Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Parc Monceau and Musee de Nissim Camondo

Since we have been so fortunate with this unseasonably warm weather, we decided to take a stroll through one of Paris's prettiest parks: Parc Monceau.  We entered this very romantic park through fancy, gilded wrought iron gates and were immediately surprised to see so many Parisians hanging out there on a work day.  Seems like everybody has spring fever! 

The park is located in a very elegant district of Paris and was built by a man named Carmontelle who wanted to create a "land of illusion."  One of the many unusual features is this replica of a Corinthian collonade:

And this pretty little bridge:

The park is also filled with sculptures dedicated to famous writers and musicians -- each one includes a sculpture of the individual accompanied by a swooning muse.  Our favorite was this statue of Chopin playing the piano with a guardian angel overhead and the requisite muse passed out at his feet.

In the mid 1800's, Barron Georges Eugene Haussman was the man responsible for transforming Paris to the wonderful city that it is today.  When Haussman redesigned Paris at the request of Napoleon III, he incorporated the now famous huge boulevards, but he also created many beautiful parks like this one.  The purpose was not just for aesthetics but also for a bit of social engineering.  Napoleon III wanted to give working people a nice place to hang out to take their minds off plotting another revolution.  However, this particular park became an enclave of the rich and the Nissim de Camondo Musee gave us a glimpse into that world.

The museum is located in a  mansion that was custom built by the father of Nissim, Moise Camondo, to house his extarordinary collection of 18th c. decorative art.  Buying up art was all the rage in the early 1900's, and Moise, whose family had made a fortune in banking, was clearly obsessed with expanding his collection.  The sumptuous interiors display his many acquisitions:

Every room was carefully designed to display the fine art pieces of his collection:

Unfortunately, Moise and his family had quite a tragic history.  First of all, Moise's wife gave birth to two children: a boy Nissim and a girl Beatrice. And then the wife ran off with an Italian race horse rider!  The children were raised by Moise who was a wonderful father and doted on his children.  Sadly, the son Nissim was killed in a mission during WWI as a member of the fledgling air force.  A heartbroken Moise died in 1937, giving the family home and his entire collection to the French government, stipulating only that the museum be dedicated to his deceased son Nissim.

The daughter Beatrice continued to live in Paris with her husband and two daughters, riding her beloved horses, despite the rising threat of Nazi Germany.  Being Jewish, the family might have fled from Europe, but Beatrice was convinced that her French nationality (and perhaps her wealth) would protect her.  She was wrong, and the entire family was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, never to return.

Photo of Nissim Camondo on the left and a sculpture of his sister
Beatrice on horseback.

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