Initially housed in the Palais du Luxembourg that Marie de Medici had built between 1615 and 1630, the Musée du Luxembourg was the first French museum to be opened to the public, in 1750.
At that time, visitors could admire twenty-four paintings by Rubens celebrating Marie de Medici and around a hundred paintings from the Royal collection (Cabinet du Roi) by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Veronese, Titian, Poussin, Van Dyck and Rembrandt. Later these works were transferred to the Louvre and the Musée du Luxembourg was designated in 1818 a “museum for living artists”, or in other words, a museum of contemporary art.
The French Senate took on the running of the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens in 1879, and commissioned the current building which was built between 1884 and 1886. The first Impressionist exhibition to be held in a national museum took place here, comprising works by Pissarro, Manet, Cézanne, Sisley, Monet and Renoir amongst others (that collection is now in the Musée d’Orsay).
The Musée du Luxembourg was closed after a national museum of modern art was built in the Palais de Tokyo in 1937, and only reopened its doors to the public in 1979. The museum hosts exhibitions highlighting France’s regional heritage and collections from provincial museums holding several exhibitions every year and in 2014, the cosy Luxembourg Museum presents a window into the intimate world of Joséphine, first wife of Napoleon, Empress of France. She died two hundred years ago at her home, the Château de Malmaison, and the museum is commemorating the bicentennial of her death.
Josephine was six years older than Napoleon and a widow with two children when they met in 1795. Her first husband had been beheaded in the French Revolution and that came close to being her own fate but she was spared and released from prison intact. She was born in Martinique to a family of plantation owners and her real name was Rose but Napoleon renamed her Joséphine after she seduced him away from his fiancée, Désirée. Surviving letters from Napoleon to Jospephine are often full of passion and by all accounts the pair had a fairly tumultuous relationship before and after their marriage in 1796.
Josephine was crowned Empress of France by Napoleon after he had crowned himself Emperor in 1804 but he divorced her in 1810 when she couldn’t give him a child and she retreated to the Château de Malmaison where she lived out her days tending her beloved rose garden. She was an enthusiastic collector of art and furniture, a hobby which started while she was married to Napoleon, and the majority of her pieces were kept at the Château de Malmaison. The museum shows many pieces from her life, personal souvenirs like jewellery and clothing as well as major pieces from her prestigious art collections – a chance for visitors to enter Josephine’s private world and discover a modern woman who was passionate about travel, music and gardens.
Check out the Angelina Tea Room at the Musee de Luxembourg which is open daily (late night openings on Fridays and Saturdays) for one of their famous hot chocolates while enjoying a view over the beautiful Jardins du Luxembourg and then wander round the glorious gardens with their statues and fountains and fabulous views.
Find out more from the Museum website
Address: 19 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris ∣ Métro: Saint-Sulpice (line 4) or Mabillon (line 10)
Linda Mathieu, a native Texan, lives in France with her French husband. She was a Paris Tour Guide and is the author of Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide, available at www.amazon.com.