Maison de Balzac
47, rue Raynouard, 16th
Tel 01 55 74 41 80
Open Tuesday-Sun 10am-6pm, closed holidays.
Free entry to the permanent collection.
A uniquely charming garden cottage on the Passy hillside of the 16th arrondissement that was once home to the 19th-century Parisian novelist Honoré de Balzac, best known for his epic collection of books and short stories, La Comédie Humaine. Worth a visit to see where the writer lived and worked, but also to enjoy Paris views from the garden café.
Completely renovated from 2018-2018, the Maison de Balzac now has a separate reception pavilion at street level to the right of the house when facing it (the former entrance at the gated archway to the left is now closed, but don’t mistake that for the museum being closed). You pass through the new reception area to access the gardens and the cottage house museum (via stairs or elevator). It has free lockers (no large bags allowed in the museum), a few souvenirs for sale, and a ticket desk (permanent collection visits are free, however when there’s a temporary exhibit all adults pay the fee, usually €4).
The best new addition is the café-tearoom open in the garden level of the entrance pavilion. Here you can grab lunch, pastries and cakes, teas and coffees (alas, not the strong Turkish coffee Balzac infamously drank by the pot) and sit either inside (where there are Balzac’s works in the bookcase for perusing) or in the garden seating outside of the weather is nice.
If you remember the somewhat dusty and frumpy aspect of the museum in previous visits, you’ll see it has also been nicely renovated to preserve the history of the house (like the kitchen with its vintage stove and his office where he worked for up to 16 hours per day), while modernizing the presentation of the collections, including personal objects like Balzac’s beloved walking stick and coffee pot.
The main signs are in English and French, and there are a few interactive screens. In addition to descriptions about his writings, his history (including the many women in his life), there are also exhibitions of artworks created around or inspired by his writing. You could easily visit the entire permanent collection in an hour; less if you’re just browsing instead of reading the descriptions.
About Honoré de Balzac
For those of you who don’t know Balzac at all, he’s basically the French Dickens (or maybe Dickens is the English Balzac, since he came later), who basically invented the modern realist novel, exploring the complex realities of the world and humankind. Written and published from 1829–1948, La Comédie Humaine (Human Comedy) is his 91-volume (!) collection of interlinked novels and stories depicting French society in the period of the French Restoration (1815–30) and the July Monarchy (1830–48)…basically the two last gasps of the French monarchy between the empires of Napoléon I and Napoléon III.
It would most likely enhance your visit greatly if you read at least one of the Comédie Humaine books beforehand, and since it’s the first completed, why not start with Eugénie Grandet? Because of his literary importance, finding English translations of his works in almost any public library, online, or in eBook format is quite easy.
Exploring the Surroundings
Of course, you can still enjoy the visit without knowing anything at all, especially if the weather is nice and you can also enjoy the gardens and the Art Deco buildings of the surrounding Passy neighborhood (the Musée du Vin is also nearby, at the foot of the hill). This very chic neighborhood was once a village outside of Paris covered in vineyards and country homes until it was annexed in 1860 and transformed by real estate developers in the early 1900s. The building next door at #51 housed the agency and apartment of the 20th-century architect Auguste Perret, who gained fame for his early use of reinforced concrete (this particular building was completed in 1933). A block further down the street you’ll see a large plaque on the corner dedicated to a former Passy resident, Benjamin Franklin (the country house was long ago replaced by apartments).
Website: www.maisondebalzac.paris.fr (there’s an English version but it’s a little buggy)
Opening Hours: Daily except Monday, from 10am-6pm. Closed on holidays.
Tickets : Free entrance to the permanent collection except during Temporary Exhibitions. Entry to Temporary Exhibitions is €4 (free for kids and students 18-26).
Info and Services: The modern reception pavilion at street level has free lockers, a small number of souvenirs and books for sale, and a cafe-tearoom at the garden level. Wheelchair accessible entrance (the museum itself has a few steps).
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