Photo: Time Cuts the Wings of Love, Anton van Dyck, circa 1627,

Part of the collection of Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France


Vitamine A: Time cuts the wings of love, by Ricardo Fernandes

After crossing the city by metro, I arrive at Monceau, this former hamlet, annexed to Paris in the nineteenth century. I find myself in front of the magnificent Mansion of Édouard and Nélie. It is located at Boulevard Haussmann, an avenue, opened at the request of Napoleon III, to give an easier access to this small town of the city of light, at a time when Paris eagerly absorbed all the surrounding villages and was transformed into a metropolis in full expansion, full of charm, in which the culture took more and more importance and where, from day to day, new behaviors arose.


At first glance, I notice the elegance of this majestic home of Jacquemart-André, which is the result of a wonderful project of the famous architect Henri Parent and whose construction took six long years of hard work.


I enter, total silence, Édouard and Nélie are not there anymore …


The huge flat land, extremely well located – bought by Édouard, heir to a family of wealthy Protestant bankers – and perfect for the realization of such a project, was carefully studied before its acquisition. This building, which was intended to be one of the most beautiful private mansions in Paris, now houses one of the most beautiful private collections in the city as well.


Here, Jacquemart-André organized lavish high society parties, concerts and receptions, carefully prepared by this couple loving art and pleasures of life. Faced with such an imposing construction, I think all this has stood the test of time, until today …


The project, based on the rules of classical French architecture has however retained many intimist touches. During my visit, in each space, in each corner, I discover a little of the personality of the owners, as if their presence still lingered in these old walls. Yes, I believe that, without doubt, architecture is really one of the greatest riches of this residence which amazed me, as soon as I entered, with its imposing marble lions, its immense verandas for which they did not skimp neither on the space, nor on the execution time, nor on the price to offer us a lair of freshness. Now I understand why it took six years to build this huge home, not only because of the size of the project and its magnificence, but also the refinement of its development.

It seems to me that the objective of the owners was not reduced to construction, nor to a need to follow the trends of the time, influenced by a certain snobbery and a desire for grandiloquence, as we can see in some constructions of these years there. Here, everything comes down to well-being, comfort, the pleasure of living, conviviality, the cult of culture and history. Everything comes from the love of this remarkable couple and their fabulous relationship based on their innumerable common interests.


Édouard and Nélie met thanks to Art. Indeed, ten years before their marriage, Nélie, a painter very much appreciated by the French high society, painted the portrait of Édouard. A relationship born of art could only engender art … and history. As they particularly took the Italian artists as center of their attention, they made several trips to Italy and ended up creating a fantastic private collection, bringing together the best Italian works of art in unique pieces of great quality. However, they were not limited to that. Their collection is gradually enriched by works by great international artists such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Botticelli, Fragonard, Canaletto, Chardin, Reynolds … who are all here … in total harmony with the space, creating a dreamlike atmosphere that fascinates us.


When I arrived in the lobby, where I was greeted, I lost my breath and speech and felt myself being watched by the magnificent busts of Italian and French marbles surrounding the central table. It is a Louis XV style room, very high ceiling, with pastel-colored walls, gilding and very refined moldings. There are some tapestries and furniture of the same period, among which a superb central table with a very beautiful floral arrangement that seems to offer us a sign of welcome greetings.

In the next room, I find myself surrounded by a magnificent exhibition of paintings by the French School and decorative pieces of the eighteenth century, which are part of the couple’s private collection. My peregrination throughout history continues ….


After crossing the precious little tapestry room, I went through the office and the library where one can enjoy the collection of Dutch canvases, which gave me the impression of living part of an art book which every page, every real scene, fed my love of Art a little more.


To the left of the main living room is the winter garden and the elegant smoking room where after meals, Édouard used to receive his friends and enjoy long conversations about art, travel and politics. It was a male-exclusive-local where he kept works of his international collection, acquired during his travels around the world, exhibited here with pride and which retraces his various adventures in Asia and in distant countries, called at the time, exotic countries. I think this is my favorite place, because it is the most welcoming of all, but also because it is populated by rare and mysterious pieces that made me dream of Édouard wonderful travels. It made me feel his adventures abroad and his great discoveries, as an art lover.


In the background, at the entrance of the private apartments is the main dining room, now considered one of the most sophisticated tea rooms in Paris. There, enjoying an exceptional cup of tea, I let myself be invaded by the architectural richness of this residence and attentively contemplated a series of Louis XV carved furniture covered with gilding. Above them, hangs a beautiful tapestry of the eighteenth century that tells the story of Achilles during the War of Troyes. So many influences, so much cultural wealth accumulated in one place, can only come from an immense curiosity, years of study and research and of course a great refinement. It’s amazing. But so much splendor does not stop there! The living room ceiling is covered with a dazzling Tiepolo fresco that observes visitors enjoying their tea. I have the impression of living a dream, but with each new discovery I realize that it is not a dream, but the reality lived by Édouard and Nélie, that I was privileged enough to live at that moment…

After this break in the tea room, turning right, just in front of the dining room, I enter the most intimate part of the house: the rooms of the couple. Traditionally separated, as customary at the time, Édouard’s bedroom is a sumptuous suite, whose decoration was completed only after his death, by Nélie who kept the promise she made to her husband to complete the decoration of the house, then to transform it into a magnificent museum, testifying to their passion for the Arts and the love they had lived together between these walls, so intensely. Nélie’s bedroom is extremely delicate and seems to have been placed there as a pearl in the heart of this dream home. It is fully furnished with Louis XV furniture, kept totally intact and contains unique pieces including a magnificent table clock, perfectly restored.


However, these rooms seem to me very small, compared to the imposing salons that I have just crossed. It really seems that they chose to live daily in direct contact with art in most of the house, taking advantage of this huge home at all times and only folding back into their private apartments at the moment to gather to sleep.


On the upper floor, entering the large exhibition halls, I discover a collection of works by the greatest Italian artists of the Renaissance, which is, in fact, the largest private collection of Italian artists in France. These are three salons: one is a sculpture gallery and the other two contain the works of great international artists such as Botticelli, Botticini, Bellini, among others. These are pieces in which Édouard and Nélie took great pleasure in sharing during their lives and for their love of Art, always inviting their friends, to check those masterpieces, to talk about them and to dive into the fascinating world of art.

The mansion of Jacquemart-André leads me to endless dreams and each visit is an extraordinary journey in the world of art, culture and respect for history, which was so cultivated by this remarkable couple, who offered this magnificent gift to humanity.


Ricardo Fernandes, written in 2007
Stand 86, Marché Dauphine
The Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), New York, EUA
Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art (AICA), Paris, France
Association for Art History (AAH), London, UK