It’s one of those decadent Second Empire stories. In 1868, wealthy banking heir Edouard André, along with his wife Nélie Jacquemart, commissioned a stunning residence on the boulevard Haussmann and decked it out with gilt parlours, a lush indoor garden, sleeping quarters worthy of Versailles and a multi-level room dedicated to the enjoyment of music. The result was, of course, a truly luxurious living arrangement, but also the perfect backdrop for displaying the couple’s immense assortment of artworks. It was a museum in the making.
André and Jacquemart were both avid collectors with a good eye and money to throw about. The result is a well-rounded permanent collection comprising several Rococo works, quite a few important Dutch pieces, including some Rembrandts and Van Dycks, and a fabulous Italian section, notably a gigantic Tiepolo fresco above the main staircase. Jacquemart herself was in fact a talented painter; look out for the self-portrait in her boudoir on the ground floor:
Nélie Jacquemart, Autoportrait, 1880
The permanent collection is impressive, but each time I’ve visited the Musée Jacquemart-André, the temporary exhibition has been a highlight. In 2007 the museum was showing an excellent Fragonard collection, while this time round it was the Caillebotte brothers and their Parisian cityscapes (showing until July 11). A word of warning: the amount of visitors in the temporary exhibition alone exceeded a hundred when I arrived around 2pm; I’d recommend visiting early if you don’t feel like sharing the experience with a crowd.
Once you’ve made your way around the museum itself, head to the pretty tearoom, which looks out over a sweeping courtyard. As a starving student I could only afford a coffee, but it was enough to sit in the gorgeous surrounds, sip my espresso and ponder what it would be like to call a giant Parisian villa home. Thank goodness Nélie Jacquemart decided to share hers, so the rest of us can wander around it and dream.