Few cities suffered a facelift as radical as Paris in the late 19th century. In the wake of the transformations of baron Haussmann and the growth of affluence, new neighborhoods were built and old ones became unrecognizable. Around the Parc Monceau, in the northwest of the city, the brothers Pereire, holders of five hectares of land, could barely control the demand of the new fortunes to acquire building plots. The Rue de Monceau, a wide and majestic street, bordering the gardens on the south side, witnessed thus the appearance of magnificent mansions where the likes of Alfred and Maurice de Rothschild, Baron Ephrussi and the Count de Camondo turned the area into an emblematic slice of Parisian splendorous living.
Number 63 has always exerted a fascination upon me. The intriguing story of a middle aged Jewish financier, who proceeded to recreate with rigor and passion a unique 18th century environment, is not the simple tale of a collector, as many of his rich contemporaries were. It has dimensions of Shakespearian tragedy, where wealth, power, family ties and death weave a narrative of silent sorrow. The Camondos, Sephardic Jews with deep roots in Istanbul, were newcomers to France in 1869. As Moïse de Camondo and his cousin, Isaac, immersed themselves in this atmosphere of refinement and luxury, their artistic inclinations soon overtook their dedication to business. Isaac composed symphonic music and, in common with Moïse, began collecting 18th century furniture, paintings and objects. Moïse’s impassioned attraction for the period took him one step further. In 1910, he razed the hotel Violet, inherited from his late mother. With the help of René Sergent, an ambitious and talented architect who later designed the Savoy and Claridge’s hotels in London, Moïse erected a replica of the Petit Trianon where he indulged in his collecting. When he started his project he had already divorced the mother of his two children, Irene Cahen D’Anvers, scion of one of the most prestigious families of local society.
Three years after completing this monumental project, his only son, Nissim, was killed in action during the First World War. The home became a fortress of sorrow and a shrine to the memory of his fallen child. Portraits of Nissim are displayed in almost every room. Upon his death in 1935, he donated the house to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and named it after his son. But destiny still had not uttered the last word: in 1943 his daughter Beatrice, her husband and their two children were sent to Dachau. Their deaths put an end to a lineage whose memory is kept alive in this melancholic residence where life was first recreated for historic resemblance and then suspended by death.