Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog at www.eyepreferparis.com.
With over 153 museums in Paris, we’ve chosen two off the beaten path gems located in former privately owned mansions.
Musee Marmottan Monet
Boasting the largest collection of Monet works in the world under one roof, surprisingly the Musee Marmottan Monet is under the radar and not as well known as the Louvre or D’Orsay museums.
A former hunting lodge owned by the Duke of Valmy on the tip of the Bois de Boulogne, it was purchased in 1832 by art and antique collector Jules Marmottan. Jules died in 1883 bequeathing his estate to his son Paul. Expanding his father’s collection of paintings, bronzes, and furniture, Paul also took a keen interest in the Napoleonic era. When Paul Marmottan died, he left the collection and home to the Academie des Beaux Arts. The Academie opened the mansion and collection to the public in 1934 as the Musee Marmottan.
Two major donations changed the identity of the museum: In 1957 Victorine Donop de Monchy gave the museum an important collection of Impressionist works that belonged to her father Dr. Georges de Bellio, the physician to Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Renoir and an early Impressionist supporter and in 1966 Michel Monet, son of painter Claude Monet, left his personal collection of his father’s paintings to the museum. With both donations the museum has over 100 Monet paintings, along with over 200 other Impressionist paintings by Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Inspired by the exhibition room at Musee de l’Orangerie which houses the Monet Water Lilies murals, a special room in the lower level of the museum was created to maximize the viewing of Monet’s masterpieces.
A touch of drama ensued in 1985 when five masked gunmen armed with pistols stormed the museum in broad daylight and stole nine paintings worth over 12 million dollars at the time. Resembling the plot of a movie caper, an inside tip led to the arrest of a Japanese gangster who planned the heist along with two other inmates while doing time in a French prison
Musee Marmottan Monet
2 rue Louis Boilly, 75016
Musée Nissim de Camondo
A former mansion located behind the posh Parc Monceau is the setting for a tragic story. Moise de Camondo, a Parisian banker of Sephardic Jewish heritage, born in Istanbul but settled in Paris, was a formidable collector of 18th century French furniture and objets of the highest quality. Camondo commissioned architect Rene Sargent in 1911 to design a home to showcase his collection and for his family to reside. The Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s private home in Versailles, was the inspiration for the design and the house also included modern day conveniences of the time, including offices, kitchens, bathrooms with indoor plumbing, and electricity.
Camondo bequeathed his mansion and collection to his son Nissim but Nissim was killed in an air battle in 1917 during WWI. After the loss of his son, he left his mansion to the Arts Decoratifs Institution. Moise also lost his daughter Béatrice, his son-of-law Léon Reinach and their children, Fanny and Bertrand in Nazi concentration camps in World War II. There are no surviving family members.
One can now appreciate the opulence of the fine collection of antique woodwork by master cabinetmakers and woodworkers of Le Garde Meuble Royal (Royal Furniture Repository), such as Oeben, Riesener and Jacob, the Orloff silver collection commissioned by Queen Catherine II of Russia from silversmith Roettiers in 1770, and porcelain made by Sevres. Paintings include portraits by Vigee LeBrun, landscapes by Guardi, and hunting scenes by Oudry.
63 rue de Monceau, 75017