I’m due for a revisit of the Jacquemart-Andre Museum in Paris – one of the city’s great house museums. There is always too much to do on my visits to the world’s capital of all things chic, but for a dose of spectacular Parisian interior design or superb art appreciation, you have to include at least one of these treasures on your itinerary.
The great French collector Edouard Andre (1833-1894) always intended that his grandiose hôtel particuliere would become a house museum after his death. Heir to an immense fortune in finance, he had everything at his disposal to build a palace for himself and his wife Nelie Jacquemart (1841-1912). Nelie was herself a well-respected artist who had actually painted a portrait of Edouard ten years before they eventually married. As a dutiful husband, Edouard gave her free reign to decorate as she wished: the result is classic French interiors dosed with gems of the Italian Renaissance tempered by Victorian England’s practicality.
It is alleged that the couple’s annual budget for acquisitions of art and antiques was over twice that of the French National Museums. Ever respectful of the plight of curators adding to the national collections, letters from Andre to his secretary ask him not to bid too aggressively at auction for pieces that might be of interest to the state. Today the Jacquemart-Andre’s collection of Italian painting is second in importance only to the Louvre’s in all France.
The house museum collection as it stands today is a mix of paintings from various schools and periods. Outstanding paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Fragonard rub shoulders with contemporary works by Delacroix and Barbizon landscapes. So often we forget that all artists had to fight to have their voice heard before becoming the legends they are today. The paintings along with priceless examples of French 18th Century furniture make this a temple to classic Parisian interior design. But what I am most drawn to is the wide range of color used throughout the house and its not 18th century pastels!
My clients often seem terrified by any color other than beige – and I tell them beige is fine, but only if you are renting your home and can’t do anything else! Deep rich colors can completely transform an otherwise blasé space by beautifully showing off your art and furnishings. As shown in the first image, the Jacquemart-Andre house museum has a small gallery with walls hung in slate colored silk that I would die to use in a Manhattan apartment. With woodwork and frames trimmed in white, the contrast is stark and powerful. And this deep and rich space leads into a room whose walls are hung in blood crimson. How fearless is that!
As I assume most of us do not live in vast house museums, I would encourage you to start small with your experiments of adding color to your home. A powder room can become an exquisite bijoux when painted in an unexpectedly dark and vibrant color. And regardless of what people say, dark colors do not make small rooms look any smaller. I had a client’s whose yellow living room absolutely swallowed all the natural light she was fortunate enough to have streaming into her wall of windows. I went with a luxurious greenish-gray and she couldn’t believe how the room came to life with all the light that bounced off the walls. Choose carefully and you can refresh and invigorate your rooms!
Visiting great house museums like the Jacquemart-Andre is highly recommended for a pleasurable escape from our busy modern lives. The balance of fine and decorative art mixed with the exquisite furnishings shown against the colored walls in these houses makes for a totally enveloping experience impossible to get in the big name museums with their hordes of camera-touting tourists.
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
image credits: Cultureespaces / Jacquemart-Andre Museum, Paris
Other house museums featured by Richard that could be of interest:
Villa Kerylos, Beaulieu-sur-Mer
Arundel Castle, Althorp and Eltham Palace
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