A Trip to 18th-Century Paris at the Musée Cognacq-Jay

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A Trip to 18th-Century Paris at the Musée Cognacq-Jay
For a look back at Parisian life in the 18th century, the Musée Cognacq-Jay in the Marais is hard to beat. The permanent collection will transport you to an elegant world of salons and snuffboxes, where the period furniture, carefully arranged to maintain a homely atmosphere, rather than a museum, embodies the Age of Enlightenment. The current special exhibition, Boilly: Parisian Chronicles, running until June 26th, gives a whimsical peep into everyday life in the same era through the work of the Parisian painter and caricaturist, Boilly.    This museum is also an extraordinary rags-to-riches story. Its collection was built up by Ernest Cognacq, who began working life as a traveling salesman, and his wife, Marie-Louise Jay, the first female assistant at Le Bon Marché. Together, they founded one of the city’s most successful department stores, La Samaritaine and eventually they became one of the wealthiest couples in France, with the means to gather the stunning collection housed in the museum named after them.  Their taste was for pieces from the late 18th century – paintings, sculpture, furniture,  decorative items – which they began collecting in about 1900. In 1917 they opened their new shop, La Samaritaine de Luxe on the Boulevard des Capucines, and soon began to stage exhibitions on the premises, displaying some of their prized possessions to attract and inspire their wealthy customers. When Ernest died in 1928, he left the collection to the city of Paris, on condition that it would be kept intact, and so the Musée de la Samaritaine de Luxe was opened next door to the shop, an event so prestigious that the President himself, Gaston Doumergue, was in attendance! After the closure of La Samaritaine in the 1980s, the collection was transferred to its current home, the 16th-century Hotel Donon, a monument historique in Rue Elzevir in the 3rd arrondissement.   

Lead photo credit : The exterior of the Cognacq-Jay museum, Paris. © Isogood at Wikimedia Commons

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • zarou haesslein
    2022-05-06 01:03:16
    zarou haesslein


    • Marian Jones
      2022-05-07 01:02:58
      Marian Jones
      Thank you, Zarou, for taking the time to write such a lovely comment. Enjoy your visit!