Thursday, November 17, 2005
According to my sons, both movie moguls in-waiting, it’s the story that matters. You can take a good tale and make a bad movie but never a good movie from a lousy tale. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that visitors rave about the Musee Jacquemart-Andre in Paris because, at its core, it’s a cracking love story.
Back in the late 19th century, the son of a hyper-rich, Bonapartist, Protestant banking dynasty, Edouard Andre, devoted to collecting all aspects of the fine arts, commissions a portrait from a young, Catholic, royalist painter, Nelie Jacquemart. Nine years after the picture was painted, Andre marries the artist and forms one of the greatest art collaborations in French history. The couple spend the rest of their days amassing a superlative collection, including works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Botticelli, Fragonard and David and die childless. The mansion and its contents are then bequeathed to the Institut de France and the legacy is secured.
To visit the mansion today, the excellent audio guide unfolds the Jacquemart-Andre story in room after sumptuous room, here a Tiepolo ceiling, there a Donatello statue, walls that could be opened up using hydraulic jacks to provide for parties for over 1,000, a Venetian smoking room for him, a studio converted into an Italian sculpture gallery for her. Their taste was so impeccable, their manners so good and their wealth so immense, that they refused to bid against the French state on important pieces even though their budget vastly exceeded that of the museums
The Institut de France has done a marvellous job presenting the house and contents. The garden is lovely and the original dining room has been converted into a restaurant and tea room with a spectacular Tiepolo ceiling. There are beautiful 18th century Belgian tapestries hanging on the wall and Louis XV consoles around the room. Lunch and afternoon tea are available and you shouldn’t miss this chance to dine under a Tiepolo ceiling.
As mentioned, the audio guide is interesting and there is a treasure hunt for children which my nieces recently took and judged to be big fun. These young ladies ( 8 and 11 years old) went so far as to say that “perhaps museums weren’t so boring after all”. I generally don’t like gift shops, but the one at Jacquemart-Andre is fine.
So there you have it, a Paris love story where an unlikely but blissfully compatible couple devote their life and vast fortune to the pursuit of beauty. Vincent Minnelli had a whiff of this story’s potential when he shot some of the scenes from Gigi in the Jacquemart-Andre mansion. Hollywood, listen up, hire my sons and make this movie.
158, boulevard Haussmann
Open every day from 10 to 6
The café is open from 11.45 to 5:30
Metro – Either Miromesnil or St Philippe du Roule
A five minute walk from the Champls-Elysees and the major department stores
Full rate Eur 8.50