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Historique

An earlier museum was opened at Les Délices shortly after 1945. Thanks to collections acquired by the City of Geneva after that date, however, the Institut et Musée Voltaire (now the Musée Voltaire) was founded in 1952 and officially inaugurated on 2 October 1954.

"Vue des Délices de M. de Voltaire, près de Genève", estampe, 1769, IMC IC 222

It was in 1755 that Voltaire settled in Geneva. Several reasons prompted the philosopher’s decision. First, he could not return to Paris; secondly, he had caught wind of the fabrique (factory) of the Cramer brothers, “booksellers” in Geneva; and finally, above all, the famous physician Théodore Tronchin lived in Geneva. It was thanks to the Tronchin family, moreover, that Voltaire was able to purchase the Saint-Jean property, which he immediately renamed his “delights” (Les Délices). He was to live there for five years and write the ending for the Orphan of China, as well as the Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, and Candide.

In October 1760, Voltaire settled in the château in Ferney he had acquired two years earlier. Resold in 1765, Les Délices would remain in the hands of the Tronchin family until 1840. In 1929, the mansion was bought up by the city.

After World War II the billionaire Theodore Besterman, a keen enthusiast of all things Voltaire, donated his collection of paintings, printed works, and manuscripts to the city. He was appointed the first keeper of what became on 2 October 1954 the Institut et Musée Voltaire.

An extensive restoration of the premises was undertaken in 1989. Three areas were cleared for the public, i.e., the library, which is open to Voltaire readers and researchers, and anyone curious to learn more about the famous man of letters; the ground floor, which displays the museum’s permanent collection; and finally the first floor, which is reserved for temporary exhibitions and research activities of the Bibliothèque de Genève that focus on the 18th century.

Getting down to details…

After spending two years in Potsdam, Voltaire saw himself forced to leave Prussia. There was no question of returning to Paris. His writings had indeed ruffled too many feathers at the court of Versailles, and his close ties with Frederick II rendered him suspect in the eyes of Louis XV. He decided to betake himself to Geneva.

Through the intervention of the Tronchin family, one of the most influential in Geneva, Voltaire acquired the Saint-Jean property in February 1755 and renamed it Les Délices.

The philosophe moved in on 19 March 1755; he was to remain there for five years, during which he would pen a number of his most famous texts, including Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, and Candide. At the time Les Délices consisted of not only the mansion but also an outbuilding called the Clos Voltaire, where he put up his servants. Arriving in his new residence, the man of letters felt true happiness:

Je ne me vante point d'avoir en cet asile
Rencontré le parfait bonheur :
Il n'est point retiré dans le fond d'un bocage ;
Il est encor moins chez les rois ;
Il n'est pas même chez le sage :
De cette courte vie il n'est point le partage.
Il y faut renoncer; mais on peut quelquefois
Embrasser au moins son image…

(I do not pride myself on having in this refuge
Met with perfect happiness:
It doesn’t lie remote, deep in a grove;
It is even less among kings;
It is not even with the sage:
Of this brief existence, it is certainly not the share.
One must give it over; yet sometimes one can
Embrace its image at least.)

Thanks to the restoration that was completed in 1994 for the tricentennial of Voltaire’s birth, the museum’s particular setting now gives the feeling of entering the philosopher’s very own private world.

In October 1760, Voltaire left Les Délices. He was to hold on to the property, however, for five more years, eventually selling it to the Tronchin family in 1765. In 1840, the estate was broken up among a number of different buyers. There followed several owners in succession. The villa even became a hospital for soldiers from General Bourbaki’s army in 1871. In the early 20th century, the authorities decided to have done with Les Délices… The stately home was saved at the last minute thanks to the inhabitants of the neighborhood, who came together to preserve the building. They filed an appeal the outcome of which was that the city bought the property in 1929.

Theodore Besterman’s arrival in Geneva in 1952 proved decisive for the future of Les Délices. This Polish-born British citizen offered the city his collection in exchange for the opening of the Institut et Musée Voltaire. Besterman was named the institution’s first keeper.

Rue des Délices 25
1203 Genève

T: +41 22 418 95 60
F: +41 22 418 95 61
institut.voltaire(at)ville-ge[dot]ch

Library and Museum

Monday to Friday: 2pm to 5pm
Open the first Saturday of every month from 2 pm to 5 pm
The library is open to the public weekday mornings, by appointment.

Musée Voltaire
institut.voltaire(at)ville-ge.ch

T: +41 22 418 95 60

Library and Museum

Monday to Friday: 2pm to 5pm
Open the first Saturday of every month from 2 pm to 5 pm
The library is open to the public weekday mornings, by appointment.