Louis Pasteur, Up Close

Visiting this museum is like being invited into the lives of the Pasteur family. A real of-the-time insight into his personal and social life. 

Although Louis Pasteur only spent the last seven years of his life here, this 19th century middle-class home has been kept exactly as it was during his lifetime and remains a testament to the life and work of this great scientist.


Pasteur's private quarters, which connect to his wife's bedroom, portray the private life of the great scientist, who was very attached to his family. It is here in particular that his talents as a young artist can be seen. The man who was to revolutionize biology, medicine, and surgery showed a real talent for drawing in his childhood.

Jeanne-Etienne Roqui, Louis Pasteur's mother (1836) by Louis PasteurInstitut Pasteur

Hidden artistic talent 

One day, Pasteur asked his mother if he could paint her portrait. He was 13. It was the first time he had used pastels.  He liked to sketch his entourage—his friends and well-known people of Arbois—and he produced quite a portrait collection of men and women during the first half of the 19th century.  His works show great observational skill and their strong lines make them very striking.

Famille Pasteur à Arbois (1892) by Henri Laurent (famille)Institut Pasteur


Although Pasteur worked tirelessly, he remained deeply attached to his roots and regularly returned to his native region of the Jura. Between Dole, where he was born in 1822, and Arbois, where his family settled, he regularly met up with his family and childhood friends. A loving husband and caring father, he was supportive throughout the family tragedies and he kept a close eye on his children's education.


In this somewhat austere room, time stands still. Everyday objects, such as family photographs and some unfinished crochet work, give us insight into the private life of a characterful woman. Despite living in the background, she played a vital role in her husband's life and career.

Portrait de Marie Pasteur (1884) by Petersen J. & SonInstitut Pasteur

Marie, Pasteur's first supporter   

Marie Laurent, born in 1826, was the daughter of the Rector of the University of Strasbourg, where Pasteur was appointed Professor of Physics and Chemistry. They married in 1849.  Marie was intelligent and had been raised in an intellectual environment. She quickly became passionate about her husband's research and began to help him. 

Portrait de Marie Pasteur (1884) by Petersen J. & SonInstitut Pasteur

Marie was "Louis Pasteur's best collaborator" 

... according to Emile Roux, Pasteur's faithful colleague and an eminent Pasteurian who would later direct the Pasteur Institute for 30 years. Cheerful and strong with a positive outlook, Marie was an invaluable support for Pasteur. She coped with the death of three of their five children with great courage. 

Portrait de Marie Pasteur (1884) by Petersen J. & SonInstitut Pasteur

Marie became the guardian figure of the Pasteur Institute

After her husband died, Marie became the figurehead of the Pasteur Institute. She made it her mission to ensure that her husband's work continued to shine and continued to promote their family line. She died in 1910 at the age of 84. . 

Trois des enfants de Louis Pasteur by Charles ReutlingerInstitut Pasteur

Family tragedies   

As the parents of five children, Louis and Marie Pasteur experienced a series of serious family tragedies, at a time when infant mortality was still common. Their eldest daughter, Jeanne, died of typhoid fever at the age of nine while at boarding school in Arbois. Then, in 1865, Camille died of a liver tumor at the age of two. The couple then decided to keep Marie-Louise and Cécile at home with them, but Cécile died on May 23, 1866 at the age of twelve and a half. Of Marie and Louis Pasteur's children, only Jean-Baptiste and Marie-Louise lived to adulthood. Jean-Baptiste did not have any children. Marie-Louise married René Vallery-Radot. They gave Marie and Louis three grandchildren: Camille, Marie-Madeleine (who died prematurely at one month old) and Louis. Neither of them had any children. 


This is one of very few 19th century bathrooms preserved in its original state. It is surprisingly modern (hot and cold running water, a heated towel rail). The room reveals Pasteur's rigorous concern for hygiene.


A visit to the small living room allows you to see how Pasteur spent time with friends, enjoying leisure time and reading. It is a close family-oriented space that brings to life the rare moments of free time that the scientist had. 

The Allegory of Chemistry and Marie-Louise Pasteur, daughter of Louis Pasteur by Gaspar GsellInstitut Pasteur


These stained glass windows, created by the Swiss glass painter Gaspard Gsell, are already present in the vaccination room at the École Normale Supérieure, rue d'Ulm, where Pasteur's previous home was located. They depict his daughter Marie-Louise on the right and an allegory of chemistry on the left. Pasteur's two lifebloods: family and work. Louis had them installed at the Pasteur Institute, in the small living room of his flat, above the games table.

A man affected by illness   

This seemingly unremarkable French staircase has a double banister and low steps. These were necessary to help Pasteur get from one floor to the next. On October 19, 1868, he had a stroke. He was just 46-years old. After that, his forearm was bent and contracted for the rest of his life and he experienced great difficulty moving around due to paralysis in his left side. 


A ceremonial room used to host distinguished guests, the large dining room is a testament to Pasteur's fame. Albert Edelfelt's painting of Pasteur examining a vial of rabies in a spinal cord depicts the scientist's revolutionary discovery that would lead to the development of the rabies vaccine.

Peinture représentant Lazzaro Spallanzani by Jules-Albert EdouardInstitut Pasteur

The illustrious forerunner   

Pasteur wanted to pay tribute to Lazzaro Spallanzani by making a space for him in his large dining room. This portrait of Spallanzani by Jules-Albert Edouard faces the portrait of Pasteur, symbolizing the eternal dialogue between men of science. At the time, the Abbot Spallanzani—an 18th century biologist—refuted the theory of spontaneous generation, according to which small living organisms can reproduce spontaneously. The remarkable experiments of the Italian biologist clearly inspired Pasteur, who proved in the following century that "spontaneous generation is an illusion."

