Édouard André (1833-1894) was the heir of a wealthy Protestant banking family. He used his fortune to collect works of art to be exhibited in his new mansion, which was built to his specifications on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris and completed in 1875. In 1881 he married a well-known artist, Nélie Jacquemart (1841-1912), who had painted his portrait a few years before. Together, they continued collecting artworks from all over the world.
In 1913, after Nélie Jacquemart’s death, their mansion and collection became the property of the Institut de France and were opened to the public as the Jacquemart-André Museum.
On the ground floor, three of the private rooms have been preserved much as they were when Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart lived there: her bedroom, his bedroom and an antechamber in between. The only change is that after his death she had his bedroom redecorated. There is a telephone on the night table by his bed.
In the autumn of 2013 the Jacquemart-André Museum showed an exhibition entitled Désirs & Volupté (Desires and Sensuality), featuring British paintings from the Victorian epoch in the nineteenth century.
The introduction to the exhibition reminded us that Britain was “the leading world power in the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901)” and that it “paved the way for extensive economic and social upheaval.” Despite the widespread Puritanism in British society in this period, the leading artists “expressed a sensual aesthetic with paintings offering a sharp contrast to the severity and moralising attitudes of the day: a return to Antiquity, nude women, sumptuous decorative paintings” — not what we usually think of as “Victorian”.
The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) is based on an incident that happened during the short reign of the young Roman Emperor Heliogabalus, who was in power from 218 to 222 AD before being assassinated at age 18. During a banquet, the young Emperor allegedly “gave the order to smother some of his courtiers under a great mass of rose petals stored above a reversible ceiling in the banqueting room.”
Heliogabalus is one of the few Roman Emperors I have bothered to read up on, because I once saw an opera about him, L’Eliogabalo by the early Baroque Italian composer Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676), as mentioned in my post Cavalli and Wagner in Dortmund.
Since I kept forgetting how to pronounce Eliogabalo I used to refer to him as “The Elbow Person” (Der Ellenbogenmensch in German).
This one is called The Quatuor, a painter’s tribute to the art of music by Albert J. Moore (1841-1893). It shows four barefoot musicians, dressed as ancient Greeks but playing on modern instruments. Their audience consists of three lovely young women in semi-transparent gowns. According to the exhibition text, this painting “dates from 1868 and is a typical example of Aestheticism. In it, Moore seeks to express the idea of Universal Beauty. He accordingly turns to classical Greek art, which he considered to be the pinnacle of perfection, the scene seemingly derived from the Parthenon Frieze, which he had been able to study in the British Museum.”
This painting from the year 1878 shows the Hebrew wife of the Persian King Xerxes 1st, as she is about to plead with her husband not to massacre the Hebrew people. For the background of this painting, the artist studied the writings of the British archaeologist George Rawlinson for authentic details of the palace of Xerxes in Persepolis. (See also: Racine’s Esther in Saint-Cyr.)
The eighth and last room of the exhibition was called Classic Beauty, which is also the title of the painting on the left by John W. Godward (1861-1922). Appropriately, the girl looking at these paintings is wearing two Union Jacks as patches on the elbows of her jumper. (I wonder if she deliberately chose this particular jumper to wear to a British exhibition.)
Musée Jacquemart-André, 158 boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on Museums in Paris.