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Historique

The residence that Voltaire purchased from the Mallet du Pan family in 1755 now houses the estate’s permanent collection, located on the building’s ground and first floors. There you will discover numerous paintings and prints representing Voltaire or his close friends and family, along with documents that will enable you to share a little in the great man’s private life at the time. So picture yourself at Les Délices…

Une vue de la galerie du musée

If you look first through the window facing the courtyard, you will see, behind the trees, the Clos Voltaire, the 18th-century house that was part of the estate acquired by Voltaire and where his servants were quartered. Purchased by the City of Geneva in 2002, the house provides lodging for students today.

As you make your way through the gallery, admire the three overdoor trophies,the first bearing the attributes of astrology, geography, geometry, and painting; the second, drama and literature; and finally the third, music. The three are found over the doors leading respectively to the main entrance, the library, and the grand salon. It is thought that they once decorated Voltaire’s own theater, in either Les Délices or Ferney. At the far end, towards the door leading to the grand salon, two plaster busts of Voltaire and Rousseau remind us that, although the two men were indeed different, they nonetheless had a number of points in common.

We are now entering the Grand Salon. To the rear you see the famous portrait of Voltaire by Nicolas de Largillierre. Voltaire himself had given the painting to Palissot. Another important piece is the portrait d’Émilie du Châtelet attributed to Jean-Marc Nattier. Beneath these two portraits, the inlaid Louis XV chests of drawers with metal fittings for the drawers, handles and locks come from the château of Ferney and indeed figured among Voltaire’s furniture. Today the grand salon lends its exceptional setting to prestigious events throughout the year.

The two paintings covering the wall near the entrance to the Petit Salon, are part of a collection of six pictures from the 18th century. The painter remains unknown unfortunately.

Behind the ground floor room, the study was put to various uses over the years. For a long time it served as the caretaker’s quarters, then was home to a dummy depicting Voltaire and dressed in the great man’s clothes. Nowadays it displays several portraits of illustrious 18th-century men as well as a famous picture by Jean Huber, Voltaire and the peasants.

On the first floor, you will see the famous terracotta statue of Voltaire by Houdon. In February 1778, the 84-year-old Voltaire decided to return to Paris. Although he was still barred from entering the capital, he reasoned that his advanced age placed him beyond his persecutors’ reach. He was not mistaken. Not only could he freely settle in Paris, but he was afforded a triumphant welcome at the Comédie-Française on 30 March, for the sixth performance of Irene, his final tragedy. The sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon was in the theater at the time and made a few sketches of Voltaire from which he was to produce eight statues after the philosopher’s death on 30 May 1778. Our statue, the eighth and final one, has three particularities that make it unique, namely, if you move around slightly to the side, you will notice first that beneath the seated figure the sculptor created a motif of books and draperies which does not figure in any of the other statues in the series. Secondly, our “Seated Voltaire” was commissioned and purchased by Beaumarchais to decorate the house he had just bought on rue Saint-Antoine in Paris. And finally, it served as the model for the Genevan sculptor James Pradier at the turn of the 19th century when he produced the bronze “Seated Rousseau” located on the Île Rousseau on the Rhone in Geneva. It is amusing to think that one of the most famous and most conspicuous statues of Rousseau was designed from a statue depicting… Voltaire, who was certainly less than fond of his fellow scribbler from Geneva.

Discover the museum:

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.