The Henner Museum, located in the 17th district of Paris, is dedicated to the painter Jean-Jacques Henner who may be forgotten nowadays but who was yet famous during his lifetime.
The museum is situated in a charming mansion, and contrary to what one might think, Henner never lived there: another painter, Guillaume Dubufe, lived there. Henner attended parties there three times in 1878 and 1879 and the mansion became the Henner museum in 1924, thanks to the widow of Henner’s nephew who bought the mansion in 1921 from the heirs of Dubufe.
She donated the mansion, Henner’s furniture and belongings and some 440 paintings to the French State.
The mansion as such is a perfect example of the private architecture of this new Western Paris modeled by Haussmann and the Pereire brothers. Part of Guillaume Dubufe’s interior decor has been preserved – for example, the moucharabiehs that adorn the large red workshop on the first floor.
Jean-Jacques Henner, as we have said, never lived in this mansion. Born in the Alsace region in Berwiller in 1829, this son of a peasant studied in Alsace and then continued his studies in Paris from 1848 thanks to several scholarships. He nevertheless remained forever attached to his native land and returned there every year. He was awarded the Prix de Rome for his painting “Adam and Eve discovering the body of Abel”, which opened the doors to the Villa Medici for five years.
In 1864, Jean-Jacques Henner returned to Paris – Place Pigalle, North of this New Athens full of artistic effervescence in the second half of the 19th century.
His talent as a fine portraitist and his numerous female nudes with long red hair made his reputation. Neither academic, nor naturalist, nor impressionist, Jean-Jacques Henner is perhaps one of the last romantic painters.
His most famous painting, “L’Alsace, elle attend”, was painted in 1871 after the French defeat. Deeply marked by the loss of Alsace-Lorraine annexed by the new German Empire, he expresses his pain by the personification of his native region in a young woman in mourning, where only the tricolor cockade brings a touch of color. The serious face of the young lady, her eye in which one may suspect a tear mark the spirits of the time.
Jean-Jacques Henner became known and popular thanks to the widely distributed engravings of his painting because his personal pain was in tune with the national trauma: “all of France recognized in this figure the personification of lost Alsace“, to quote one of the painter’s biographers.
A prolific painter, Jean-Jacques Henner was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1889 and died in Paris in 1905.
April 15, 2022
“L’Alsace, elle attend” by Henner
“A la France toujours” by Benner