Boulevard Haussman is among the most famous and busy streets in Paris. As such, it's understandably surrounded by 2-century-old beige façades topped with the familiar blue rooftops which normally welcome you to enter an expensive boutique, a fancy brasserie or a working space. One such building represents a museum - how unpredictable for Paris, you might think.
A (very) tall wooden doorway invites you into a cobbled inner courtyard which is overlooked by an Italian villa. The exterior seems very much French, though, inside stand marble columns, a double winding staircase and a "Winter garden" inhabited by statues that pop in between exotic trees.
Édouard André, the descendant of a banking family, devoted his considerable fortune to the collection of works of art and proceeded to exhibit them in his mansion completed in 1875. The owner married a well-known society painter, Nélie Jacquemart. The couple would travel annually to Italy, amassing one of the finest collections of Italian art in France. Following Edouard's death, Nélie completed the decoration of the Italian Museum and travelled to the Orient in search of more precious works to be added to the collection. The mansion and its exhibition were bequethed to the state and in 1913 were opened to the public.
The building features the following 5 sections:
- The State Apartments were designed by the owners for their most formal receptions. The halls reflect their fascination for the French school of painting and 18th century decorative art.
- The Informal Apartments feature a series of smaller salons designated for business guests decorated in a refined style.
- The Private Apartments occupying part of the mansion's ground floor and give the museum the feel of a family home.
- The winter garden is remarkable on more than one count and testifies the artistic skill of the architect Henri Parent. He had set out to surpass his competitor, Charles Garnier, who was the creator of the glorious Opéra Garnier, the Opera House of Paris. Unsurprisingly, the villa possesses an air of grandeur.
The idea behind the inner garden was imported from Great Britain. Guests could come out in an open space with exotic pot plants arranged under a glass roof. The terrace - paved in marble and adorned with mirrors - leads to an astounding helix staircase. Judging by contemporary press reports, guests marvelled at the garden's sumptuousness upon its opening.
- The Italian museum houses separate halls dedicated to collections of 15th- and 16th-century Italian sculpture, works on religious themes, and Venetian art.