Cognacq-Jay Museum in Paris

The Cognacq-Jay Museum has nothing to do with Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, or Martell. Rather, it was named after Ernest Cognacq (1839-1928) and his wife Marie-Louise Jaÿ (1838-1925), the founders and first owners of the Samaritaine department store on Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Cognacq and Jaÿ both grew up in poverty, but became very wealthy through the success of the Samaritaine. They used their wealth to finance various charities and to pursue their hobby of collecting 18th century artworks, which they later bequeathed to the city of Paris for display in a museum.

Portrait of Ernest Cognacq by Jeanne Madeleine Favier (1863-1904)

Ernest Cognacq had the reputation of being a jovial entrepreneur and a fair employer, but when he had this portrait painted in 1903 he chose to be shown with a cigarette in his right hand and an impatient scowl on his face. (And some sort of juvenile sculpture in the background, by his left shoulder.) The portrait is now prominently displayed in the Cognacq-Jay Museum, near the entrance, where it does not make a very welcoming impression.

Entrance to the Cognacq-Jay Museum

Since 1990, the Cognacq-Jay Museum has been located in a sixteenth-century residence called the Hôtel Donon on Rue Elzévir in the Marais district of Paris. The building was (and still is) widely criticized as being unsuitable for a museum, and too small for the large Cognacq-Jay art collection. Also it is not wheelchair accessible.

The main reason for moving the museum to the Hôtel Donon seems to have been that the city of Paris owned the building and didn’t know what else to do with it. This is not a building that ever belonged to Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ, or that ever had anything to do with them or the Samaritaine.

Paintings and sculptures in the Cognacq-Jay Museum

As in most of the other museums belonging to the city of Paris, admission to the permanent collection of the Cognacq-Jay Museum is free of charge for everyone. This is true for twelve of the fourteen city museums, the only two exceptions being the Catacombs of Paris and the Archaeological Crypt on the Île de la Cité.

Portrait of Marie Leszczyńska, Queen of France, attributed to Jean-Marc Nattier

All you loyal readers of my Nancy posts might recall that Stanislaus Leszczyński (1677-1766), best known as the Duke of Lorraine, had a brief episode in an earlier phase of his life when he was King of Poland. He held this position for less than five years, and then only as a puppet ruler installed by the King of Sweden. Still, his brief interlude on the throne qualified him as being ‘of royal blood’ and enabled his daughter Marie to marry the King of France, Louis XV (= the 15th).

This portrait of Marie Leszczyńska (1703-1768), now on display in the Cognacq-Jay Museum, is one that she commissioned herself. It shows her as a normal young woman without any queenly regalia. She liked the portrait so much that she later ordered several copies (painted by various members of the Nattier family) as presents for some of her friends and relatives. (This is why there are now several quite similar portraits of her in various museums around the world.)

My photos and text in this post are from 2023.

See more posts on the Marais district in Paris.
See more posts on museums in Paris.

3 thoughts on “Cognacq-Jay Museum in Paris”

  1. Fascinating works of art, and I am quite taken by Marie Queen of France in her ‘ordinary’ clothes. The framing is interesting and she is not showing jewellery or rings to underline her point 🙂 G.

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