Mystery donor rescues broke Montmartre museum

The Museum of Montmartre, a 17th-century house on the famous hill overlooking Paris, holds the former studios of impressionist painters Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Maurice Utrillo and has close connections with many other great French artists. There has been a huge sigh of relief in cultural circles, therefore, at the news that an anonymous donor has saved it from almost certain closure.

The City of Paris leases the building on Rue Cortot to the venerable Society of History and Archaeology of Montmartre – which has been unable to find the rent since 2008. In October, the City of Paris threatened to stop its annual grant of €124,000 (£112,000), which was the only thing keeping the museum's doors open.

But the museum receives around 50,000 visitors a year, and almost 10,000 Montmartre residents signed a petition to save it, joined by dozens of high-profile figures in the arts.

At the end of November, the museum held a well-publicised open day in a last-ditch attempt to stave off disaster. More than 1,500 people filed through its vineyard and gardens – where Renoir once set up his easel to paint The Garden in the Rue Cortot – and the rooms used by other painters including Utrillo, Suzanne Valadon, Raoul Dufy, the composer Erik Satie and the writer Leon Bloy. It was at around the same time that a mysterious saviour emerged.

Daniel Rolland, the museum's administrator, said: "There are very strong positive signs over the future of the museum, though I cannot say it is saved until everything is signed. But a private manager has offered to assume the financial risk of the museum."

He said the donor was a person "well known" in cultural circles, but his or her identity would not be revealed "until everything is signed".