No stay in the City of Light may seem complete without a visit to one of the big three Paris museums: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, or the Centre Pompidou. But if these temples of art feel overwhelming in their size or just plain crowded, take heart. Paris is also home to many smaller museums, many of them absolute gems, with spectacular collections of their own. Among these is the lovely Musée Jacquemart-André, once a private mansion in the 8th Arrondissement, built in the late 19th century by the banker Edouard André and his wife, Nélie Jacquemart.
The two shared a passion for art (in fact, they met when Nélie, a well-known society painter, executed Edouard’s portrait) and together built a collection of French masterpieces, then traveled to Italy and the Far East to gather still more works. And lucky for today’s museumgoers, at her death, Nélie bequeathed the house and its many treasures to the Institut de France for the enjoyment of the public. And better still, Culturespaces, which has been managing the institution since the early 1990s, has turned what might have become a rather dusty, musty collection into a lovely spot where you can easily, serenely spend an hour or two soaking it all in.
Just steps from the Champs Elysées, the Parisian museum still retains the feeling of a private home, albeit one where the furnishings are fine French antiques, precious tapestries and bibelots from the Orient. It doesn’t take much to imagine the grand soirées and intimate gatherings that might have taken place here. An excellent audio guide, included in the price of admission, guides visitors through the collection of French, Italian and Dutch paintings, with notable works by such artists as Botticelli, Mantegna, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Chardin, Boucher and David. If you have little ones in tow, ask the staff for a copy of a special activity book, in which Filou the mouse gives them their own personalized trip.
And since timing is everything, come when the museum opens at 10 and stay for lunch. Amid the café’s red velvet draperies and the intricate gold and white woodwork, you will feel transported back to another time, as if you were Monsieur and Madame’s treasured guest. An afternoon visit is perfectly complemented by tea in the same elegant setting. And on your way out, don’t forget to make a stop in the museum boutique, a favorite spot for local shoppers, as it offers a great selection of gifts in addition to the usual array of postcards and art books.
158, blvd Haussmann. 01 45 62 11 59.
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Metro: Miromesnil, St.-Philippe-du-Roule (line 9)
Anne Schwartz left behind a public policy career in Washington, DC, when her husband got a new job assignment in Paris in 2007. She blogs about her adventures in the City of Light at Just Another American in Paris and provides practical information to Anglophone expats at Posted in Paris.
Editor’s note: On your next trip, why not rent a gorgeous apartment in Paris?