Musée Nissim de Camondo: A Downton Abbey-esque Mansion in the Heart of Paris

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Musée Nissim de Camondo: A Downton Abbey-esque Mansion in the Heart of Paris
Musée Nissim de Camondo is housed in an 18th century style mansion, tucked on a quiet street overlooking Parc Monceau, and once you push the heavy door and walk inside, you feel transported back in time. In these times of physical distancing, when visitors are sparse, the sensation is eerie, and one is almost tempted to tiptoe around, worried of bothering the owners. The Camondos hailed originally from Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, in Turkey. Sephardic Jews, they made their fortune as financiers, bankrolling, amongst other ventures, the reunification of Italy under the Savoy family. And it was to Italy that they moved first, once they decided to leave the Ottoman Empire, fearful of growing anti-Semitic sentiment. Vittorio Emanuele I, first king of Italy, gave them honorary citizenship and a title, but soon the family realized that business opportunities would be more favorable in France, where other Jewish banking dynasties like the Rothschilds and the Ephrussis were thriving as the Second Empire drew to an end. Fast-forward two generations: It is the early 1900s, the Camondos are now French, and have embraced the culture of their new country. The two heirs of the family fortunes, cousins Isaac and Moïse, have built extraordinary collections of paintings and decorative arts. While Isaac remains a bachelor, more interested in collecting Impressionist paintings than in founding a family, Moïse gets married with Irène Cahen d’Anvers. They have two children, Nissim and Béatrice, but the couple is ill-assorted and they get divorced. Moïse’s real passion is 18th century French furniture, and he tasks architect René Sergent to raze his father’s mansion, built on the Plaine Monceau, to erect a new residence, classical in style but totally modern in the comforts it would offer, to display his extensive collection at its best. By the time the house is ready, the black clouds of the Great War have already reached France. Moïse’s son, Nissim, volunteers as a fighter pilot, and the old man is left alone in the house with his collections and his daughter. Tragedy strikes for the first time in 1917: Nissim dies in combat. Moïse is inconsolable, and dies a few years later, but not before bequeathing his house and the treasures it houses to the French state. Little does the collector know that, despite being great benefactors, perfectly integrated into French high society for three generations, Beatrice’s family is going to be deported and die in a concentration camp because of their Jewish origins, thus marking the end of the Camondo dynasty.
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Lead photo credit : Garden Overlooking Parc Monceau. Photo credit © Sarah Bartesaghi Truong

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Sarah Bartesaghi Truong has lived, studied and worked in Milan, Paris and London. Her lifelong passion for art in all its forms and her entrepreneurial dreams were the catalyst for a career change: she left the world of investment banking to go back to school, at the Sotheby’s Institute of London. Ten years ago, she moved back to Paris, the ideal location for an art-lover. As an Italian in Paris, she decided she would keep playing the tourist in her adoptive home town, always on the lookout for the many wonders the French capital has to offer to the curious explorer. VeniVidiParis, the company she founded, plans curated itineraries in the French capital and its vicinity for travellers wishing to discover the city’s vibrant art scene, but not only. Take a look at her recent discoveries on her Instagram feed, @venividiparis, or contact her at [email protected] for help planning your next Parisian vacation.

Comments

  • Samana
    2020-10-13 08:50:58
    Samana
    Great post! the world of investment banking to go back to school, at the Sotheby’s Institute of London.

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:12:29
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear Mary Ann, Thanks for your kind words. Let’s hope we can all start travelling soon. Take care, Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:11:18
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear Róisín, I truly hope we can all start travelling very soon. In the meantime, take care. Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:09:58
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Bonjour Antoinette, I am sorry but I do not understand your request. Can you please let me know about which woman’s career you’d like to know more about? Thank you, Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:08:29
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Merci Linda pour vos gentils mots! Prenez soin de vous, Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:07:18
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear Connie, I truly hope you can come very soon. In the meantime, stay safe. Sarah

    REPLY

  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:06:00
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear AJ, I am glad I managed to evoke the magic of this place, and to make you want to visit it. Take care, Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:04:32
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear Elena Estella, It is sad indeed, even if I personally find that, despite some shortcomings, French society is rather inclusive. Take care, Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:01:42
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear Heather, I love that book, and highly recommend it too. Take care, Sarah

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  • Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    2020-08-19 05:00:18
    Sarah Bartesaghi Truong
    Dear Jenny, I am glad my words captured the same atmosphere you remembered. Tace care, Sarah

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  • Jenny McKendry
    2020-08-14 10:01:20
    Jenny McKendry
    We have to the home/museum and yes it is just as you describe it.

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  • Sonja Oerlemans
    2020-08-14 05:13:34
    Sonja Oerlemans
    My husband and I visited this magnificant museum, during one of our trips to Paris. We appreciate the sad family story behind the residence.

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  • Heather Singer
    2020-08-14 04:21:35
    Heather Singer
    A recommended read - The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmond de Waal, a distant relation and a very famous potter in London. It relates the history of the Camondos and the Ephrussis from their beginnings, bringing us up-to-date with Edmund's story.

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  • Elena Estella Green
    2020-08-14 02:01:12
    Elena Estella Green
    Thank you for shedding light on the legacy of the De Camondo family. There is a famous portrait of Irène Cahen d’Anvers as a child by Renoir. Since my visit there some years ago, I was fascinated by the collection and specifically about the family tragedy. Beatrice & her family should have been protected. She even divorced her husband to disassociate from their Jewish identity. Alas she underestimated the times. Even in the 21c. I have witnessed anti-Semitism firsthand in Paris. At least there exists a lasting monument to this extraordinary family.

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  • Nina
    2020-08-13 11:01:41
    Nina
    For many years and many trips to Paris, this house had been on our to do list. Finally we made it a top priority and realized what we had been missing. Unlike most 'museums', it has the feel of someone actually living there, and his sad,lonely life. We have since returned again and again. It will be the highlight of your trip. Be sure to walk through Parc Monceau after your house visit.

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  • AJ Drew Tabone
    2020-08-13 10:13:48
    AJ Drew Tabone
    This is one of the museums I’ve been overlooking. Now it’ll be on the list of things to do next time. Thank you for the story. It’s very well told.

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  • Connie king
    2020-08-13 09:47:41
    Connie king
    I visited this lovely house/museum in 1985! I have been back numerous times and dream of another visit one day. Alas, when?

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  • Linda Hepner
    2020-08-13 09:28:11
    Linda Hepner
    Encore une famille parisienne, internationale, juive, qui a peri. Un fils, pas de descendants; l'autre fils tue et meme la mere emporte par les antisemites. Ce coin de Paris ou habitaient tant de juifs cultives cache de riches histoires tragiques qui parlent d'un moment si beau en France. Merci de cet article, Mme Truong!

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  • Antoinette Constable
    2020-08-13 09:05:38
    Antoinette Constable
    Great but short insight into a woman's two careers. I would love to learn more! I"m French, living in the USA.

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  • Róisín
    2020-08-13 06:39:33
    Róisín
    Looks like a beautiful house and one which we must visit next time we're in Paris. Who knows what year that will be ?!

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  • Mary Ann Falciani
    2020-08-13 06:01:46
    Mary Ann Falciani
    Thank you for sharing this information I visit this museum every time I come to Paris. I lived in the 17th arr. and I took every one who visited me to this special place. So beautifully preserved and such rich treasures to enjoy. I do agree that the family had such a tragic ending. I am looking forward to when I can return to Paris for a visit. I will definitely go to this museum again. It is such a treasure.

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