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The Belle Époque home of Count Moïse Camondo, who was born in Istanbul into one of the Ottoman Empire’s major banking families, is today a stunning museum near Parc Monceau. The Hôtel Camondo was built to diplay the count’s collection of 18th-century French furniture and objets d’art. René Sergent, the architect who refurbished both Claridge’s and the Savoy, modelled it on the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Plans were submitted in 1912 and the house was ready in 1914. Camondo’s son, Nissim, died in World War I, and the house opened as the Musée Nissim de Camondo shortly after the count’s death in 1935. The rest of his family perished in the holocaust. Patricia Daunt, who charts the rise and tragic fall of the Camondo dynasty in Cornucopia 26, describes the building as ‘Practical, intimate, modern, comfortable, and very grand… the finishing touches to its complete success are its sweeping exterior staircases, which join the main rooms with the garden, and the enchanting oval rooms, which are the house’s heart and focus’.
Every art-lover who has frequented the great galleries of Paris is familiar with the best of their Impressionist masterpieces. The more discriminating are almost as familiar with the exquisite collection of eighteenth-century work that embellishes the Nissim de Camondo Museum beside the Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondisement. Very few of them know that the fortune which endowed these great French national treasures originated in Istanbul.
In 1911 Isaac de Camondo left his vast collection of works of art, which included most particularly Japanese prints and Impressionist paintings – over 400 Utamaros and a glittering neckace of such jewels as Manet’s Le Fifre and Monet’s Les Cathédrales de Rouen – to the Louvre. Hung there for fifty years, as he had stipulated, they now adorn other great Paris galleries besides. In 1935, Isaac’s cousin, Moïse de Camondo, bequeathed his house at 63 rue de Monceau to the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs. It was to be a memorial to his only son, killed flying a combat mission over the Western Front at the age of 25, in 1917.
The contents of the Musée de Camondo were the fruit of a lifetime spent in the pursuit of perfection, collecting all that was finest of 18th-century French artefacts that came on a flourishing art market. The house remains today as it was when Moïse died. Only the telltale fez which crowns a couple of portrait heads and a set of silver dishes bearing the tuğra sign of Sultan Abdülamecid betray a Turkish connection; they must have come with the Camondos when they moved to Paris from Istanbul in 1869…
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