The Hôtel Biron on the Rue Varenne is now better known as the Musée Rodin, but in the late eighteenth century it was one of the most envied and admired mansions in all Paris.
The mansion was built between 1728 and 1731 by Jacques Gabriel and Jean Aubert for wig maker made good Abraham Peyrenc de Moras, who had made a fortune due to some financial speculation.
At the time that his mansion was built, the Faubourg St Germain was still very much on the outskirts of the city. However, Monsieur Peyrenc de Moras was not to enjoy his beautiful house as he died just a year after it was completed, whereupon his widow swiftly sold it on to the Duchesse de Maine, daughter in law of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.
When Madame la Duchesse died on the 23rd of January 1753 in her mansion, now called the Hôtel du Maine, it was sold on to Louis-Antoine de Gontaut-Biron, Duc de Biron and a Marshal of France, who made it into his family home and worked hard to make the house and its extensive garden the most lovely in Paris.
When the future Paul I and his wife visited Paris incognito in 1782, calling themselves the Comte and Comtesse du Nord, they made a point of visiting the Hôtel de Biron. A contemporary document preserved at the Hôtel says that the Imperial couple spent their visit ‘admiring the beauty of the flowers and the variety of the borders. They walked among the flower beds and the shrubberies, marvelling at the boldness and elegance of the trellis work forming gateways, arcades, grottoes, domes, Chinese pavilions‘.
When the Duc de Biron died in 1788, his title and gorgeous house passed to his nephew, Armand de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun who was a petted favourite of his Choiseul relatives and well known for his affairs with various ladies of the court as well as his failed and entirely misjudged attempt to seduce Marie Antoinette.
Armand and his wife, Amèlie de Boufflers made the Hôtel de Biron their home and entertained their friends there in the brief period of grace before the outbreak of Revolution. As I walked around the mansion, I could imagine the dashing young Duc and his friends, Aimée de Coigny and the Princesse Joseph de Monaco, who lived nearby on the Rue Monsieur walking through the gardens.
Sadly, both Armand and his wife were to be guillotined during the Revolution and their splendid mansion was seized and became state property.
I am not a huge fan of Rodin’s work and so unlike the other visitors who clustered around the statues, I was directing my camera above their heads at the ornate plaster work, panelling and tall windows that still remain from the eighteenth century.
The interior of the Hôtel has fallen into some disrepair as the emphasis is very clearly more on the artwork than on maintaining the rooms in which they live. However, I rather liked the peeling plasterwork and tarnished gilt work – it was charmingly shabby and picturesque. I particularly like the tiled passageway that leads to what was presumably the main bedchamber at the back of the house, which, like all the other rooms had an amazing view across the gardens.