Œuvre d’Albert Edelfelt (1886) by Albert EdelfeltInstitut Pasteur

A landmark discovery 

This is without a doubt the most famous of all the portraits of Pasteur. The work is by Albert Edelfelt, a painter of Finnish origin and a close friend of the Pasteur family. It depicts the scientist leaning over a vial containing the spinal cord of a rabbit infected with the rabies virus. Pasteur had always been fascinated by the mystery that was rabies, especially since the virus cannot be observed under an optical microscope. So, from 1881 to 1885, he conducted a series of experiments on rabbits and dogs, applying the fundamental principle of his previous discoveries: vaccination using attenuated pathogens. He then applied this vaccination protocol to Joseph Meister, a young boy who had just been severely bitten by a rabid dog. Between July 6 and 16, 1885, Joseph received several injections and he never developed rabies.


It is in this spacious room that the scientist's glory is truly apparent; his conquering of rabies and the many honors he received. Numerous tokens of admiration and gratitude sit side by side. All of them recall his hard work and reveal the extent to which Pasteur left his mark on both the people around him and the era in which he lived.

Vase de Gallé (1892) by Emile GalléInstitut Pasteur

The consecration     

This vase by Emile Gallé, a famous artist from Lorraine, was given to Pasteur by the teachers and students of the École Normale Supérieure on its jubilee in 1892. 

It depicts microorganisms through a transparent microscope—a testament to the scientist's discoveries. Victor Hugo's verse is apparent on the glass: "I meditate ... and always my instinct brings me back / To know the depth of human suffering." This is one of the most beautiful pieces in the museum.

Malachite vaseInstitut Pasteur

A Russian story 

Most of the objects in the main room represent expressions of gratitude and recognition for the scholar. When Pasteur officially announced the results of the rabies vaccine given to the young Joseph Meister, the excitement was so great that it quickly spread around the world. Fans from both France and abroad flocked to the entrance to Pasteur's office at the École Normale Supérieure (a leading higher education institution). The major newspapers of the time, such as the New York Herald, kept his discovery on their front pages for several weeks. Russian peasants who had been bitten by a rabid wolf left their town of Smolensk to get vaccinated in Paris.

Malachite vaseInstitut Pasteur

Malachite vase given by Prince Alexander of Oldenburg

Pasteur was not a doctor, so he did not administer the injections himself, but he supervised the vaccination process. As a gesture of thanks, Prince Alexander of Oldenburg gave him this superb malachite vase in 1892. Tsar Alexander III was a great admirer of Pasteur and he showed his gratitude by contributing financially to the creation of the Pasteur Institute (Institut Pasteur).


With its dual exposure and pleasant proportions, the small dining room exudes a welcoming atmosphere. This is where the family and loyal friends of Louis and Marie Pasteur used to eat together.

Fragment de papier-peintInstitut Pasteur

How generous donations have helped the Pasteur Institute   

The small dining room is one of the only rooms to have been altered. When the opportunity to restore it arose, it was a fragment of wallpaper found behind the fireplace mirror overmantel and a photograph dating from 1910—the date of Marie Pasteur's death—that enabled its original character to be recreated. This wonderful restoration began in 2008, all thanks to the generosity of one of its patrons. 

Since its creation, the Pasteur Institute has been financed through donations, which were largely made as a result of the great popularity of its founder.


Along with the laboratory, the work room was Pasteur's favorite room. If it wasn't for his work ethic and determined character, he would never have become the world-famous scientist that we know today. Some details also reveal a more sensitive, lesser-known side of Pasteur—that of a man who was deeply attached to his region and country. He nevertheless stated, however, that "science has no homeland."

Funérailles de Louis Pasteur (1895-10-05)Institut Pasteur


The great scientist died on September 28, 1895. A national funeral was held on October 5. The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was draped in black for the occasion, as was the Pasteur Institute, from where the funeral procession departed. The President of the Republic at the time, Félix Faure, attended the funeral. The number of people who came to bid farewell to Pasteur, "humanity's benefactor," was remarkable.

Crypte (1895/1896) by Charles-Louis Girault, Auguste Guilbert-Martin, Luc-Olivier MersonInstitut Pasteur


A burial chapel in a Parisian building with Louis XIII style facades may seem surprising. 
However, it is in this crypt that Pasteur was buried, at the request of his wife. Pasteur was going to be buried in the Pantheon, but Marie Pasteur wanted her husband to be laid to rest at the heart of the Institute. The chapel was inspired by the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy, and was built at the heart of the Pasteur Institute.

Bâtiment Emile RouxInstitut Pasteur


Today, the Pasteur Institute, a private foundation recognised as a public entity, is an internationally-renowned Biomedical Research Center. It sits at the heart of a thirty-two-institute network spanning five continents. In order to fulfill its mission of preventing and fighting disease both in France and all over the world, the Pasteur Institute focuses its efforts on four key areas: scientific and medical research, public health and health monitoring, teaching and economic development, and technology transfer. A multidisciplinary research center open to the world, the purpose of which is to train the researchers of tomorrow. This was Pasteur's vision for reducing disease and making advances in medical research.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps