Friday, January 18, 2008

Going from one extreme to another

Earlier this week I had my winter escapism thru the lively, urban street market of Barbes. Today I took refuge from the dark and drab winter in the sumptuous bourgeoisie of the Musée Nissim de Camondo, in the 8th arrondissement, just next to the Parc Monceau. I discovered this museum while searching on the website of the Musée des Arts Decoratif (, for the colorful exhibition of Christian Lacroix (highly recommend as well).

The Musée Nissim de Camondo was the private residence of Moïses de Camondo until his death in 1935, when he bequeathed the estate and all of its furnishings to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs of France. In sum: The Camondos where an important Sephardic Jewish family who founded one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire. Nissim (father of Moïses), came to Paris during the reign of Napoleon III and settled in the mansion overlooking Parc Monceau. Moïses inherited the estate in 1910 and dedicated himself to building up a vast collection of 18th century furniture and art—mainly French, but also some Asian objects, which lushly decorate this incredibly beautiful museum. I forgot my camera today, unfortunately, because there are some amazing things to feast your eyes on. Definitely get the audio guide…I am typically not a fan of these and rarely use them, but today I felt like having information read to me instead of reading and it was a fortuitous choice. From the kitchen, which boasts what is clearly the precursor to the massive Viking ovens/stove tops in kitchens today, to the bedroom with the precocious Venus painting above the bed, to the shelves of delicate Sèvres porcelain, this tour was pure escapism—but it didn’t feel too much and the story of the family was profoundly interesting. No Camondo heirs exist today—the son of Moïses, who was also named Nissim, died in WWI as a fighter pilot and his sister, Beatrice, married and had two kids, but tragically, all of them were deported to Auschwitz in 1943. Despite the museum’s splendor, it was the history and the melancholic feel to all of it, which really captured my interest.

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