We visited this fascinating museum last weekend. It is an elegant private residence rather than a museum in the usual sense. The mansion and its garden border Park Monceau in the 8th Arondissement. The residence belonged to Count Moise de Camondo who bequeathed it to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (now called Les Arts Decoratifs) on his death in 1935, prescribing very specific instructions for the name of the museum, after his beloved son, and the curation of its contents. The history of the family and their elegant residence, while fascinating, is tempered with sadness.
In a nutshell, Moise de Camondo belonged to a wealthy banking family. He had already purchased the land and residence in 1870 and in 1891 he made a strategic marriage to young Irene Cahen d’Anvers, herself from another wealthy family. They had two children, a son Nissim and a daughter Beatrice, but the marriage fell apart after 5 years and the couple divorced. Moise de Camondo brought up his two children, and continued his passion for collecting French 18th century decorative art. Tragically his son, Nissim, was killed in World War I action in 1916. His daughter and her husband initially lived in the mansion with her father until 1924 when they moved to their own home elsewhere in Paris with their two children.
This link will take you to an article that provides colourful background to understand better the life and times of the family.
Walking around this beautiful mansion, which is superbly maintained and exhibited, the sense of aloneness impressed upon me. The rooms are filled with the finest art works, furniture and decorative pieces, it is hard to imagine it as a home, and in some ways it wasn’t, it was an exhibition space. The audio guide explains that Moise only entertained perhaps three or four times a year; alone he preferred to dine in the dish room so that he could admire the view to the park, rather than rattling around in the large dining room. The house that had been designed for a scintillating social life with the best that money could buy, both in art and household design, did not live to its potential. The rooms are left as they were at the time of Count Moise’s death – as expressly instructed in his will – including several photos of his cherished son displayed poignantly on fine furniture.
Later still further tragedy hit the family. Beatrice, her husband and both children had remained in Paris during WWII and were arrested in 1942 and detained at Drancy internment camp before being deported to Auschwitz from which they never returned, ending the dynasty of this family.
My photos cannot do justice to the rich collection of decorative art amassed by the original collector, Count Moise de Camondo, and those who look after it today for our pleasure.