June 21, 2007

Bonjour from Paris!

The view from my window, looking West

Today is the longest day of the year, the beginning of summer, and in Paris this is celebrated with "La Fête de la Musique". All over the city, small stages are being set up for outdoor concerts and informal bands are gathering on street corners to begin an all-night festival of music and light.

What an appropriate way to spend our last night in this beautiful city! The time has flown by, perhaps because it was just a few days instead of the usual extended visit, so one was obliged to pack a lot into a short time. But having just been here in March meant that I had already seen many of the museum exhibitions and could concentrate on visiting some of my favorite galleries to search for new material for my website and upcoming catalogue.

I did take the opportunity, however, to finally visit the Musée Nissim de Camondo situated in a magnificent mansion in the 8th Arrondisement, overlooking the Parc Monceau. Although off the beaten path this museum is well worth the deviation for anyone interested in either 18th century art and antiques or 20th century history.

Moïse de Camondo was born in Constantinople to an important Sephardic Jewish family who had founded one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire. The family emigrated to Paris in the late 1800's and Moïse was married to Irene, the daughter of another prominent Jewish banking family. Although the match was ideal on paper, and produced a son and a daughter, it did not survive as Madame de Camondo fell in love with an Italian race horse owner and left her husband and children to live with him. In 1910, Moïse inherited his parents' property on the Parc Monceau and soon after demolished the existing structures to build his dream house.

Moïse de Camondo was infatuated with the 18th Century and used his considerable resources to commission a modern mansion, reminiscent of the Petit Trianon at Versailles, to showcase his substantial collection of art and furniture. No detail was too small and no obstacle too large to deter The Comte de Camondo from his ideal and the results are stunning. This beautiful home recreates the finest salon from the time of the Louis'. The Goeblins tapestries, the Savonerie rugs, the gilded boisseries, the Sèvres porcelains, the fabulous paintings, settees, fauteuils, sculptures and clocks all harmonize to transport the visitor back to the Golden Age of another time.

Moïse de Camondo created a masterpiece, but the story does not have a happy ending. His only son, Nissim, to whom the entire project had been dedicated, died in air combat in World War I. His devastated father retreated into isolation and died in 1935 after having bequeathed the house and all its contents to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The Camondos' other child, Béatrice, married and had 2 children, Fanny and Bertrand. They were deported to Auschwitz and died in the camps in 1943. The family line had come to an end.

I don't want to end on a sad note, as a visit to the Musée de Nissim de Camondo is a truly inspirational experience and leaves the visitor in awe of the beauty that man can create when genius is put to positive use.

Tonight the sun will not set until 11 o'clock and the music will go on much later as Parisians celebrate life and joy and beauty on this, the longest day of the year! A votre santé!

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