From my first visit to the Musée Jacquemart-André, I was captivated by this beautiful mansion and the story of its owners, Nélie Jacquemart and Edouard André. The museum’s audioguide recounts details from an article in the magazine L’Illustration of it’s inaugural ball in 1876 and it describes the scene as a ‘dazzling fairytale ball’ which was attended by ‘all the celebrities of fashion and elegance’ with ‘the walls of the reception rooms smothered under a balmy canopy of violets and lilies’ and ‘the double ballroom ablaze with one thousand candles’.
But who were this couple behind the mansion? Edouard André, born in 1833, was the heir to a huge banking fortune and it was he who commissioned the building of the mansion whilst still a batchelor so that he could house his growing art collection. Nélie Jacquemart, on the other hand, had almost ‘a rag to riches story’ having been born into a modest family but whose talent elevated her to become a successful society portraitist. The couple first met when Edouard commissioned Nélie to paint his portrait but it would be another 10 years before they would marry in 1881. Having no children, they spent the next 13 years of married life, until Edouard’s death, devoting their time and energy to their shared taste in art and to their growing collection. They spent six months of the year travelling extensively mainly in Europe and particularly in Italy searching out works of art to add to their collection. On Edouard’s death, Nélie continued to travel and add to the collection and on her death, the property and its collection were bequeath to the state. It opened as a museum in 1913.
The collection which includes works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Botticelli, Tiepolo, just to mention a few, is spread out over the mansion but the museum is worth a visit just to see the beautiful rooms themselves. On entering, the visitor is greeted by three magnificent formal reception rooms which were used to host balls and musical eveings.
These three rooms above, comprising the Picture Gallery, the Grand Salon and the Music room, could be transformed into one single space when the couple held their lavish parties and could hold upto 1000 guests. Beyond these rooms is the Winter Garden, a more refreshing space under a glass celing with a monumental staircase made of marble leading up to the Italian Museum, whose Italian collection is considered to be the finest in France after the Louvre. Here you will find works by many of the great Italian masters including the one below left, ‘The Virgin and Child’ by Perugino (1446-1523).
Back downstairs are the informal apartments consisting of a series of smaller more intimate rooms including the library, the smoking room and the study. These rooms were used by the couple for their personal and business affairs and today are still filled with the works of art amassed by the couple including the likes of the portrait of Countess Skavronskia by Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun (1775-1842), the favourite artist of Queen Marie-Antoinette (opposite right). Finally, there are the private apartments consisting of Néliés bedroom, Edouard’s bedroom and an antechamber between the two.
Finally, a trip to the museum wouldn’t be complete without a visit to it’s amazing café which used to be the dining room in the couple’s home. You can actually visit the café without visiting the museum and it will give you a flavour of what is on offer in this unique museum.
Just look up and admire the fresco by Tiepolo, 1696-1770, which the couple brought from Villa Contarini near Venice and had installed in their home.