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History of the Maison Fournaise

The charm of the Maison Fournaise, a famous « guinguette » located on the Seine banks, attracted artists during the 19th century. Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted his renowned Lunch at the Boating party in 1880, on the balcony of the Restaurant Fournaise.

The Maison Fournaise

The Fournaise Family

In the mid-19th century, boating became fashionable. This leisure relaxed Parisians from urban life stress. In 1857, Alphonse Fournaise, who was a boat carpenter, installed his workshop on Chatou Island, while his wife opened an adjoining restaurant.

“Madame Fournaise » had the upper hand in cooking, while « Monsieur » organized nautical parties, including memorable games. Their son Alphonse helped ladies to embark. Alphonsine her sister, who was the favorite model of painters, cares for the reception of customers.

The guinguette of the Impressionists

Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Prins, spent a lot of time roaming the island in search of moving light on the trembling waters of the river. Chatou Island was a chosen place of Impressionist painters, who had an appetite for outdoors. It was also highly frequented by people from the world of literature and golden – or not – bohemia, of the second half of the 19th century. Edgar Degas was a close friend of Alphonsine. Gustave Caillebotte liked canoeing on the Seine.

Facade of the Maison Fournaise

Side view of the facade with the Lunch at the Boating party.
Mind the painting, unnamed, 19th century, painting on the facade of the Maison Fournaise.

About the monogram

Interlaced first letters of Alphonse Fournaise on the restaurant’s forged iron balcony.
Monogram, restaurant’s balcony

The monogram is made of the interlaced first letters of Alphonse Fournaise, restaurateur and boat constructor. It is forged at the angle of the balcony of the Maison Fournaise, where Pierre Auguste Renoir painted the Lunch at the boating party.

The two Fauves

André Derain (born in Chatou) and Maurice de Vlaminck installed their workshop in the Maison Levanneur, next to the Restaurant Fournaise. Guillaume Apollinaire and Henri Matisse visited the Fauves in this house. They discuss, debates become heated, and the colors more vivid. The two artists embody the artistic avant-garde during the first years of the 20th century.
Decline and revival of the Maison Fournaise

After Alphonse Fournaise and his daughter died in 1905 and 1937, the Maison Fournaise peters out over time.

As the house threatened to fall into a ruin, it was acquired by the city in 1979. The house was classified on the French Supplementary Historic Monument List in 1982 and restored by the city of Chatou, thanks to State aid, funds from the region and the department. Two associations also sustained the restoration: the Friends of the Maison Fournaise and the Friends of French Art.

In addition to the creation of the museum, the Maison Fournaise found again its initial vocation. Indeed, in 1990, a restaurant re-opened in the rooms decorated with mural paintings made by cartoonists of the 19th century.

Interior of the restaurant Fournaise, unnamed, 19th century, mural painting
Maison Fournaise abandoned.

Under Renoir's brush

It seems that Pierre Auguste Renoir discovered Chatou and its banks in 1868 during a walk with Prince Bibesco, who was familiar with the Maison Fournaise.

In 1868, Renoir and Claude Monet had set up their easel in the cold baths of La Grenouillère on Croissy Island, not far from Chatou. The two painters are not even thirty yet. Side by side, they make a series of paintings on nature. Water, light and canoeing are the subjects painted by the artists representing the maturity of the impressionist movement. Chatou and its neighborhood become part of the painting and canoeing history.

For almost 15 years, from 1868 to 1884, Renoir regularly comes to Chatou. Later he would say: “I was always at Fournaise, where I could find as many pretty ladies to paint as I could desire”. In 1880 he writes to a friend: “I am held up in Chatou because of my painting. Please come to the Maison Fournaise for lunch. You won’t regret your trip; it is the most beautiful place around Paris”. This painting is the Lunch at the boating party, painted in 1881 on the restaurant’s balcony. It is now part of the Phillips Collection in Washington. Renoir made about thirty paintings in Chatou, including the portrait of Alphonsine Fournaise, presented in the Orsay museum in Paris.

Alphonsine Fournaise, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1879, Orsay Museum, Paris
Danse à la Campagne, P.-A. Renoir, 1883, Orsay Museum, Paris
Lunch at the boating party, P-A Renoir, 1880-81, Phillips Collection, Washington (USA)
Rowers in Chatou, P-A Renoir, 1879, National Gallery, Washington (USA)
La Grenouillère, P-A Renoir, 1869, Oskar Reinhardt collection, Winterthur (Suisse)
La Grenouillère, P-A Renoir, 1869, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (Suède)

Under Maupassant’s pen

Photograph in sepia representing Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) is the most famous boater of the Maison Fournaise. He discovered Chatou and its surroundings in 1873. This young Normand had been working in the Ministry of Navy for one year, before working for the Ministry of Public Instruction, Fine Arts and Religious Affairs. In 1880, he decides to focus entirely on literature. With the encouragement of Gustave Flaubert he develops exceptional literary qualities and invents, in his short stories, a realistic, incisive and quick style. He writes what he sees, as the “plein-air” painters do. He sums up his art as follows:
“I came to the certainty that for good writing needs, as an artist, a colorist, a sensitive, I should describe instead of analyzing. […]”

“You must impose to your memory a correct and continual recording, of every smallest detail of the facts you see, even the nuances”.

Guy de Maupassant immortalizes the festive atmosphere of the Maison Fournaise and canoeing in several of his short stories published in 1880 in the collection entitled La Maison Tellier: “La Femme de Paul”, “Mouche”, “Sur l’eau”, “Yvette” …

“The restaurant Grillon, this boater phalanstery emptied slowly. At the door, it was a tumult of cries, calls and the strapping fellows wearing white jersey gesticulated with oars on their shoulder. Ladies wearing light spring dresses embarked carefully in the skiff, sat at the helm of the boat while the master of the house, a strong red beard boy, helped them to embark while maintaining the frail boat.” Extract from “La Femme de Paul”.

Maupassant also wrote a poem in the restaurant Fournaise, illustrated with a dog, drawn by Count Lepic. It has been restituted in the restaurant’s reception on the initiative of the Friends of the Maison Fournaise

« Sauve-toi de lui s’il aboie ;
Ami prends garde au chien qui mord
Ami prends garde à l’eau qui noie
Sois prudent, reste sur le bord.

Prends garde au vin d’où sort l’ivresse
On souffre trop le lendemain
Prends surtout garde à la caresse
Des filles qu’on trouve en chemin.

Pourtant ici tout ce que j’aime
Et que je fais avec ardeur,
Le croirais-tu ? C’est cela même
Dont je veux garder la candeur.»

Guy de Maupassant tasked Monsieur Fournaise to carry out the maintenance of his boats.

In 1887 he rents a flat to the Fournaise for six weeks in order to escape Parisian life, to write and canoe.

Guy de Maupassant finally leaves Chatou for Poissy in 1889 where he transported his boats. “…in Chatou it was no longer tenable because of the neighborhood. There were too many “demi-mondaines”. I am sorry for Alphonse and Madame Papillon who have always been very kind and took great care of my boats.”

“My great, my only, my absorbing passion, for ten years was the river Seine.”