Often Overlooked Musée Jacquemart-André
The Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Jus-des-Pommes, and the Musée de l’Orangerie are among the best known and most visited art museums in Paris, which means they are among the top art museums on planet earth. These and many other Parisian art museums are more than worth a visit. But there are at least a few world-class art museums in Paris that many visitors overlook, and the Musee Jacquemart is one of them.
Located a few blocks north of the Champs Elysees in the 8th arrondissement, it’s easy to get to. And although the museum is home to a beautiful collection of varied works from such masters as Delacroix, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, and Van Dyck, it often displays guest exhibits. Between March 3 and July 10, 2017, the Museum is hosting a collection owned by Alicia Koplowitz that includes works by Tiepolo, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many other brilliant artists.
The museum’s history alone makes it worth a visit. Edouard Andre owned the original property. Edouard was born in 1833. He was the only son of Ernest André and Louise Cottlier, a wealthy and influential Parisian couple. Since both his mother and father had fortunes of their own, Edouard’s only-child inheritance was enormous.
Edouard inherited more than money and land. His taste for fine art was among the intangibles that his family bequeathed him. After trying his hand in politics and later in the military, Edouard became disillusioned with the gamesmanship and intransigence of the political class.
Still single at the age of 35, the very eligible Parisian bachelor set about building the mansion that is now the museum on Haussmann Boulevard. It was a project that would take around eight years, but the finished product was indeed impressive, even in a neighborhood of impressive buildings. His new residence gave Edouard ample room to store and display his growing collection of “knickknacks” that soon began to include works of such stalwarts as Delacroix.
Supported by his family’s fortunes, Edouard had few impediments to his ambitious plans to expand his collections. While the mansion was still under construction, Edouard commissioned a portrait of himself in 1872. The painter he selected was Nélie Jacquemart, who by this time was 31 years old, and still quite unattached.
Nélie’s social status was far beneath that of Edouard. Her family was poor and on the opposite end of the Andre family’s political and social spectrum. Nélie nonetheless had the good fortune to have become the protege of Madame de Vatry, a wealthy member of the Parisian aristocracy which by this time had recovered from the Revolution. Madame de Vatry sponsored Nélie’s tutelage at a popular school of arts, where Nélie became an accomplished portraitist.
Her skill at capturing nobility on canvas vaulted Nélie into social circles which would otherwise exclude her. Although she was plain-featured, she was witty, well-traveled, and a good conversationalist. The details of their courtship are sketchy, but we do know that Edouard married Nélie in 1881. On paper, it was an unlikely union. In practice, it was by all accounts “happily ever after” matrimonial bliss.
The couple’s shared interests buoyed their relationship. Edouard’s financial resources financed their extensive travels, while their enthusiasm for fine arts and Nélie’s education guided their penchant for collecting works by some of the world’s most famous painters and sculptors.
Through Nélie’s connections in the world of portrait painters, she had received an invitation to Villa Medici in Italy in the early 1860’s. This visit seems to have sparked Nélie’s passion for paintings of the Italian Renaissance. She and Edouard traveled extensively throughout Italy, taking those opportunities to visit art auction houses and shops of antiquity where they continued to add to their collection.
The couple was also drawn to the Middle East, making several trips to Cairo, Beirut, Constantinople, Aswan, and Athens. Their eclectic travel tastes are reflected to this day in their collection and the decor of Edouard’s magnificent mansion on Haussmann Boulevard.
The André’s travels were inspired in part by Edouard’s failing health, which he attributed in part to the climate of Paris. Alas, in 1894, Edouard succumbed to an unknown malady, and Nélie, who was childless, was left a widow and Edouard’s only heir. A court battle with Edouard’s cousins ensued in which the cousins unsuccessfully attempted to wrest control of Edouard’s wealth from Nélie. After she prevailed, she resumed her travels and stepped up the pace of her art collection.
Nélie’s taste for travel and adventure did not altogether dissipate after Edouard’s demise. She made her way to the Indies, where she befriended some maharajas and was about to embark from there to China and Japan when word of the sale of Madame de Vatry’s Chaalis Abbey reached her. She returned to Paris in time to purchase the abbey. Her devotion to the collection did not waver, and when she died in 1912, she left the mansion and its contents to Institut de France which retains ownership.
The Musée Jacquemart-André Today
The museum continues to be a leading light on the Parisian art scene. Although it is more intimate than many of the other Paris museums, a visit to 158 Boulevard Haussmann is not exhausting or overwhelming. It’s part time travel and part spiritual journey through a dense forest of artistic treasures that have been lovingly selected and expertly preserved.
Wandering through the grand halls and rooms with an audio guide that patiently explains the history and context of the mansion and it’s treasures is a great way to spend a couple of precious hours in Paris.
Because the museum and the Institut are committed to maintaining the quality of the exhibits and the artistic passions of Edouard and Nélie, they routinely schedule exhibits like the current Koplowitz exhibit. In 2016, the museum exhibited around 40 works by Rembrandt. The event included daily showings of films explaining Rembrandt’s inimitable style.
If you’ve not visited the home of Edouard and Nélie Andre, you’re in for a treat. Don’t miss it the next time you’re in Paris.
How and When to Go
The museum is open every day, including public holidays, from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. During exhibitions, the museum is open on Monday evenings until 8:30 pm.
Located at 158 Boulevard Haussmann, it is a short walk from the Champs Elysees. It’s accessible by every mode of public transport, including the Metro, RER, buses, and has a nearby Vel Lib (bicycle rental) station. For more information, visit the museum’s website here.