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History of the Jean de La Fontaine Museum

 

Jean was born one fine day in July in this handsome private mansion where his family lived. His childhood here was a happy one. His father Charles was Master of the National Forestry Commission, an office which La Fontaine would later inherit.

In 1676, at the age of 55, the poet sold the house in which he was born in order to go to Paris in search of literary fame. At the time the street, situated in the district inhabited by eminent members of Château-Thierry society, was called rue des Cordeliers. Today it bears the name of the renowned author of The Fables.

The poet's house becomes a museum

Built in 1559, several owners succeeded La Fontaine in this house which would become a museum in 1876 thanks to the support of the town's Historical and Archeological Society.

The atmosphere of the house as the poet knew it can be imagined by means of the floor tiling, the groundvaults on each floor, the elegant stairway with its parallel flights of steps, and the grand reception room on the ground floor. Interior renovations have preserved all the French ceilings.

 

The Garden

Jardin Jean de La FontaineIn the 18th century, the tower in the garden was knocked down. Vestiges of the town walls are still visible in the poet's garden.

  

The Courtyard

Maison Jean de la FontaineIn 1882, today's gateway replaced the walls framing a beautiful carriage entrance (of which only the key remains). The little tower leading to Jean de La Fontaine's study has also disappeared. The double set of steps at the entrance to the house and the old well in the paved courtyard are still there.

 

 

The Facade

The housefront has withstood the test of time, keeping its pilasters as well as its curious interwoven crescents which were the monogram of Diane de Poitiers, favorite of the French king at the time of the house's construction. A strip of fleur-de-lis still stands above the doorway and, on the right, the date '1559' is engraved.

The Collections

La Fontaine - Salle XVIIèmeThe museum's collections are all based on La Fontaine and on his works. The visitor is afforded multiple readings of his fables through their rendering in drawings, engravings, paintings and other artifacts.

 

 

 

The Ground Floor

The engravings in the corridor leading to the 17th century room represent the poet's contemporaries - his wife Marie Héricart who was the cousin of Jean Racine, Fouquet his great friend, Mme de Sévigné, Furetière of the Académie Française, as well as the pretty and fanciful Marie-Anne Mancini, niece of cardinal Mazarin, La Fontaine's protector and neighbour in Château-Thierry.

 

The 17th century room

In this room devoted to the great century in which La Fontaine lived, we are greeted by his portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Underneath this painting is a desk containing the poet's Chistening Papers. The showcases contain letters in the poet's hand as well as legal documents drafted with a rigour which belies the reputation for absent-mindedness usually attributed to Jean de La Fontaine.

The 1668 edition of the Selected Fables, illustrated by François Chauveau, was something of a bestseller.

Over the years, the work of La Fontaine came to be represented in many different media — earthenware, porcelain, terracotta, silver, Liberty print, furniture, tapestry ...

The small reception room

This room is devoted to a less well-known aspect of La Fontaine's work, his licentious Tales. Visitors will discover engravings by Nicolas de Larmessin and delightful illustrations by Nicolas Vleughels. These images celebrate the innovative ideas of The Tales which were censored at the poet's time and which the poet himself was to repudiate.

Temporary exhibitions

In this space, the museum presents temporary exhibitions of work linked to La Fontaine by visual artists both contemporary and historical. The space is also used to present pieces from the museum's rich permanent collections such as Jean-Baptiste OUDRY's depictions of the fables.

The first floor

La Fontaine's Study

Occupied by the Historical and Archaeological Society of Chateau-Thierry until 2006,
La Fontaine's study is now open to visitors.
This is where he officiated as Master of the National Forestry Commission, and met with his constituents and friends.
Here too he had the leisure to dream and draft the Fables which were to make him famous.
In the poet's time, the study could be reached by a winding staircase in the tower knocked down by one of the house's later owners.

 

The Baron Feuillet de Conches Room / Projection Area

La Fontaine - Salle Feuillet de ConchesA film of the life of Jean de la Fontaine is projected in this room. Children's fables are also on view.

On the walls are to be found a part of the precious collection of miniatures which belonged to the Baron Feuillet de Conches. In the early 19th century, the baron had The Fables illustrated by artists from all over the world – from India, China, Egypt, Persia, Ethiopia as well as Europe.

 

The 19th Century Room

La Fontaine - Salle XIXème.Since their first publication, the fables have fired the imagination of artists and craftsmen, but it was undoubtedly the 19th century that was most fertile in creating work after La Fontaine. Doré, Decamps, Lhermitte, Rousseau - all the great names are present in this room.

In the 19th century, the educational value of the fables was foregrounded. They were valued as ways to teach reading, civics and ethics, rather than to savour the delicacy of their poetry.

The world of Jean de la Fontaine was becoming part of everyday life in France.

Artifacts and ornaments bear testimony to this presence - chief among them the wealth of porcelain decorated with the fables, a superb ceramic stove from Sarreguemines, a hand-held firescreen painted by Gustave Doré, and this elegant bronze pendulum representing a Milkmaid carrying a pail.

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