Rue de Varenne

Arrondissement 7

Numbers 12, 24, 56, 57, 77

This street is best known for No. 57, the Matignon Palace. The hôtel Matignon has been the official home of French prime ministers since 1922. In 1914, then the Austrian Embassy, it had been sequestered by the government who then bought it and what was Paris’ largest private garden in 1922.

The left’s prime ministers are few in numbers: only Léon Blum, Pierre Mendès France, Michel Rocard reported on in Left in Paris spent a few years there.

Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet rented a flat at No. 56, the Hôtel Gouffier de Thoix, from 1960 until Aragon’s death in 1982. The town house was built for the sister of the mistress of England’s Charles II between 1719 and 1727. Nationalised as the goods of foreigners during the French revolution, and then rented out, today it is used by the prime minister’s office.

From 1960 Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet used their flat in the Hôtel Gouffier de Thoix at No. 56 as their Paris base, while spending much of their time at the old Villeneuve watermill that Aragon bought for Elsa in 1953 in the ancient Rambouillet forest to the West of Paris.

Under the Occupation, the German Military Court was based at No. 12.

The painter Eugène Delacroix lived at No. 24 in 1820.

Nearly a kilometer long this street is filled with huge 18th century private houses that have become government buildings, embassies and the house at No. 77, now a museum, where Rodin lived, in the hôtel Biron. This was built for a former wig-maker who became a housing speculator in 1727-1728, and was sold to the hero of the 1745 battle of Fontenoy, the General Biron in 1753. His nephew ended up on the guillotine in 1793.

Under the restoration the building was given to the catholic girls school, the Ladies of the Sacré-Cœur, and then taken back by the state in 1905. By then it was nearly falling down and scheduled for demolition.

77 rue de Varenne around 1900,. It was then a convent school. This was shortly before it was returned to the French state after the 1905 legal separation of the Church from Government.

Several artists then moved in temporarily, including Matisse and Jean Cocteau, as well as Isadora Duncan’s Dance School.

In 1908 Auguste Rodin moved in. In 1916, the year before his death, he promised to give his entire works to the state if it transformed the building into the Musée Rodin, and this was then voted on by the National Assembly and by the Senate. Rodin died in 1917.

Most probably the street’s Varenne name comes from a corruption of the French word garenne meaning a hunting reserve, suggested also by the nearby Rue de Bellechasse (the ‘great hunting’ street. In the 16th century the area was part of the forest attached to the Louvre Palace. it was originally cut through in the early 17th century, got its name in 1651 and was extended to its present length in 1850.

PLACES