The Musée de Montmartre is a little offbeat: part museum of Montmartre history, part art museum. It basically chronicles Montmartre's past, but then shifts gears to focus on those who lived here at 12 rue Cortot. It is relatively small, uncrowded, and makes for an enjoyable change of pace from the typical Parisian museum experience (big, crowded, grandiose). You can see the entire museum in under an hour.
The Musée de Montmartre is located in a rickety 17th century house that was once a small apartment building. The studios above the entrance pavilion were occupied at various times by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Emile Bernard, Raoul Dufy, Maurice Utrillo, Suzanne Valadon (Utrillo's mother), and others. This was Renoir's first Montmartre address. He began renting studio space here in 1875, and put the finishing touches on Au Moulin de la Galette here, which sold at auction in 1990 for $78 million.
The lower floors of the museum concentrate on the history of the butte, including the Revolution of 1789, the Russian invasions of 1814, the insurrection of 1848, and so on. Documents, maps, ceramic pieces, old photos, engravings, and other memorabilia retrace Montmartre's history. One part of the exhibit chronicles how the French government used manned balloons to get supplies in and messages out when the butte was under siege during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, declaring that this was the first successful attempt at "air mail".
The upper floor explores the lives of the impressive list of Parisians who once lived at this address. While you'll find no paintings by some of the most famous artists who called 12 rue Cortot home at one time or another, there are works by Maurice Utrillo, Emile Bernard, and others. And while Bernard is not as well known as some of his counterparts, he was good friends with Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, so it's a safe bet that he entertained both of them here. Among the items on display specific to Bernard include a very nice self-portrait and a cabinet containing his palette and paint brushes. There are also several original Toulouse-Lautrec posters.
But the museum and its artifacts aside, for me it was just as rewarding an experience to see the building itself. To know that you're in the house where these artists lived and worked, and that the garden on the museum grounds is where Renoir painted some of his most famous canvases. This is a worthwhile stop for anyone who has an appreciation for the French impressionists.
Photography is not allowed inside the museum. You will be required to check your camera bag at the entrance.
Admission is 30Fr. Tele: (+33) 01.46.06.61.11.
Tue - Sun: 11 - 6; Mon: Closed
Also closed Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25.
Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt (M12); Abbesses (M12); Chateau-Rouge (M4)