dimanche 5 avril 2009

A beautiful discovery

At any given time, there are a number of things going on in the city. You could easily spend all your time visiting all the exhibitions both temporary and permanent in the city’s numerous museums. That said, its very easy to miss the less known museums. One good example would be the Musee Nissim Camondo. I’d first heard of this museum from Y, who, on her numerous visits to Paris was always keen to discover the little known gems of our fair city. A bit of online checking proved sufficient to entice us into spending the afternoon in the area. Fortunately, the Museum is located within a close proximity to the lovely Parc Monceau.

The park was established by Philippe d’Orleans , the Duke of Chartres in 1769. He was greatly fond of all things English and the Parc Monceau reflects this. It is different from other Parisian parks with its curved walkways and the absence of a formal layout. The park became state property in 1860 and it is thanks to Baron Haussman that half of the park’s area was saved for us to enjoy today. The other half was sold to form residential buildings. On a lovely sunny day it is packed full of people jogging, or picnicking on the grounds or generally just sunning themselves. It was certainly a great way to reach our destination of the day which lies just behind the park.

The Camondos were a rich Jewish family who established one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire. During Napoleon III’s reign in the 18th century, Abraham-Behor and Nissim, sons of the Patriarch Salomon, arrived in Europe to set up a European branch of their operations. They decided on Paris and they settled on two mansions overlooking the Parc Monceau. The brothers were astute bankers but their real passion was the collection of art. Nissim bequeathed the house on 63, rue Monceau to his son Moise in 1910. Moise was himself an avid collector of 18th century art and furniture and who by this time had a substantial collection of is own wanted to properly house his collection. He had the house destroyed and built from ground up according to his specifications. It was designed to resemble the Petit Trianon and a number of the rooms were fitted with 18th century wood paneling.
It is a lovely and gracious building. On the first floor are lovely rooms with which guests were welcomed. And while the outside façade may be 18th century the inside reflected a much more modern outlook. Unlike the usual 18th century residences where rooms were set next to each other without access to each area, all of the reception rooms were designed for guests to move in and out of the rooms which by the way overlook the garden, separated only by hedges from the Parc Monceau. Each room is tastefully filled with lovely pantings, rich Aubusson tapestries and delicate furniture fit for royalty. The upper floor hosts the former bedrooms of Moise’s children. Their rooms are no less richly furnished and you could spend hours gazing upon the art arrayed on the wall, the Chinese and Japanese porcelain and the furniture which was tastefully assembled obviously by someone with much good taste. Easily my favorite part of the house was the impressive library, located exactly at the center of the house. As such it has an impressive garden view. The library’s shelves are dark wood polished to a gleam and the upholstered chairs provide a comfy looking spot for which to peruse the books. During his lifetime, Moise was less taken with literature , as with art, though this did not prevent him from being a member of several bibliophile societies.
Here's a shot of the library...
A study of the family’s genealogy shows that the family did not fare so well in the intervening years. Moise’s only son, Nissim, to whom he wanted to bequeath the house and its treasures, was killed during WWI and as he was Moise's sole heir ( I don't know why he didn't leave it to his daughter), the house and its treasures were bequeathed to the Union Central des Artes Decoratifs. His only condition—that the museum be named after his beloved Nissim. Later on, Moise's daughter Beatrice and her family perished in WWII.
The family may be long gone but I suppose something of their spirit remains in the house they so loved. Far from being a sad or dark house, it is full of light and in a way, joy. It remains inviting to guests (as it must have been when the family actually lived there) and wandering around its rooms you get a good idea of the vibrancy of the lives lived within its walls.
One of the reception rooms on the upper ground floor...

Le Salon Bleu which was Beatrice's bedroom, turned into a study after she moved with her husband to their new home...

Practical Details...

Musee Nissim Camondo

63,rue Monceau


Opening hours: Wed to Sat 10 am to 5:30 pm

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