During his lifetime, Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) was one of France's most respected artists, winning multiple prizes and official state honours. While the Impressionists were revolutionising the rules of painting in the late 19th century, Henner was carving himself out a sturdy reputation as a talented landscape painter and exceptional portraitist.
Reopened in 2009 after four years of renovation work, the museum traces the artist's life from his humble beginnings in Alsace to his rise as one of the most sought-after painters in Paris. Although he never lived here, the building was the home and studio of his contemporary, Guillaume Dubufe, and the interiors have been widely refurbished to recreate the feel of the period. A Chinese-style fireplace on the ground floor and Egyptian mashrebeeyah in the striking red-walled studio testify to the eclectic tastes of the time, while many of the furnishings belonged to Henner himself.
The closure of the museum also allowed the paintings themselves to be cleaned and restored, a process not helped by Henner's predilection for unusual raw materials, such as the top of a cigar box. The works are now spread across the museum's three compact floors in loosely chronological order. On the first floor, Alsatian landscapes and family portraits are a reminder of the artist's lifelong attachment to his native region.
The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 prompted Henner to paint one of his most famous works, L'Alsace
. Elle attend, on display in the high-ceilinged room next door. A symbol of the region's suffering, it portrays a young, dignified Alsatian woman in mourning, gazing gently but defiantly beyond the confines of the frame.
Success took Henner to Paris and, after winning the Grand Prix de Rome in 1878, to Italy, where he painted a smattering of genre scenes and small luminous landscapes. What brought the artist most acclaim (and criticism), however, was his trademark nymph paintings. In the brightly lit top-floor studio, the walls are filled with canvases displaying pale-skinned, red-headed nudes tending their hair among wooded landscapes that resemble the Alsace of Henner's youth.
The revamped museum also includes works from Henner's private collection (Heim, Flandrin, Monticelli) and a small room for temporary exhibitions. There's even a blog (www.henner-intime.fr
), launching Henner firmly into the 21st century.