The Beautiful Maurice Denis Museum
From a decrepit hospital into the beautiful home of Maurice Denis & now a national treasure
The Maurice Denis museum, known as Musée départemental Maurice Denis, opened its doors to the public as a museum in 1980, after the Department of Yvelines received a major donation of art works. This museum is a hidden gem, far away from the crowds of Paris. The museum was once the former home of the Symbolism & Nabi artist, Maurice Denis.
Today this monumental 17th century building and its beautiful gardens are listed as a historical monument of France. And rightly so….
The Maurice Denis Museum is dedicated to the artists of the symbolism art movement, Les Nabis, & the School of Pont Aven. All these art movements were the avante-garde of modern art in late 19th and early 20th centuries. The artists exhibited here are Bonnard, Denis, Gauguin, Lacombe, Roussel, Sérusier, Vuillard, Redon, Verkade and many more.
The History of the Building
Maurice Denis with his beloved wife, Marthe live in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. From his home, he could see the abandoned hospital that was built at the end of the 17th century. Maurice Denis decided to rent a section of the abandoned hospital as he required plenty of room for his massive commissions.
Denis was not a poor, struggling painter like so many of his contemporaries. Firstly, he came from a wealth family. Also, his paintings and mural were very much in demand between the two world wars. Both public institutions and wealthy art patrons offered Denis plenty of work.
Maurice Denis loved the hospital building even though it was in terrible condition. In his vision, he saw the incredible potential of this building. He knew that the building and grounds could offer him everything that he needed as an artist. It was also perfect for housing his large family of nine (seven kids with his first wife and two with his second).
In 1914 his managed to buy the hospital and he names it “Le Prieuré”.
The building neededs basic fixing before they could move in. This basic renovation took a year. However, the extensive restoration of this beautiful building and the surrounding land took Maurice Denis around 14 years to complete. The end result is what you see when you visit!!!
When Maurice Denis died in 1943, the idea of creating a museum inside this stunning mansion was considered. However because of the Second World War, it was not feasible. The daughter of Maurice, Bernadette Denis, instead allowed the building to be used for needy children until 1976.
The Maurice Denis Museum – The Priory
Today this beautiful museum exhibits not only a wonderful collection of Maurice Denis paintings but also a fine collection of the other French post-impressionism painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The building itself and the stunning sculpture gardens are worth the visit in their own right. Make sure you visit the chapel which Denis designed. It is completely furnished and decorated with his own artworks.
The building is beautifully tiled, with vaulted corridors and interesting niches that display the art works. You will see not only paintings but also sketches and stained-glass artworks. Make sure after the visit to stroll outside in the beautiful sculpture garden.
Transportation to the Museum:
Getting to Saint Germain en Laye is easy to reach by train. Take the RER A1 line from central Paris. The RER tickets are sold by zone. Since the museum is located in the 4th zone, it is most cost efficient if you buy the day Mobilis ticket.
It is but a short walk from the RER station to the museum. There are plenty of signs to direct you. The walk itself is lovely as the town is very pretty. There are lots of quaint shops and cafes en route.
A word of warning though: Saint Germain en Laye is a town where the wealthy live. Cafes and restaurants tend to be more expensive here.
For more information about the museum, press here