An Immersion in Wallpapers, Art Nouveau and Hydroelectricity

France and museums are almost synonymous, but I was still pleasantly surprised to discover the network of museums in Isère. In my earlier stints in Grenoble, I had only visited the Musée de Grenoble, the museum of Beaux Arts, which has a very impressive collection, and the Musée de la Révolution in Vizille. 

This time though, I am discovering all the other museums in the region, and I find myself amazed by the quality of the museums, as well as the thought that goes into making the museums accessible to everyone. 

After a particularly exhausting week spent buried under paperwork, and planning launch strategies, we decided that we needed a culture break this weekend. A quick search showed us that Maison Bergès, which is part of the network of museums in the Isère region, is open on Sunday. Located in Lancey (Villard-Bonnot), a short train ride from Grenoble, Maison Bergès, also known as the Musée de la Houille Blanche, was the family home of Aristide Bergès, famous French hydraulic engineer and industrial papermaker.

Maison Bergès

A museum dedicated to the Houille Blanche, one of the reasons behind the development and prosperity of Grenoble, and also the name of the residence where I stayed in 2009 – how could I not want to visit it? Plus, the idea of visiting a house located near the ancient paper mill of the region was highly appealing, and brought back memories of a school project, for which we studied the science of paper-making and even visited a paper mill in Bombay, before creating marble papers as part of the project. 

The museum opens at 13:30, so after lunch, we headed to the Gare de Grenoble to get our tickets (a steal thanks to the Promo Vacances), and boarded the train with the excitement of kids out on an unexpected trip! Less than 30 minutes later, we found ourselves in Lancey, a quintessential one horse town, though this one had its page in the history books, thanks to Aristide Bergès. 

The museum is currently hosting a temporary exhibition of photographs taken between 1895 and 1927, showing the entire process from the installation of lumber camps to the transport of logs to the Grésivaudan valley. While educational in general, what I loved were the illustrations made for the museum’s younger audience. Couple this with the fact that this is a free museum, it makes for a perfect day-trip for families with children!

The house reflects the aesthetic trends of the late 19th century with many elements of Art Nouveau decorating its interiors – the wall papers and art work, the murals and even the balustrades!

You were never lonely while climbing the stairs at the Maison Bergès!
One of the wallpapers that caught my fancy.

My favourite section was dedicated to Maurice Bergès, the youngest son of the family, and Alfons Mucha, a Bohemian and Czech painter, illustrator, and graphic artist known for his theatrical posters, decorative panels and designs. 

Art material belonging to Maurice Bergès.
Art Nouveau by Alfons Mucha, and one of the gorgeous papers covering the walls of the house.

As a museum, Maison Bergès combines science, technology and the arts. Though drawn to the museum for its connection to the history of papermaking in France, I was really impressed by how well the curators have blended elements of the history of science and development of technologies in the 19th century, with the evolution of the factory, the members of the family, and the works of art once distributed in the house. 

Aristide Bergès 
The first factory worker’s union meeting in 1903 acknowledging the role Bergès played in the emancipation of workers.
The Grenoble tram tickets have come a long way since 1903!

Maison Bergès was an absolute delight, and just the intellectual and aesthetic stimulation we needed to tackle another week on the roller coaster ride of an entrepreneurial life. Visiter la maison familiale d’un génie innovateur, de quoi inspirer les startuppeurs !

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