The mid 19th century was the zenith of guinguette culture. Taverns and music halls proliferated along the Seine much to the delight of the vineyards surrounding Paris.
Alphonse Fournaise, a boat builder by trade, saw his opportunity and established a boat building and rental business in 1857 on the Île des Impressionnistes at Chatou.
In 1860, Alphonse and his wife opened a hotel and restaurant, the Maison Fournaise. The newly accessible rail line ensured the success of the business.
In 1877, Alphonse built a large balcony and a terrace opening on to the Seine and immortalised by Renoir.
The Île des Impressionnistes and Maison Fournaise soon became the mecca for painters, writers, actors and intellectuals.
Maison Fournaise was the palette of choice for the major impressionist painters. Monet, Renoir and Pissarro lived close to each other and would often paint together. Alfred Sisley and Gustave Caillebotte were also active in the area during this time.
Maison Fournaise was Renoir’s favourite haunt between 1868 and 1884:
You could find me anytime at Fournaise’s. There, I was fortunate enough to find as many splendid creatures as I could possibly desire to paint.Pierre-Auguste Renoir
One of his paintings, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (1881), is recognised worldwide as the masterpiece of Impressionism.
Renoir produced many other famous works at Maison Fournaise including Canotiers, Déjeuner au Bord de la Rivière (1875), Monsieur Fournaise (1875) and Portrait d’Alphonsine Fournaise (1879), as well as landscapes of the surrounding area.
Guy de Maupassant had a great love of boating, and he frequently stayed at the Maison Fournaise between 1873 and 1890. He used Maison Fournaise as a setting in La femme de Paul and Mouche, calling it Le Grillon Restaurant. A poem that he wrote on the wall of the restaurant has been fully restored.
Edgar Degas, an avid rower and friend of Alphonsine, was also a frequent visitor to Maison Fournaise.
The Fauvists André Derain (born in Chatou) and Maurice de Vlaminck established their workshop in Maison Levanneur, next door to the restaurant.
Henri Matisse also found his way to La Maison Fournaise.
Maurice Realier-Dumas (1860-1928), a young local painter, painted The Four Seasons of Life on the restaurant’s exterior walls, which has been fully restored today.
At the end of the 19th century, the new craze for bicycling and the growing moral outrage towards the guinguette culture saw a decline in clientele of the restaurant, which brought about its closure in 1905.
The lavish era that flourished on the banks of the Seine in the second half of the 19th century is long gone. The river was dredged, swimming banned, bath houses and taverns closed, and la grenouillère reduced to an inferior replica on land.
Alphonsine lived until 1939, after which the building was used as a rooming house and later left derelict. The City of Chatou purchased it in 1977. In 1982, it was added to the Register of Historical Monuments. The restaurant reopened in 1990 with a replica of the famous Renoir balcony.
The Musée Fournaise, attached to the restaurant and housed in the original boathouse, has a collection of paintings and archives on the history of the house, the golden age of the Seine river banks and boaters. It offers alternating temporary exhibitions that showcase an artist or a particular topic such as the recent one, Children as seen by painters of the 19th Century.
Pays des Impressionnistes is a logo mark created in 2001 by nine municipalities bordering the loop of the Seine River. This organisation developed Le Chemin des Impressionnistes, four hiking trails dotted with reproductions of paintings, to reflect the character of the landscape that inspired the Impressionists. Two of these paths, Monet and Renoir start from Maison Fournaise.
Maison Fournaise – Île des Impressionnistes
3 Rue du Bac, Island of the Impressionists, 78400 Chatou
+33 1 30 71 41 91
Open every day: 12pm to 2pm and 7pm to 10pm