Outstanding couple, unique museum: Meanderings through France ~ The Jacquemart-André
Nélie Jacquemart and Edouard André were probably not meant to meet since they came from different social class and in the late 19th century France their encounter was more than unlikely.He was born in a rich family from southern France belonging to the Protestant banking elite. The Andres were a great financial support of Emperor NaploéonIII.
As a young man he studied at Saint Cyr a prestigious military school but didn’t follow a
military career. He became a close councellor of the Emperor helping him to turn France into a modern and industrialized country. In those days Paris had to show the world how quickly France was changing. Baron Haussmann was the architect of this upheaval: hundreds of old houses were destroyed while brand new buildings took their place, new large streets were made, redrawing the city. Edouard André was eager to join this surge of transformation and he built a big mansion-house on the Boulevard Haussmann not far from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées.
Nélie Jacquemart’s parents were not wealthy. Her father was an election agent of the Baron de Vatry. But it gave her the opportunity to live in the house of her father’s employer and to become Mrs de Vatry’s protégée. Thus she had a good upbringing and was one of the very first women allowed to go to an art school. She was talented and soon became a successful portrait painter, making portraits of aristocrats and rich people. That’s how she met Edouard in 1872. It was not love at first sight, but their shared love for arts built a strong link between them and they finally got married in 1881, she was 40 years old, he was 48.
They both were fanatic art collectors and during their frequent travels abroad (to Italy, Egypt, Lebanon or Turkey…), they bought tremendous amounts of paintings, sculptures, frescoes, furniture, any kind of piece of art they could bring back to Paris. It soon became obvious to them that they wanted to turn their mansion-house into a museum while still living there.
If you go to visit this museum you will feel like one of the Andrés’ guests and see it as it was 130 years ago. You will first enter the State Apartments that were designed to impress the visitors by the number and the quality of the paintings from the 18th century: Boucher, Chardin, Canaletto… An ingenious mechanism allowed the walls dividing the Grand Salon from the Music Room to go down under the parquet floor creating a wide space where one thousand people from the Parisian high society could gather to attend big parties. Perched on an upper gallery overlooking the Music Room a chamber orchestra played waltzes or mazurkas…
Then you will see the “period-rooms”, each one dedicated to a specific décor: the Tapestry room, the Study where Edouard and Nelie used to work and have business meetings and where they gathered some of their favourite objects, the Boudoir and the Library that used to be Nélie’s bathroom and bedroom before she moved to a room closer to Edouard’s, where you can now see Flemish and Dutch paintings from the 17th century as well as Egyptian antiques. The last room of these informal apartments is the Smoking room decorated in oriental style as was the fashion at that time.
At the far end of the building you will go up the monumental staircase decorated by an impressive fresco by Tiepolo that the Andres bought in Italy. Bringing this huge fresco from Italy to Paris must have been a tremendous job!
Upstairs, 3 rooms are dedicated to their Italian collection, mostly from the Renaissance in Florence and Venice. Don’t miss to see their private apartments: their bedrooms and the antechamber where they used to share private moments are a vivid memory of their life.
Regularly the museum welcomes temporary exhibitions. The next one called “Perugino, master of Raphael” will perpetuate the André’s love for Italian art. It will take place from September 12th until January 19th.
If hungry go to the Café Jacquemart-André set in the former dining room. It’s one of the nicest tea-room in Paris and even if you didn’t get a ticket to visit the museum you can break for a snack after shopping on the Champs Elysées. They serve light meals for lunch and delicious pastries from two of the best pastry chefs in Paris
Edouard died in 1894. They had no children and he bequeathed all his possessions to “his dearest wife”. Nelie went on travelling. In 1902 she was in India when she was informed that the former Chaalis Abbey, her childhood’s house, the Vatrys’s house, was on sale. She hurried back to France to buy it. This is the beginning of a new story!
The Chaalis Abbey was a Cistercian monastery founded during the 12th century. During the 16th century the commendatory abbot was Hippolyte d’Este, the same man who built the famous Villa d’Este in Tivoli. He was an art lover and soon undertook important renovation work, particularly in the abbot’s chapel where Francesco Primaticcio painted magnificent frescoes. This was the golden age of the abbey but it went through difficult times during the revolution when it was sold as a national asset, its works of art being put up for auction and its church treated as a quarry.
In 1850 Mrs de Vatry who gave Nélie Jacquemart the chance to have an artistic upbringing, bought it and restored it. 50 years later, after buying it Nélie split her collections that never stopped growing, into two parts: the first one was to stay in her mansion-house in Paris while the second one came to Chaalis. She lived there until her death in 1912 and is buried in the chapel.
The Chaalis Abbey is only 25 miles northeast of Paris, located in the heart of a vast forest, the Forêt d’Ermenonville, making it a lovely destination on a sunny day. The abbey is surrounded by a beautiful park and the former monks’ cemetery has been turned into a rose garden that is fragrant with their aroma in June. Each year in June a “Journée de la Rose”, is a festival dedicated to these wonderful flowers.
Every year more than 20 000 visitors come to Chaalis on that special occasion. The park in front of the castle is brimming with flowers, each of the 120 exhibitors bringing his most beautiful flowers. No need to say that, if you have a garden, it will hard work to yield the temptation.
As in Paris the mansion-house where Nélie lived is more like a museum than an ordinary home. Each room shelters all kind of pieces of art. The ground floor gallery is as long as the Galerie des Glaces in Versailles and Nélie filled it with marble busts from Antiquity to the 18th century, from Greece to Italy…
Being childless the Andrés wished to bequeath their mansion-house-museum to the “Institut de France” so that their precious collections wouldn’t get scattered. So when Nélie died the mansion-house on the Boulevard Haussmann and the Chaalis Abbey were given to the Institut de France. One year later in 1913 the two properties were open to the public and thanks to the good management by the Institut we can still enjoy this unique heritage.
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny