The first Claude Bernard Museum was established in 1947 in the maison natale - the cottage of Bernard's birth in St Julien en Beaujolais, a few kilometres northwest of Villefranche-sur-Saone. Until then it had been occupied by members of the family Devay, third generation descendants of Bernard's sister, Caroline-Antoinette Cantin. Some of the original Bernard furnishings were left in place, and in 1957 the cottage museum was acquired by the Marcel-Mérieux Foundation.
In 1961, the Foundation also acquired the adjacent manor house which Bernard had bought exactly 100 years earlier from the lawyer, Chevalier Lombard de Quincieux. It was here that the definitive Museum was established in 1965. The cottage was also partially renovated, without losing its character. Photographs of many of Bernard's associates were hung on its walls, so that the cottage remained an important annex of the main museum building. One room on its ground floor was retained as an office for the museum's part-time curators - Mme Jacqueline Sonolet, and later Mme Annick Opinel. In January 2004, the foundation relinquished its responsibility for the complex: the two buildings and the garden of the cottage were acquired by the collective Communes of Beaujolais-Vauxonne. The museum's management is now the responsibility of l'Association des Amis du Musée Claude-Bernard.
Arriving at the main gates, one approaches the museum alongside vines which once belonged to Lombard, and later became the property of Bernard. He eventually owned some six hectares of vines, and with the assistance of his vignerons supervised all elements of their routine maintenance; but most particularly the harvest, for which he would return from Paris each year (his habit ever since commencing his medical studies in Paris). Initially his trips were tedious affairs, travelling the 450 kilometres by horse-drawn coach; but so much easier as from 1854, when the new PLM railway through Lyon to Marseilles was completed.
With his profound interest in the parallel sciences of plant and animal biology, Bernard tackled the various infestations of his vines - the oidium and phylloxera - with the same enthusiasm as he applied to the elusive problems of medical science. Wine presses and bottling facilities were in a wing attached to the main house: Bernard admitted that he was even more passionate about his vineyards and his wine than he was about medical science! Documents on show in the museum testify also to his interest in the business aspects of his wine.
The entrance was originally sited at the courtyard aspect at the rear of the house, but it was later transferred to a pair of patio doors at the front of the house. The museum consists of four main rooms on each of two floors, while an attic space was for many years used for special exhibitions and for medical seminars, usually arranged by the Mérieux foundation. Some of the furniture to be found throughout the museum is that which belonged to Bernard, and there are many smaller personal items exhibited in showcases, including his experimental equipment, some of which was custom-built to his design.
There is an impressive painting of Bernard in his ceremonial robes, and many photographs of his colleagues and associates: Chevreul (for many years Director of the Natural History Museum in Paris, where Claude had laboratories); Davaine (his friend, physician and colleague who discovered the causative agent of Anthrax); Berthelot (chemist, friend and associate, who shared Bernard's views on fermentation); Chauveau (researcher and director of the veterinary college in Lyon); Marey (who developed graphical methods of documenting biological functions); von Cyon (Russian physiologist, with whom Bernard had constant correspondence); Vulpian (a disciple of Bernard) and Dastre (one of his last préparateurs, who continued Bernard's studies on the vasomotor system, anaesthetics and the colouring matter of body fluids).
On the stairs to the first floor is a reproduction of Lhermitte's impressive and now historic painting. In this 'Lesson by Claude Bernard', the master is dissecting, watched by a bevy of onlookers, including Paul Bert, Albert Dastre, Nestor Gréhant and his trusty garçon de laboratoire, 'Père' Le Sage. The first floor continues various themes, reflecting his work on glycogen - the source of body sugar, the effect of sugar solutions on flowers and Bernard's studies on curare and other poisons. His bedroom is particularly well preserved, and offers wonderful views to the gardens, vineyards, and occasionally even Mont Blanc.
Circling the main house, one picks up the musty smell of wine issuing from barred cellar windows, and arrives at the maison natale. A plaque on its front wall dates from 1935, proclaiming it as Claude Bernard's birthplace on July 12th, 1813. Separating the cottage from the main house is a small quadrangle dominated by a large chestnut tree where the young Claude used to play, while on the other side of the cottage there is a garden where in later life he grew periwinkles, paeonies and roses, and where mulberry trees once nurtured silkworms - a temporary pursuit of Bernard's father. The interior of the cottage, on two floors is unexceptional, although there are interesting photographs, and Bernard's (almost) intact bedroom of his childhood.
The Museum, at Chatenay, St Julien en Beaujolais, France - 69640) has been rebuilt, and is in the process of refurbishment. It is currently closed, and news of the re-opening will be made public on these pages in due course.