Step into the world of the fabulously rich and famous of 19th-century Paris. Musée Jacquemart-Andre is located in an opulent Belle Epoque mansion that alone is worth the price of admission. Added to that is the museum's art collection, each piece carefully chosen, purchased, and archived by the ambitious art-loving couple, Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart.
Musée Jacquemart André is temporarily closed for renovation work until September 2024.
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Jacquemart & André's Winter Garden, photo Musée Jacquemart-Andre
In a love story that could only happen in Paris, a wealthy couple devotes themselves to traveling the globe and collecting rare and precious pieces of art. The museum named after them is set in the grand house where they lived, where they held parties, and where they did what they loved the most, collect art. The Musée Jacquemart-Andre in the 8th Arrondissement affords a rare glimpse into their fairytale existence.
Edouard André, born in 1833, was the only child and heir to one of the wealthiest banking families of France. By the time he was thirty, Edouard had started his art collection with works by Delacroix and artists of the Barbizon School. In fact, Napoleon III personally asked him to oversee the fine arts exhibit of the 1867 Exposition Universelle.
In 1869 Edouard started construction on a mammoth project, his personal mansion, seven years in the making. The mansion on the newly-constructed Boulevard Haussmann would cause a sensation. In 1872, he hired artist Nélie Jacquemart to paint his portrait. They fell in love, eventually married, and the traveled the globe, creating one of the greatest private art collections the world would ever know.
The Grand Salon, photo Musée Jacquemart-Andre
An afternoon wandering through the salons, the gardens, and the galleries whisks you away to a lost era. The Italian Museum in the mansion is in three galleries and concentrates on the couple's love of Italian Renaissance art. If you're after personal stories (which we adore) head to the Private Apartments to see Nélie's and Edouard's lavish bedrooms, done in Louis XV style.
Imagine a thousand guests arriving to the Grand Salon in the late 19th century, where Edouard and Nélie are hosting another lavish party. The Picture Gallery, the Grand Salon and the Music Room could be transformed into a single, large ballroom by removing the side walls using a complex hydraulic system.
The salon's semi-circular design evokes the 18th-century preference for curves, while the mixture of antiques and modern pieces created a new style — Eclecticism. The curved space doesn't lend itself to paintings but there is a stunning collection of 18th-century marble busts.
When the mansion first opened this was the room that dazzled the most. In 1876, L'Illustration wrote: "The marvel of this palace is indisputably the winter garden. Only a king would dare to surround himself with such sumptuousness".
Imported from Great Britain, the Winter Garden's exotic plant collection was artfully arranged under a glass roof. The green space gave guests a peaceful place to refresh during the long soirees. The marble entrance leads to the astonishing double helix staircase.
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Rialto Bridge, Venice by Canaletto, photo Musée Jacquemart-Andre
Follow the trail of masterpieces personally organized by Edouard and Nélie — still-lifes, landscapes and portraits by masters like Boucher, Chardin, Canaletto, and Nattier. The architectural miracle, the monumental staircase, is made of marble, stone, iron and bronze. And for the finishing touches, the couple installed two large Venetian frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, (1696 to 1770).
Overall, this is a small museum, but it's packed with masterpieces by Italian artists Botticelli, Bellini, Carpaccio, Mantegna; French artists Jean-Honore Fragonard, Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Francois Boucher, Jean-Marc Nattier; Dutch artists Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Frans Hals.
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Portrait of the Marquise d'Antin (detail), by Jean-Marc Nattier
As we mentioned, Edouard André hired society portraitist Nélie Jacquemart to paint his portrait. They fell in love and married in 1881. In their thirteen years of marriage, they would devote themselves to a shared passion of collecting art.
The couple travelled throug Italy, Greece and the Middle East visiting auction and antique houses and making large purchases. During their travels, frequent renovations were made to their Paris mansion to create more room for their growing collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and frescoes. Unfortunately, Edouard suddenly died at sixty, leaving his wife alone and distraught. Worst of all, her in-laws accused her of misappropriating her husband's fortune.
Nélie was born poor. Following his death, Edouard's cousins (he had no siblings) wanted to ensure she would die poor as well. They set about devious ways to steal the family fortune away from her. However, Edouard got the last laugh. Shortly before his death, he had an iron-clad legal will prepared, bequeathing his entire estate to his wife. A sensational trial followed pitting Edouard's cousins against Nélie. She won the case. Go, Nélie!
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Bust of Nélie Jacquemart, at the museum, photo by Mark Craft
After winning the court case, Nélie embarked on a world tour where she continued to add to the collection. She traveled to the Indies, China, and Japan. While in the Far East she received a telegram informing her of the sale of Chaalis Abbey, north of Paris. She cut her trip short to return to France to purchase it. The former abbey is now also part of Musée Jacquemart-André and it houses more of her collection. Chaalis had a special sentimental value since it's where she had spent her childhood.
Just before her death, Nélie took great care to classify and archive the entire collection. In her will, she emphasized her desire to open the collection to the public. After Nélie's death in 1912 the private mansion was bequeathed to the Institut de France. Always pragmatic, Nélie had thought of every detail, even the museum's opening hours.
One year later, in 1913, the Musée Jacquemart-André was inaugurated by the president of France, Raymond Poincaré. The museum was immediately successful and its first curator was appointed.
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