frozen in time – the hotel particuliere of Nissim de Camondo, Paris 1935

If I talk about decorative arts as being jewelry for the home, then the Nissim de Camondo museum in Paris is the jewelry box to rival all house museums.  Located in one of Paris’s loveliest residential neighborhoods – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe – the house was built for Moise de Camondo (1860-1935), a banker, in 1914 as the showcase for his collection of 18th century French paintings and decorative art.  Modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles, this house museum is a window on the world of French high society between the wars.

Personally I prefer house museums for their feeling of intimacy and because they display art as it was meant to be displayed – not on white walls of boring unending corridors – but in rooms for their patrons, family and guests to enjoy. These are not the galleries of the Louvre or the MET and yet the works are often as beautiful and important.  There are also FAR less people which translates into a more pleasant experience.
Everything in the Hotel Camondo has been left as it was in 1935 when Moise died.  His son and heir, Nissim, a lieutenant in the French air force, was tragically lost in 1917 when his plane was shot down.  Without an heir, Moise made the generous gift of the house and contents to the people of France.
The main salons and entertaining spaces are filled with color and exceptional art.  Tapestries and paintings fill walls; carpets burst with vivid patterns and designs; the gilt ormolu mounts of furniture shine in the subtle afternoon sunlight.  So often in the more sterile setting of a formal museum, you view each piece individually and miss the riotous feel of having a true room setting.  It’s a chance to see how furniture was arranged for daily life, and how a family can live with great art in their midst – a lesson not to be missed on those starting out as collectors today!  And for anyone who loves decorative arts and furniture, this is a temple to good taste.  The porcelain room has over 300 pieces of Sèvres including an amazing service decorated with birds where each piece shows a different species of bird.  And the silver comes from the great Parisian service ordered by Catherine the Great of Russia and presented to her lover Count Orloff – oh the tales this dining table could tell!
With the success of Downton Abbey, visitors will also love the rare chance to look at the world inhabited by the staff downstairs at the Camondo’s home.  So often these unofficial rooms and spaces are now used as offices and storage and left off the house tour, but Camondo stated that the museum should be left as if it were a family house, so the integrity of these important “behind the scenes” spaces are left as if the last cup of tea has just been served. The kitchen is a real factory with a range that any chef would die for – the latest in 1920s kitchen gadgets!
TheNissim de Camondo museum is one of the very best house museums anywhere in the world, so it really is a MUST stop on your next trip to Paris. I hope to inspire you to find and share new ones with me. Happy travels!

richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits: house façade: Richard Rabel for TheModernSybarite.  All others, Les Arts Decoratifs, Paris