great house museums: the cognacq-jay in paris


Loyal readers know that I’m addicted to house museums, so today I introduce you to the Cognacq-Jay House Museum in Paris.  House museums are time capsules of wonderful paintings, furniture and decorative arts assembled by great collectors and presented in the luxurious surroundings of a traditional home.  People all over the world seeking the epitome of fashion and good taste have copied Parisian interior design for centuries, so it is interesting from an interior design perspective to see period rooms.



The Cognacq-Jay House Museum is the collection of Ernest Cognacq (1839-1928) and his wife Marie-Louise Jay (1838-1925).  Founders of one of Paris’s great department stores, La Samaritaine, the couple who came from very humble roots put the collection together in the space of 20 years starting in 1900.  Whereas other great collections such as the Nissim de Camondo and Jacquemart-Andre were assembled by their namesakes who were members of the cultural and social elite, the Cognacq-Jays collection was actually created with the guidance of good curators and knowledgeable specialists who helped the new couple to navigate the world of art. The Cognac-Jays always planned to share their collection with the public, and in fact, while they were alive, the collections were shown in galleries adjoining the department store.



Today the museum is situated in a hôtel particuliere dating to 1575 located in the chic Marais neighborhood in Paris. I particularly love this museum because the intimate rooms and spaces so beautifully showcase the exquisite furnishing and paintings of the ancien regime.  Well preserved and magnificent pastel portraits by Maurice-Quentin de la Tour of French aristocrats decked out in sumptuous attire and dripping in dazzling jewels look down upon rooms filled with outstanding furnishings and rich carpets and tapestries.  Textbook masterpieces by Jean-Honore Fragonard are also en situ (below). Vitrines hold treasures of French porcelain and display jeweled snuff boxes once given as royal gifts.  One can freely wander the museum as if a guest in the house.



While my own tastes do not lend to recreating the glories of Parisian interior design a la Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, I can certainly appreciate good design as seen in house museums like the Cognac-Jay.  When a client is insistent that we include her much loved Louis XV marquetry commode in her living room, I agree – under the premise that it be the star of the room – and it works beautifully.  A few great antique pieces can really shine amongst contemporary furnishings in a room.  But if anything, looking at superb old masters and pieces of furniture help sophisticate the eye – a great skill to develop regardless of your aesthetic.




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

image credits: Musée Cognac-Jay, Paris


Other house museums featured that could be of interest:

Nissim de Camondo, Paris

Jacquemart-Andre, Paris

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat

Villa Kerylos, Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Cerralbo Palace, Madrid

Mount Stuart, Scotland

Arundel Castle, Althorp and Eltham Palace