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Jeanne- Madeleine Favier
Philiberte Orleans Perrin
Comtesse of Maussion
Adelaide Labille-Guird 1787
Adelaide Jaquette of Robien
Vicomtesse of Mirabeau
Marie-Louise Vigee-LeBrun 1774
Jeanne-Louise Nanine-Vallain 1788
Dancer With Tamborine
Diana After the Hunt Francois Boucher 1745
I enter the museum from the street side and see a paved courtyard area. To my left is an old wooden entry door. Stepping inside I find a guide at the counter. She asks me if I would like to visit the museum or the exhibition. The museum ticket is free. There is a nominal charge for the exhibition. I opt for a ticket to the museum.
The woman behind the counter hands me a ticket and guide. Before I begin my tour I stop in the small first floor restroom. I make a plan to use it again before I leave. Then I proceed to visit the rooms and galleries. The first floor has a large and small salon and a separate room where art from Holland is displayed.
At the staircase to the second floor I wonder how 16th century women managed. The staircase is so narrow there is only room enough for a single person to ascend one step at a time. Imagine doing this in a fashionable dress of the day made up of a heavily corseted bodice and yards of bulky fabric in the skirt with a stiff crinoline underneath.
Big yellow arrows point upward. Guides are posted at the stairs to keep traffic moving in the right direction. This museum, unfortunately, has not as yet been made handicapped accessible. However, I am sure it is on the list. I join the rest of the visitors to explore the upper rooms.
I feel an odd sense of disorientation as I proceed from room to room. The floor plan appears a bit topsy-turvy. A bedroom is situated at the top flight of stairs. Art is displayed on the walls and in cases along the hotel's passage ways. Then, on the very top floor I come upon an opulent salon.
While Ernst and Marie-Louise Cognacq - Jay were busy managing their business, agents scoured England and Europe seeking out art work for this collection. Their collection of art work includes everything from a small, enameled snuff box to a large, oil painting of Venice.
I see vases made at the famous Sevres ceramics factory, an inlaid marquetry table made by the artisan Boulle, and a drawing of two women by Watteau. The Cognac-Jay's collection obviously reflects their desire to create an inclusive sampling of art forms from the 18th century.
One of the most famous pieces of art in this collection is Francois Boucher's Diana After the Hunt. For me the oil painting has a soft romantic feeling despite the subject matter. Hunting wild animals is not one of my favorite past time activities. Yet I immediately know this painting will go on my list of favorite art.
There are several other paintings in the mansion I like as well. The Cognac-Jay's purchased several paintings done by women artists. Among the artists are Adelaide Labille-Girard, Jeanne-Louise Nanine-Vallain, and the ever so famous Marie-Louise Vigee-LeBrun. The paintings are scattered in salons and bedrooms throughout the house.
While writing down my notes about the museum a curious woman employee inquires if she can help me with anything. I explain to her I am looking for women's art in the museum. Sharing the same interest as me she takes me to see some other pieces that are not on display today. She leads me down a steep staircase and along a narrow corridor to the lovely oil painting of Marie-Louise Jay.
She explains to me that in 1903 the couple commissioned the artist Jeanne-Madeleine Favier to paint their portraits. Both the artist and the model appear to be at the height of their careers. This guide gives me a genuine feeling of her pride in being on the staff of a museum with such an obvious emphasis on successful women.
She asks me if I have seen the catologue for the Marguerite Gerard exhibit mounted in 2009. I reply yes and let her know I think it is wonderful but my limited French makes it difficult for me to read. I wish I could have seen it. Unfortunately, I am a couple of years too late.
She wishes that for me too and then we say a reticent "au revour". She goes back to her work and I go back to mine. Finishing my research I exit the museum to find a lovely landscaped courtyard. With plans to come back I now know where I can have my picnic lunch next time I visit Le Cognacq - Jay.
On the paris.fr/musees website I find many other Cognacq - Jay publications about women artists by women writers. I also find if I click on the upper right Cognacq - Jay Activities/individual visitors there is a list of tours, workshops, seminars, and conferences at the museum. They are for adults, families, and children, most likely in French, and there is a fee. I wish I was more fluent in the language. The courses sound fascinating.
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The hotel houses a collection of 18th century art purchased by Marie-Louise Jay and Ernst Cognacq. This entrepreneurial couple succeeded in developing their quay side street business into one of the most famous department stores in Paris, the Samaritaine.
Their store, however, was not your typical Bon Marche department store. Instead of selling mass produced goods on an open-plan sales floor they offered smaller vendors an opportunity to sell their own wares in little boutiques. As owners of Samaritaine they provided the physical space and support services to help other entrepreneurial merchants like themselves thrive and grow.
Le Cognac - Jay, as I wistfully call it, in my rather limited French vocabulary, would be my first choice for the most perfect home away from home in Paris. To me it feels big enough to be grand but small enough to be cozy.
Unfortunately, the Hotel Donon, a 16th century Parisian townhouse, is not for sale even if I had the money to buy it. However, it is one of the many City of Paris free museums so I can enjoy the ambiance of this elegant mansion anytime it is open.
This museum is located in the Marais district about three blocks down the street from another free city museum, the Carnavalet.
It is entered by going through the covered front carriage way. To the left is a small door that opens into the visitor desk. Desk staff are welcoming and rest rooms are nearby. The stairs in the mansion are very narrow and steep which leads me to believe they were for originally meant for household servants not visitors like me. There is a lovely formal garden in the back of the mansion to rest and picnic.
I imagine Samaritaine was something like our Galleria malls here in the United States. Much to my dismay I never visited the store so I really do not know this for a fact. I do know that their store increased in size over the years resulting in the construction of a lovely Art Deco building that still stands today. However, by 2005 the expense of modernizing was so expensive the store closed. The latest news is that it will reopen again in 2014 and provide residential housing units, a four star hotel, swank boutique shops, and nursery school for children of the 1st arrondisement.
The privately owned collection opened to the public in 1920. It was originally displayed in a space next to the deluxe branch of the Samaritaine at 25 Boulevard des Capucines, near the Opera Garnier. In 1929 the Cognacq - Jay's bequeathed it to the City of Paris.
The collection was moved to the Hotel Donon in 1974 when that branch of the store closed. So now when I visit the museum I get to see both the beautifully decorated interior of the hotel and a stunning collection of art. I often combine this with a visit to the free Carnavalet Museum or Victor Hugo House just a few blocks away.
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