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

  • 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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