The Musée Bourdelle in Montparnasse is one of Paris’ secret little jewels. Set on a short street a few blocks behind the Montparnasse train station, this museum is a quiet place far away from the long lines at the Musée D’Orsay, the Louvre, or even the Musée Rodin.
Antoine Bourdelle was a prominent French sculptor (1860-1929) who studied with Rodin and Falguiere. He donated his studio and extensive sculpture collection when he died.
I stumbled in by accident one day when I was wandering through Montparnasse. I was searching out some of the homes and studios of the artists associated with the American Girl’s Art Club in Paris. I was on the heels of the American painter Mary Fairchild MacMonnies (Low) (1858-1946), a St. Louis native who had gone to Paris in the late 1880s and who later (along with Mary Cassatt) painted one of the murals for the Woman’s building at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
Fairchild studied at the Academie Julian for women, and later in the women’s portrait class of Carolus-Duran. She was living in a small apartment on rue Bonaparte when she met fellow American art student Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937) at a dinner party. The pair quickly fell in love but the terms of Fairchild’s scholarship prevented her from marrying. Fairchild and MacMonnies decided to share an apartment and art studio, and moved in together at 16 Impasse du Maine (paid for by the money from Mary’s scholarship). Their friend Augustus St. Gaudens referred to it as “l’atelier common Fairchild-MacMonnies.” While they lived there, the MacMonnies shared a ground floor workroom, and a across the cobblestone courtyard, a two-room apartment with a kitchen. (Flight With Fame: The Life and Art of Frederick MacMonnies by Mary Smart (Sound View Press, 1996).
When I went in search of the address for MacMonnies’ atelier, I found myself standing right in front of the Musée Bourdelle. It turns out that MacMonnies had met and befriended Bourdelle while they were both students in the atelier of the famous French sculptor Falguiere. They had found art studios in the same courtyard building on Impasse du Maine. After Bourdelle’s death, The Impasse du Maine had been renamed rue Antoine Bourdelle.
So as I walked though the museum and the Bourdelle’s well-preserved studio, I knew that somewhere nearby, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies had worked on the mural Primitive Woman. Somewhere across the courtyard, she had met with Bertha Palmer and Sarah Hallowell, who had come from Chicago in 1892 to meet her, look at her work, and award her the commission for the mural for the Chicago World’s Fair.
You know that feeling you get when you connect the dots? I felt a connection that ran all the way from my home in Chicago to this lesser known museum in Paris; all the way from the White City to the City of Lights.
That connection might not mean the same to you, but I hope you can still enjoy some of these photographs of the Musée Bourdelle. It’s an incredible place with or without its Chicago connection.