Life in 19th century Montpellier: the Hotel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran

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L’hôtel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran, Montpellier, France

Right next door to the Fabre Museum is the Hôtel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran, a town house, which says it is dedicated to decorative arts.  That could mean anything, and in this case it means that they have 19th century rooms, and a basement area with ceramics and metalwork.

The house was built in 1873/4 by Count Charles Despous de Paul, and bequeathed to the city of Montpellier by his grand-daughter-in-law, Mrs Frédéric Sabatier d’Espeyran, in 1967.  It has been recently restored to show off a bourgeois Montpellier home, with many of the pieces belonging to the family.

When I visited, there was a big exhibition on Picasso at the Fabre, and some of it had spilled over to the Hôtel de Cabrières-Sabatier d’Espeyran.  I really don’t want to have to keep writing that, so I’m going to refer to the building at the Hôtel.  Anyway, for this reason, the ceramics and gold and silverware which is usually on show wasn’t – except for a few token pots.

Moving through to the house proper, there’s a very grand staircase which leads up to the period rooms.  The 1st floor is dedicated to recreating the interiors of the house as they were at the end of the 19th century, in the Count’s day.

The Red Salon is an impressive reception room covered in red brocade.  The paintings, which you can’t really see because they’re at the far end of the room, are 18th century works by Tiebout Regters and show the Dutch ancestors of the Countess Despous de Paul.

The Green salon is more delicate, and 18th century inspired, which is probably why I liked it the best.

The dining room comes next, and goes for a 17th century vibe.  The furniture is from that period, with a few 19th century contributions (like the painting by Ferdinand Roybet above the cabinet), while the wallpaper was painted, made by the Balin factory in Paris, and imitating the 17th century fashion for embossed and gilded leather wall-coverings.

Next we go to the second floor, which is all about 18th century furniture.  Apparently Mrs Frédéric Sabatier d’Espeyran’s wishes were that the furniture and objects d’art in her Parisian apartment should be displayed here.  A 2002 bequest from a local antique dealer, Jean-Pierre Rouayroux, added to the collection, and the museum is proud of the fact that it now has a collection which shows the evolution of French furniture.

Except I didn’t really get that, particularly since the rooms are done up in much the same way as downstairs, so you don’t get a sense of the priority of the furniture.  The Study is Neo-classical and again, I felt that it wasn’t quite right.  The only interesting point was the spiral staircase in the corner – leading nowhere, I should add.

So In Summary

I don’t know, I really didn’t feel this museum.  When I looked back at the pictures, I though it had photographed better than it had really looked.  For me, the whole experience was a little too superficial for the space – I mean it’s ok to be superficial if you have dozens of rooms, but when you have less than a dozen, it ends up by feeling a tad purposeless.  I can see what they are trying to do, and yes, they’ve done a beautiful job of renovation, but it still lacks soul – it’s a little like visiting a late 19th century show home, all shiny and attractive and uninspiring.  I think it’s a shame, because I was looking forward to visiting and was expecting more from what is, architecturally, a rather lovely building.

Further Information

If you are going to visit, I suggest you make sure you do so on the same day you visit the Fabre museum – your ticket covers you for both, and I can’t say it’s really worth its solo entry price.  The annoying thing is, it’s only open Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday – yes, only three days a week.  And even better, they’re only open from 2-5pm.
Also be aware that you have to go and get the ticket from the Fabre – you can’t buy it straight at the Hôtel, for some reason.

They have a very detailed website in English: www.museefabre-en.montpellier3m.fr

How To Get There

Being right next to the Fabre Museum, the Hôtel is easy to get to from there.  Both museums are also very centrally located in the old area of Montpellier, so you can walk to them from most points.  For local transport information, check out the local transport site (French only) – the link will take you to a map which shows the lines and bus stops: www.tam.cartographie.pro

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