At home in a Paris museum By Ken...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

September 09, 2001|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

At home in a Paris museum

By Ken Harbinson

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In many ways the art and architecture of Paris overwhelm me. The Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame, Versailles, Invalides all provide a visual feast that, alas, is beyond my humble ability to digest.

This is why the Jacquemart-Andre Museum is my favorite place in the City of Light. It is not so much a museum as a home -- the very nice home, indeed, of two late 19th-century art collectors of unparalleled taste who, when they died, bequeathed their life's work intact to the Institut de France for the public to enjoy.

It began when Edouard Andre selected the architect Henri Parent to design his new home along the exclusive Boulevard Haussmann. The architect, miffed at not receiving the commission to build the new Paris Opera House, set out to design a house of such splendor as to show the city fathers what a mistake they had made.

The result was a mansion in the grand 18th-century style that was a major social and architectural event when it was completed in 1875. Six years later, Andre married a gifted young artist named Nelie Jacquemart, who had painted his portrait nine years earlier, and the two set out to fill their home with the finest artwork they could find.

My wife and I began our visit with lunch in the elegant dining room. Here the heroic Belgian tapestries that drape the walls contrast nicely with the comic trompe l'oeil ceiling, where assorted characters peer over a painted balustrade at the diners below.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with a leisurely tour through the rooms that remain much as they were when Nelie died in 1913. Unlike other museums where antiseptic galleries are often crowded with either paintings or sculpture, the Jacquemart-Andre team set out to create a home where their paintings, sculpture, furniture and objets d'art are displayed in a manner that pleased them.

Thus, the Lemoyne statuary, Gobelin tapestries and Dutch-school paintings by greats such as Rembrandt and Anton van Dyke fit seamlessly with the Louis XV and Louis XVI furnishings in the study, grand salon and other graciously furnished residential rooms.

What we found most rewarding, however, were the paintings of lesser-known artists, particularly the still-lifes of Chardin and the Italian views of Guardi and Canaletto.

Every museum worth its salt should have its piece de resistance, and in the Jacquemart-Andre house this is the Winter Garden and Grand Staircase.

Here, under a glass roof, Italianate sculpture and exotic foliage combine with Parent's remarkable double spiral staircase to provide the architect's rebuff to the Opera House selection committee.

Ken Harbinson lives in Alexandria, Va.

MY BEST SHOT

Celestial magic

By Barry A. Bass, Baltimore

June 21, 2001, found my wife and me in Lusaka, Zambia, anticipating the three minutes and 15 seconds of darkness that would occur during a total solar eclipse. Minutes before totality, I snapped this photo of some local Zambians who appeared to be just as enthralled by the unfolding celestial event as we were.

READERS RECOMMEND

SWITZERLAND

Gordon and Mary Strauss, Fallston

"On a recent trip to Switzerland, my wife and I took a cog railway to the top of a mountain called Gornergrat. Gornergrat overlooks the Matterhorn. We spent a beautiful day hiking down the mountain to the town of Zermatt. We were in awe of the Matterhorn and the beauty of the Swiss Alps."

IRELAND

Elizabeth Higdon, Linthicum

"I lost my Ravens sweat shirt in Baltimore, Ireland. I went to a pub in the small seaport town for lunch. The owner saw my sweat shirt and wanted it. Now it's hanging in a pub in Baltimore, Ireland, a sister city of Baltimore, Md., and a great place to visit."

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