A Beautiful Life – A Tragic Ending
Stories I’ve been told since I came to France. #1
Musee de Nissim de Camondo
This is one of those ‘hotels particuliers’ in France that one never really gets to see on the tourist circuit. It really is fun to peek inside the lives of the upper crust of Paris at the turn of the 20th century, however it does pique me when I think about the life of such a devoted art collector and love of all things most beautiful, giving his family such a posh, cushy life, and yet it all ended in such tragegy. The home is especially meaningful to me because a friend of mine in St Louis has a direct maternal line to the family. Her mother’s grandmother actually was Esther Fua and gave birth to 2 male heirs of this old banking family. They were Nissim and Abraham, Nissim being the grandfather Moises, whose home is now on 63 Rue de Morceau. Fascinating to know this bit of history, so close to home.
This Nissim de Camondo museum was the former home of Moise de Camondo, a banker of Turkish-Sephardic decent whose family had founded the most important bank in the Ottoman Empire.They originally came from Spain but escaped persecution during the Spanish Inquisition. Moise’s grandfather was named a count by Victor Emmanuel as thanks for helping to fund the reunification of Italy. His father Nissim and uncle Abraham moved to Paris in 1869 and were known for their philanthropic work and banking prowess. Issac and Moise, sons of the two men followed their fathers into the family’s banking business, although their banking efforts were mostly concerned with preserving their assets.
As adults, Moise and his cousin Isaac established two homes facing the Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondisement. Isaac, who never married, was a devoted collector of Impressionist art as well as an avid collector of Japanese and 18th century decorative arts and furnishings. His house now houses Morgan Stanley’s Paris office. Following Isaac’s death in 1911, his hundreds of works, including some of the Louvre’s most important impressionist paintings, by Degas, Sisley and Monet (he was friendly with Monet) were donated to the Louvre under the condition that the paintings be shown together for 50 years. Today they are spread around different galleries at the Louvre, the Orsay and other state musuems.
Moise followed in his brother’s footsteps as a collector. His society wife (I assume an arranged marriage between banking families), Irene Cahan d’Anvers left him for one of his stablemen (another count no less) in 1891, but their two children, Nissim and Beatrice stayed behind with the father. Moise was a devoted horseman, hunter, and ‘gentleman’ whose banking was mostly concerned with the family’s weath, and who otherwise spent most of his time on his hobbies. His greatest interest was collecting 18th century art. In 1913, he had his home on Parc Monceau rebuilt specifically to showcase his decorative arts collections. The updated plumbing, state of art elevator, intercom system and electricity make this home more unusual a museum than most in Paris, but the home is no less elegant and glorious to visit.
After Moise’s son Nissim was killed during WWI, Moise withdrew from society and the bank, spending the rest of his life refining his collection as a legacy to his son. The complete home and its contents were donated to the state and the Union of Decorative Arts following his death in 1934. In his legacy, he saw that ‘maintaining the integrity of his residence would be conserving a glorious period in France with the most beautiful objects that could be collected for the period that he most loved (the 18th c.).’ In typical ‘old world’ paternalistic fashion, his daughter Beatrice,** an accomplished equestrian, and her issue, were not part of the patrimony of the house. Beatrice, her husband and daughter had lived in the Camondo home until their second child was born, but they moved to Neuilly, a posh suburb, in 1923. Ignoring the threat of the Nazis, they remained in France during the occupation, and were all deported to Drancy in 1942. All four of them perished at Auschwitz in 1945, effectively ending the Camondo line.
An interesting aside–because we were curious what happened to Moise’s ex-wife, I looked her up. She came from a well-known and very wealthy banker’s family. Renoir painted her portrait as a child but she hated it. Renoir had also painted her sisters and her father. The d’Anvers family had not been happy with any of the paintings (all of which were to become priceless treasures), and had treated them publicly with such disdain, that Renoir took major offense. During Irene’s marriage to Moise, the painting was stuffed in a cabinet and forgotten, and then found years later by Beatrice, her daughter, in the Camondo home. The painting by then had become priceless, and Beatrice returned it to her mother. The Nazis confiscated the painting, and it ended up in the hands of Goering who gave it to a Swiss munitions maker, Georg Bürhle. After the war, Irene found it on a list of works stolen by the Germans and was able to recover it, but as she had always disliked the painting, she put it up for sale. It was sold in a Paris gallery, to none other than Georg Bürhle, and hangs today in the Swiss Collection, Buhrle
As the only surviving blood relative, Irene inherited her daughter and son-in-law’s wealth after WWII, and as in true dilletante fashion, blew it away.
Some of the above material was supplied by “travelingmom” on travel.
HERE IS ANOTHER WONDERFUL LINK:
- DAUGHTER OF MOISE de CAMONDO and Irene Cahen d’Anvers both from prominent banking famlies. She was married to composer Leon Reinach (1893-1944) the son of Theodore Reinach. They had 2 children Fanny and Bertrand
Born into the Camondo family of Paris, she was the daughter of Moïse de Camondo and Irene Cahen d’Anvers, both of whom were from prominent Jewish banking families. One of two children, her older brother Nissim served as a fighter pilot during World War I and in 1917 was killed in action.
- Fanny (born 26 July 1920 in Paris – died in 1944)
- Bertrand (born 1 July 1923 in Paris – died in 1944)
On her father’s death in 1935, Béatrice inherited a large fortune. Her father bequeathed his Paris home, including its contents and a major collection of art, to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to be used to create the Musée Nissim de Camondo in his son’s honor.
In 1943, under the German occupation of France during World War II, Béatrice, her husband and their two children were forcibly removed from their Paris home and taken to the Drancy deportation camp north of the city. From there, they were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp where they were all murdered.