Musée Départemental Maurice Denis – From A Decrepit Hospital into an Artist’s Home & Evolving Later into a National Treasure
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. It is housed in the former home of the Symbolism & Nabi artist, Maurice Denis.
Today this monumental 17th century building and its beautiful gardens are historical monuments of France. 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 included 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 can view the abandoned hospital that was built at the end of the 17th century. Maurice Denis decides to rent a section of the abandoned hospital as he requires plenty of room for his massive commissions.
Denis was certainly 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 him plenty of work.
Maurice Denis loves the hospital building even though it is in terrible condition. In his vision, he sees the incredible potential of this building. The building and grounds could offer him everything that he needs as an artist and for his large family of nine (seven kids with his first wife and two with his second). In 1914 his manages to buy the hospital and he names it “Le Prieuré”.
The building needs basic fixing before they can move in. This takes over a year. However, extensive restoration of this beautiful building and the surrounding land takes 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 artworks. 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 easily accessible 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 will be very pleasant as the leafy town of Saint Germain en Laye 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