Monday, April 11, 2011

House Museums

Along with all the Grand Museums in Paris -- Musée du Louvre, Grand Palais, Musée d'Orsay, et al -- we have been finding great pleasure in seeking out, and appreciating, several smaller museums located in what were at one time private houses (hôtels particuliers).

The Marmottan Museum, for example, out in the far end of the 16th arrondissement, right next to the Bois de Boulogne, was once a hunting lodge belonging to the Duc de Valmy. In around 1832, it was purchased by Jules Marmottan, where he housed his growing collection of Napoleonic era paintings, furniture and bronzes.

Today, it is home to the largest collection in the world of the works of Claude Monet,

including his glorious Impression, Soleil Levant ("Sunrise")

Over in the 8th arrondissement, close to the Parc Monceau, stands the beautiful Musée Nissim de Camondo. Patterned after le Petit Trianon at Versailles, this private home was built in the early 1900s for Comte Moise de Camondo, to set off his prestigious collection of 18th century French furniture and art objects.

Tragedy struck the family several times. Comte Moise's son, Nissim de Camondo, was killed during World War I. In honor of his son, the home and its collections were bequeathed to Les Arts Décoratifs, and opened as a museum in 1935. More tragedy followed, a few years later, when Moise's daughter and family were deported and died at Auschwitz.

When you visit the museum, you of course admire and enjoy the immaculate taste and beauty of the family's furnishings and art objects. At the same time, though, the cruel, poignant losses suffered by this family are overwhelmingly palpable, and made even harder to fathom as you leave the museum and find yourself in one of today's most tranquil, peaceful neighborhoods in Paris.

In a much more bustling part of the 8th arrondissement, set back just a few feet from the Boulevard Haussmann, the Jacquemart André Museum has a much happier story to tell.
Built by avid art collectors, Edouard André, and his wife, Nélie Jacquemart, in the new Baron Haussmannian era of the late 19th century, this magnificent home gives a glimpse into the world of wealthy Parisians.

With its light-filled atria, flanked by potted palms and full-size marble statuary...

... its breathtaking Tiepolo fresco up on one of the top landings...

...its exquisite displays of fine porcelain china...

...and its grand balconies that look down into stately rooms, you could be forgiven for thinking that all of this was more than worth the price of admission.

However, lucky us, as well as all this splendor, temporary exhibitions also grace the walls of many of the rooms.

 The current exhibition, Dans l'intimité des frères Caillebotte, Paintre et Photographe, takes us into the lives of the Caillebotte brothers, Gustav (the painter, on the left) and Martial (the photographer). I have long admired the paintings of Gustav, but had no idea he had a brother, let alone one who made his own mark as a photographer.

All the time that Gustav was chronicling the lives of the bourgeoisie in Paris in large paintings...

..his brother, Martial, was setting up his camera and doing his own chronicling of the life and times of Paris...

...including his own family and in-laws.

 At the end of the day, though, I found myself gravitating more to the paintings than to the photographs, perhaps merely because they are in beautiful color and a much larger format than the photographs.

 Gustav, an avid gardener, made many paintings of the gardens at Petit Gennevillers, the country home he owned with his brother. This particular one shows his mistress, Charlotte Berthier, tending his rose garden.

Both brothers developed a big passion for yachting in the late 1870s. One entire room in the exhibition is devoted to Gustav's paintings made at Argenteuil, a popular rural destination for Parisians wishing to escape the hurly-burly of the city. Here, on the banks of the Seine, they could relax, picnic and "watch the boats go by."

Paddling canoes on the River Yerres became another favorite pastime, whether by fellows in their lightweight summer clothing...

...or by this gentleman, who seems to have come straight from the office, not even bothering to take off his top hat!

Both brothers documented the so-called "march of progress", as modern amenities arrived in their lives. Gustav's Le Pont de l'Europe reminds us that the train tracks below this bridge carry passengers from the busy Gare St. Lazare to places like Argenteuil and beyond.

Obviously there have been many painters (and photographers) who have chronicled life in Paris, but something about the Caillebotte brothers struck me as being especially authentic. Perhaps because they grew up at a time when Paris was being transformed by Baron Haussmann's renovation works. Perhaps also because they were born into a family of privilege, able to pursue their interests at will, living the life of La Belle Époque to its fullest. With all of this in their background, no wonder we are taken along and drawn so completely into their world!

And because they lived for many years at 31 Boulevard Haussmann, how appropriate that this lovely show is on display just up the street in the former glorious "hôtel particulier", known today as the Musée Jacquemart André!

À bientôt!


  1. Thanks, Janet, for another stroll through the glories of Paris.
    Love Judy

  2. You have done it again. Thank you Janet for helping us to live vicariously through your eyes & camera. Wonderful!!!!