I bequeath my house, situated at 14, rue de La Rochefoucauld, with all it contains: paintings, drawings, cartoons, etc., the work of fifty years, and likewise what is enclosed in the named house and the old apartments formerly occupied by my father and my mother, to the State, […] with the express condition to keep this collection forever - this would be my dearest wish – or at least as long as possible, maintaining the integral character that allows the sum of the work and the efforts of the artist during his life to be recognised in perpetuity.
Extract from Gustave Moreau’s will of 10 September 1897.
Alone at the end of his life, now that his friends and family had died, Gustave Moreau decided to create a museum for his œuvre. He nurtured this project over time, keeping the majority of his paintings himself, continually reworking them and stacking them up in the small house in the rue de La Rochefoucauld. Moreau had owned this modest provincial house since 1852 – it had a central set of steps behind the garden railings, and an orange stucco facade embellished with a wisteria. He lived here first with his parents, then alone, and had a small studio on the third floor. In 1889, Paul Leprieur, in his monograph on the artist, left some valuable information about the house and the studio:
“In this new quarter… it stands out with its modest, rather old-fashioned appearance and its air of unsociability as if fearful of passersby […] The studio is his laboratory and here, far from the noise of the street, he devotes himself to his work like an alchemist, always restless, passionately seeking to achieve perfection…”
In April 1895, Moreau decided to have the house converted to create the large studios he needed. He instructed Albert Lafon, a young architect who had worked with his old friend the architect Edouard Louis Dainville. He sacrificed his studio and the second storey of the house in order to maximise space on his plot of land. He retained the first floor apartment that held so many memories, and the corresponding rooms on the ground floor. The second and third floors were replaced by vast studios with north facing windows, and designed to create the largest space possible. On the second floor, an elegant spiral staircase led up to the third floor.
In 1896, Moreau began to prepare his museum: he classified, selected, put final touches to his drawings and paintings, enlarged some, started others … The museum was designed as the “great work” which had to include all the themes he had ever treated.