History of the Museum

History of the Museum

The occupation of the site of the Passy House began in the Middle Ages, well before the arrival of Balzac who occupied a part of the house from 1840 to 1847. The excavations of 2002 showed that the cellars covered troglodyte from the end of the Middle Ages -- the only known at this time in Paris-- from when Passy was only a village populated by farmers, wine growers, and quarrymen. Under the Ancien Régime, the hills were transformed into terraces where modest houses neighbored particularly luxurious hotels, transformed after the Revolution into connected buildings***. In October 1840, Balzac rented an annex of the hotel at what is now 47 Rue Raynouard that had a dining room, a living room, and bedroom with a closet and access to a cellar and a garden. After its annexation by Paris in 1860, Passy urbanized and became one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in 20th century Paris. Today, the Maison de Balzac offers the final testimony to the Passy hills that existed during the Ancien Régime and the Nineteenth Century. In 1908, Louis Baudier of  Royaume, a man of letters, saved the Maison and installed there a museum dedicated to the writer, which went on to become a municipal museum in 1949. Today, the Maison de Balzac covers three levels between the Rue de Raynouard and the Rue de Berton; it includes apartment and gardens in the way they were occupied when other renters lived there.

From house to Museum

Balzac had left the Rue des Batailles for the Jardies: he then moved to Passy. The house where he lived, situated below a steep hill, offered a singular architectural style. One would enter it “a little like how wine enters bottles.” One must descend three levels to get to the first. -- Théophile Gautier, Honoré de Balzac, 1859.

After Balzac left the apartment  owner Etienne Désiré Grandemain began several projects, notably a reduction in the size of the dining room. After the death of Grandemain in 1878, the house was taken over by his daughter, who, having known Balzac, offered the honor of visits to the apartment to certain privileged people. It was during such a visit that Louis Baudier de Royaumont discovered Balzac’s former apartment at Passy. The apartment remained occupied after Balzac, for example, the architect Hénin lived there from 1905 to 1907.

  • 16 May 1908: Nearly 20 years after his visit, Louis Baudier de Royaumont rents the former Balzac apartment
  • 16 July 1908: Inauguration of the Balzac Museum by Louis Baudier de Royaumont; in presence of Madame de Barbier; Madame Duhamel-Surville, Balzac’s grand-niece, and Mademoiselle Carrier- Belleuse, his great-grandniece.
  • 3 May 1908, the pavilion is inscribed with an inventory of historic monuments.
  • 1918: Death of Louis Baudier de Royaumon. A new renter, Louis Allainguillame, engages the “conserver” Carlos Larronde. The important work was business. It was during this period that the majority of the house’s doors burned down and the walls had to be rebuilt, reducing to nothing the chance to find certain old paintings.
  • 1922: Louis Allainguilame subletted the apartment to André Chancerel; who fought most of his life for official recognition of the museum.
  • 5 January 1929, Death of Madame Barbier, who left the pavilion to the state, under the reserve that they would only hold onto to it until 1950.
  • 13 January 1930, A Private Real Estate agency (45 rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin), managed by the Countess of Limur, became the debtor of 47 Raymouard until 1950.
  • 1937: Renovation of the Rue Raynouard. The numbers 47 to 49 are demolished. The old hotel in particular survived only as the “folie Bertin”, the pavilion of Maison Balac.
  • 13 March 1944: Inscription in the garden to the inventory of Historical Monuments
  • 1949: the State cedes the land to the City of Paris, and the City decides to convert it into a muséum.
  • 1960: Re-opening of the museum; The collection of pavilions becomes the Maison Balzac. The conservers Patrice Boussel and Jacqueline Sarment develop the collections and organize the first expositions.
  • 1971: Installation of the library in the old stable, on the side of rue Berton (old street made of rocks)

Balzac’s Apartment

On Monday, 16 November, 1840, Balzac announced to Madame Hanksa:

At the moment when you receive this letter, write me at the following address: M. de Breugnol, Rue Basse, n19 in Passy, near Paris. I am there, hidden for some time (....) It was necessary for me to move very quickly and I am locked in where I am.”

For his house on the rue de Bataille  in Chaillot where he lived from 1835 to 1838, he had used the female pseudonym “Veuve Durand”  and from his move forward he used “Monsieur de Breugnol”. The lease on Balzac’s apartment was agreed to on 1 October 1840, by dEtienne Désiree Grandemain, owner living in Passy, rue Basse n19 to “Mademoiselle Philiberte Louise Breugnol Desreux living at Paris, rue de Navarin n31”.

The lease was unclear on the state of the apartment at the moment the lease was signed. According to Balzac’s later letters, he had to do work and pay 1000 francs in order to render it habitable. This sum was in addition to the annual rent of 650 francs.

The full description is

“An apartment in a house (...)  rue Basse n19 and rue du Roc, having entered on one or the other road. Said apartment was composed of a dining room where one entered through the lower heart of the house located on rue Basse n19 lit on the courtyard on rue du Roc, the three contiguous rooms lit by five windows opening on the garden and by a window on the rue du Roc, which made the living room, bedroom, and closet, a kitchen and a room against the dining room, three closets, hallway, the kitchen had an exit into a street onto the rue du roc, plus a cellar and a jardin adjoining said apartment and where one communicates through a door-window in the living room, the said garden is surrounded by trellises and given on the rue de roc"

The Village of Passy

The Maison de Balzac is located in the village of Passy, which was considered to be outside of Paris until 1860. Passy was an amiable village, built on a hill that had numerous quarries dug into it. The habitat experienced a strong sociological evolution: under the Ancien Régime luxurious private hotels neighbored houses rented poor, unstable workers. In the 19th century, the private hotels and the houses were both rented as apartments to slightly more fortunate clientele, which explains the presence of Balzac. The neighborhood remained well-priced until the beginning of the 20th century, when Parisian urbanisation transformed Passy into a beautiful city neighborhood.

This given history provides us with the necessary task to preserve country- style environments, of which Apollinaire, in Balzac’s Adieu à Auteuili, had already began to show degradation.

When I installed myself in Auteuil; the rue Raynouard still resembled the time of Balzac. It has changed a lot now. It remains the gas lamp lit rue Berton of time past, but soon, without a doubt, that will change.”