The Museum from yesterday to today
The André family, originally from the Vivarais region, was a wealthy Protestant family who settled in several French and foreign cities (Nîmes, Genoa, Geneva ...), then in Paris. In the early nineteenth century, Dominique André, Edouard’s grandfather, witnessed the collapse of his business in Genoa. He was forced to settle in Paris, then the heart of European affairs. In 1808, he joined forces with François Cottier, who skilfully assisted him in the affairs of the André Bank. Both partners saw fit to strengthen the ties that united them through marriage: Ernest André, the third son of Dominique, and Louise Mathilde Cottier, the daughter of François Cottier, were married. Edouard was the only child born of this union. He would therefore inherit two of the largest family fortunes of the time.
Edouard André began his collection with what was known at the time as ‘bimbelots’ or knick-knacks, charming little pieces of silverware, jewellery, ceramics, miniatures and tapestries. He also acquired the paintings of his time: landscapes and genre scenes painted by Delacroix or Orientalist painters, as well as works by landscape artists of the Barbizon School.
The village of Monceau, like many other small towns neighbouring Paris was annexed to the city. This annexation was part of a vast urban development plan, the implementation of which was entrusted by Napoleon III to the prefect Haussmann. The latter would profoundly change the face of Paris: many of its former districts would be destroyed, with straight axes connecting the periphery to the city centre. It was in the area of the Monceau plain that the imperial aristocracy chose to settle, building impressive and ostentatious hôtels particuliers (private mansions). In his novel The Kill Zola would write: ‘It is a display, a profusion, an overwhelming abundance of wealth.’
As a collector and art lover, Edouard André was asked by Napoleon III to participate in the Exposition Universelle of 1867, as an organizer and lender in the Fine Arts section. He received a medal for his contribution.
Edouard André bought a plot of land on the newly-constructed Boulevard Haussmann, where he would build his private mansion. He entrusted the project to Henri Parent, a specialist in traditional architecture. From 1869 to 1876, Parent would oversee the construction of a very large and beautiful building inspired by classical models, as evidenced in the symmetrical layout and the decor of its facades. Henri Parent, overlooked for the construction of the new Opera House in favour of his colleague Charles Garnier, would excel in the design and construction of this private mansion. The mansion was built on earthworks, and set back from the line of buildings on the Boulevard Haussmann, creating a break or a gap that attracted the attention of passers-by. Another interesting feature is the entrance to the residence. Access is via a partially covered ramp that slopes gradually upwards in a semi-circle, leading the visitor to the facade of the main courtyard. Visitors arriving by horse-drawn carriage could depart via a symmetrical pathway on the other side, thereby avoiding traffic jams on the evenings of important receptions!
Edouard André decided to have his portrait painted and for this enlisted the services of a young artist who had already acquired quite a reputation as a successful portraitist, as the painter of Duruy or Thiers for example. Her name was Nélie Jacquemart.
Nélie Jacquemart was born into a modest family on 25 July 1841. Much of the first 15 years of her life remains unknown. Nevertheless, she appears to have followed the typical path of young artists at that time: a period in a reputed workshop, submissions of historical subjects to the various Salons before receiving her first commissions. She realized one of her first portraits in 1868, that of the daughter of a well-known Parisian editor.
The inauguration of Edouard André’s private mansion was the subject of an article in L’Illustration and the plentiful guests praised the building as they had the foyer of the Opera House. ‘There is no more wonderful setting than this. All the elegant celebrities of fashion were there [...] They all shone with the same brilliance.’ ‘Nothing was lacking to ensure Mr André’s ball would become one of those sensational parties, whose magnificence leaves their mark on our epoch. The walls of the two entrance areas, the cloakroom and the hall had disappeared under a fragrant curtain of violets and camellias. The gilding of the double ballroom appeared as if to drip, glistening under the lights of a thousand candles.’
Theirs was a marriage of convenience, between two very different beings, he from a Protestant Bonapartist milieu, she from a Catholic Royalist background. However, their union proved to be very successful and their shared spirit and tastes made their thirteen years of communal life, extremely happy ones. Childless, they would devote themselves entirely to their shared project: their art collection. Their marriage would play a crucial role in the creation of the museum. Nélie fully supported her husband’s plans and would oversee the establishment of the collections with a firm hand.
The couple travelled frequently. One year after their marriage, Nélie convinced her husband to accompany her on a series of trips throughout Italy. Whether for leisure or health reasons, travelling provided the couple with the opportunity to visit auction houses and antique stores. They also made several trips to the Middle East: Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, returning via Beirut, Constantinople and Athens. During the couple’s frequent absences, restoration and renovation works were carried out on their Paris residence. Space needed to be found for their constantly-growing collection, featuring paintings and sculptures, wood panelling, fireplaces, tapestries, frescoes and ceilings.
In 1887, Edouard André sold part of his collection to the benefit of a charity. However, he conserved several old artworks, including Francesco Guardi’s painting of a Venetian portico, a portrait by Rembrandt and some eighteenth-century French paintings.
Edouard André died at the age of 60, leaving his wife distraught. She found herself alone and accused of misappropriating her husband’s inheritance. Indeed, Edouard’s cousins had taken care, upon Edouard and Nélie’s marriage, to prepare a type of contract or ‘property separation agreement’ that would leave Nélie no more than a substantial dowry in the case of Edouard’s untimely death. Nélie had been born poor and Edouard’s cousins wanted to ensure they would recover the family fortune. Shortly before his death however, Edouard had had a legal will drafted, bequeathing all of his property to his wife. There followed a trial that pitted Edouard’s cousins against Nélie. The latter won the case.
Now a widow, Nélie tirelessly continued to enrich the collections, embarking on a most audacious endeavour: a world tour. She travelled as far as the Indies where she befriended the maharajas. From there, she was due to travel on to China and Japan but a telegram informing her of the sale of Chaalis Abbey would cut her trip short. She immediately returned to France to acquire it.
Following the death of Nélie, the private mansion became the property of the Institut de France, in a legacy made by its owner a few months earlier. Shortly before her death, she had taken great care to classify and archive all documentation regarding the museum's collections. In her will, she emphasized her desire to open the collections to the wider public so as to educate crowds of visitors, and not just a handful of connoisseurs. The extremely pragmatic Nélie Jacquemart had thought of every detail, even stipulating in her will the museum’s opening hours and conditions, as well as the exact position of certain artworks. Recognizing the value of her and her husband’s collection, and its original layout, she asked the Institut de France, her legatee, to oversee these stipulations.
On 8 December, the museum was inaugurated to great pomp by the president in person, Raymond Poincaré. The museum met with immediate success, due in part to the renown of the André couple. There were 800 visitors the day after its official opening, 1,700 the following Sunday. In view of this popularity, the Institut de France appointed a curator, Émile Bertaux, who was entrusted with the design of a catalogue and oversaw the measures needed to facilitate public access.
Culturespaces was made responsible for overseeing and promoting the Museum and its collections, which opened the same year. Culturespaces organizes two major temporary exhibitions per year. In recent years, these have included: Fragonard: The Pleasures of a Century (2007), Van Dyck (2008), The Private World of the Caillebotte Brothers (2011), Fra Angelico (2011), Canaletto-Guardi (2012) Eugène Boudin (2013), Desire and Pleasure in the Victorian Era (2013), Perugino, The Master of Raphael (2014)…