Robert Tatin was an extraordinary French artist whose home in the lush department of Mayenne, Pays de la Loire in north west France, became a museum. You may never have heard of him but once you see his house and art, you’re unlikely to forget it.
Robert Tatin was born in 1902 in Laval, capital of Mayenne. He was a construction worker for most of his early working life but in his spare time he studied art. He lived for a while in Brazil and travelled around South America. At the age of 43 he decided to follow his dream and moved to Paris to open an artist’s workshop. By now he had gained international recognition. He returned at the age of 60 to Mayenne and bought an old, small house on the outskirts of Laval. Here his artistic passions were fully unleashed.
Tatin decided the house needed a wood store and it was this that launched him on an astonishing creative journey. He built a shed next to the house and let his imagination run wild, influenced by his time in South America. When the building was finished he thought it was too beautiful just to store wood, so he built another shed for storage. Once again, he let his creative spirit take over and once again, he felt the shed was too special just to hold wood. He built another, and another until eventually he ran out of space.
The Robert Tatin Museum
Tatin wanted to build bigger and bolder and more imaginative rooms but the lack of space was holding him back. He was told that if he declared his home and creations a museum he would have more privileges. He applied for museum status and seven years later the house and buildings were approved, and Tatin used the additional rooms he built to exhibit his paintings and sculptures. He carried on building until he died in 1983.
You can take a bus from the centre of Laval, for the short journey to the museum. If you fancy a gentle cycle ride, rent a bike in Laval and take the route along an abandoned railway track from the town right to the entrance.
From the road, nothing looks unusual about this place but after entering via the ticket office you’ll emerge onto a walk way of giants. Enormous stone statues representing artists, historic figures and allegories are astonishing for their size and their looks. You’ll see Pablo Picasso and Toulouse L’Autrec side by side with Joan of Arc and Jules Verne amonst others.
At the end of the walkway is Tatin’s house, now a museum and it is extraordinary, unique, quirky and fascinating. The first sight of it made me think of a Mayan temple – in Mayenne! It is in total contrast to the lush green bucolic countryside – weird, whacky and wonderful.
His legacy is a truly extraordinary and eccentric building. The large garden lends itself to viewing the house and its artistic extensions from all angles.
An unconventional artwork
The rooms of the house are filled with his minutely detailed, symbolic artworks. Discover wild, dramatic and magnificent paintings that are complex and fanciful. Incredible and monumental sculptures, larger than life and brilliantly bizarre designs that make you smile. This unique museum is certainly unusual and mesmerising.
Tatin is buried in the front garden of his beloved home. His house is exactly as it was when he died, even down to toothbrush and toothpaste, and slithers of soap in the bathroom. Every room bears the mark of his artistic genius – and it makes for a fabulous visit.
Read about another extraordinary museum – the palace created by a French postman collecting pebbles on his post round!