Most tourists never set foot into one of the French capital’s finest single-artist collections, the Jean-Jacques Henner Museum. This is a shame. Not only does it house an arresting permanent exhibit of the French painter and portraitist’s singular work; it’s set in a 19th-century mansion that’s one of the only privately owned houses open to the public in Paris.
Come admire the artist’s classically inspired oeuvre– comprising some 2,200 paintings, drawings, sketches, sculptures, and objects from his daily life–as well as visit his onsite studio, learning more about how he worked.
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A Bit of History: Who Was Jean-Jacques Henner?
Born in the northern French (and periodically German) region of Alsace in 1829, Henner was a bit of an iconoclast. He can’t be easily slotted into a single school of art or movement.
He was at once a classicist who worked to revive some of the techniques of Italian and Dutch masters of centuries past– including chiaroscuro— and a (fringe) contributor to the Impressionist movement, which most critics found deeply shocking and distasteful in its early years.
Having studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris before training as an apprentice in Rome, Henner had a deep interest in classical subjects such as Biblical scenes and realistic portraiture in the tradition of great Dutch masters like Rembrandt.
But he also pushed the envelope of taste with sensual scenery and voluptuous nudes, such as the famed painting “The Chaste Susannah“.
His landscape paintings, including one depicting Mount Vesuvius in Italy, often displayed bold, impressionistic views of the world.
More renowned and well-known during his time than he is now, Henner won several awards and accolades from the French art establishment over his lifetime, including the Legion of Honor.
The Permanent Collection: Highlights to Look Out For
The museum is home to the world’s largest permanent collection of Henner’s early work, from his youthful experiments, to his increasingly ambitious works painted while he was an apprentice at the Villa Medici in Rome.
It also includes works from his later period, and his final Parisian years.
The collection offers visitors an intimate glimpse into the artist’s complex techniques, showing how some of his most beautiful works evolved from out of sketches and drawings, as well as replicas.
Among some of the most beautiful works within the collection are ones depicting religious scenes, such as”Christ With Donors” (circa 1896-1902).
Henner drew on classical techniques to compose this piece, stitching together three separate pieces of canvas to form the composition.
Scenes from history and from familiar Western myths are evident in works such as “Andromeda” (1880), whose sumptuous golden palette and figurative rendering of the female body is reminiscent of Gustave Klimt.
Henner’s striking portraits, self-portraits, and nudes-– including a study for “Herodias”, “The Lady With an Umbrella (Portrait of Madame X)” and a replica of a self-portrait held at the Uffizi Museum in Florence (pictured above) form a large part of the collection.
Other highlights include landscapes of Italy and Alsace that fuse classical and Impressionist techniques, to unusual effect.
Finally, visitors can get a more intimate sense of the artist’s daily life by viewing artefacts that belonged to Henner, including furniture, costumes, painting equipment, and other objects.
Where Else to See Henner’s Work in Paris?
In addition to the extensive collection at the Henner Museum, several of the Alsatian artist’s most iconic paintings are on permanent display at the Musée d’Orsay.
These include “The Chaste Susannah”, “The Reader”, “Feminine Nudes”, and “Jesus in his Tomb”. In short: if you’re a fan, there’s more in store for you during your visit.
Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner: Location & Practical Information
Situated in a quiet, lush corner of the residential 17th arrondissement (district), the museum is well out of the way of the bustling city center. As such, it offers some reprieve from noise, commotions and crowds.
You can make an entire morning afternoon or afternoon of your visit by taking a stroll at the leafy Parc Monceau just down the street– whose green lanes and formal gardens have, incidentally, inspired many painters and writers over the years.
- Address: 43 avenue de Villiers, 75017 Paris
- Metro: Malesherbes (Line 3), Wagram (Line 3), or Monceau (Line 2); RER Line C (Pereire station)
- Tel : +33 (0)1 47 63 42 73
- Visit the official website (in English)
Opening Hours and Tickets
The museum is open every day of the week except for Tuesday, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. It also closes its doors on major French public/bank holidays, including Christmas Day and Bastille Day (July 14th).
Admission Prices: Visitors can consult current ticket prices for this museum here. Admission is free for all visitors under 18, and for European Union passport-holders under the age of 26.
For the rest of us, entry to the permanent collection is free on the first Sunday of every month– and during the annual European Heritage Days event, held each September over two days.