the artist’s work, done for example on a canvas where several outlines of different projects were sketched. Or on the walls of the workshop, where a plethora of small canvases are hung, portraying a number of attempts done for art enthusiasts. Interestingly, Jean-Jacques Henner created small copies of his larger paintings for those who wished to have a piece of his artwork.
However, the artist’s formal career as a painter contrasts with his often very modern and surprising works. A friend of sculptures, musicians, Alsatians, close with Bonnard, and Gustave Moreau’s neighbor, Jean-Jacques Henner remained in contact with the artists he had met during his trip to Italy (in 1858, the artist won the Prix de Rome and spent 5 years at the Villa Medici).
I also learned of the mystery of the lost painting, “Fabiola.” In fact, the painting exists in the form of hundreds of copies, the original belonging to Alfred Chauchard (1821-1909), founder of Les Grands Magasins du Louvre, and was part of his collection at the Louvre Museum, where Millet’s “L’Angélus” could also be found. “Fabiola” disappeared during an auction sale, and since then, no trace has been found of this famous painting. The museum’s curator described having regularly received photos of this painting, but never the right one! The museum, however, does keep a copy of the original.
For that matter, the artist Francis Alÿs took up this story, and from his own Fabiola collection, created a work which later became the object of an exhibition organized by the Dia Art Foundation at the National Gallery in London.
This museum is above all a home-workshop. Through the structure’s glass, one can see beautiful half-timbering which shelter a little studio. This studio will serve as a place of residence to a young artist beginning in September done in partnership with the l’École de Beaux-Arts. Her work will later be shown in the museum in 2017.
Entering this house is like diving into the past, into an atmosphere characteristic of the 3rd Republic with the styling of the woodwork, the well-polished stairs, and the somber colors, all in a very trendy neighborhood where painters, writers, and musicians come together.
Florence Briat Soulie
Translated by Brianna Reed