One of the gem-like little museums in Paris is the musée Cognacq-Jay. This free museum is run by the city. It’s located on a quiet side street, rue Elzévir, in the Marais. The museum houses the collection of Théodore-Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay. Cognacq founded La Samaritaine department store. (The beautiful store has been closed for a few years now but it is scheduled to reopen as a hotel in 2014). He plowed his wealth into collecting art, furniture and decorative items, much of which was from 18th century France. It was as though Cognacq sought to bury his humble roots and the “grubby” way he’d earned his money, instead of inheriting it, by moving in the best circles of art connoisseurs.
There’s some first first-rate art here: two Rembrandts, paintings by Boucher, Chardin, Fragonard, Greuze, de La Tour, Watteau, and sculpture by Houdin. My favorite is one by Vigée Le Brun. Cognacq even had the foresight to buy some up-and-coming artists, including Corot, Cézanne, and Degas. After his death in 1929, Cognacq’s collection was willed to the city of Paris. The collection has been housed in the graceful 16th century Hôtel Donon since 1990. For the most part, the Cognacq-Jay treasures are set up in twenty paneled rooms spread over four floors that recreate life in pre-Revolutionary France. Smaller precious objects, like snuff boxes and miniature portraits, are gathered behind glass in the third floor hall. From May to September, you may also enjoy the typically French garden of clipped hedges. The musée Cognacq-Jay is open every day except Monday from 10 am until 5:40 pm.
Today’s expression, on n’a rien sans rien (ohna reeN sahn reeN), literally means “one has nothing without nothing,” which is the French equivalent of the English expression, “there’s no free lunch.” While lunch may not be free, admission to this lovely, high-quality museum certainly is. Why not celebrate your visit with an extra-nice lunch in one of the many Marais restaurants?
- Le Marais Area of Paris (paris-revealed.com)
- Paris Vacations (orbitz.com)
- A Most Romantic Museum in Paris Evokes Passionate Love (2sistersanytownusa.wordpress.com)
- Une Tache aveugle (onequalitythefinest.com)