Dressed in my finest clothes, snapped up at the Paris sales, I approach the grand old mansion, unusually set back from the road, on the bourgeois Boulevard Haussmann.
The chauffeur enters the circular driveway, designed specifically to allow guests to be dropped off at the base of the steps and move on, easing congestion for the other guests.
From the very minute I enter the reception area, I witness excited visitors gasping out aloud and hurriedly pulling out their cameras as if it would vanish before their eyes, myself included.
I waited for a minute or two, allowing for the visitors who arrived at the same time as me to rush off to the next opulent room in awe.
The parquetry flooring creaking under my feet, I note the rich red clothed walls, a sparkling chandelier above, twin indigo blue vases with gold trim flanking a sculptured bust on an ornate side table and fine art gracing the walls.
Left standing alone, soaking up the breathtaking surroundings, in the grand old mansion and former residence of Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, I felt like a Princess.
Well, I did say ‘imagine this’.
That was all I was able to do.
Unlike the sophisticated socialite guests of Edouard and Nélie, I wasn’t delivered to the steps of the mansion by a horse drawn carriage, instead, my chauffeur was the metro driver on line 13.
He continued his route and left me to walk the short distance from Miromesnil Metro stop to Musée Jacquemart-Andre in the rain.
Edouard Andre was heir to a banking family and Nélie Jacquemart was a young portrait painter when they met.
He hired the young woman to paint his portrait and later they married. Initially a marriage of convenience but later fell in love. The childless couple both shared a passion for art and spent all their years together travelling Europe and Asia collecting their vast collection.
When Nélie died, she bequeathed their home and it’s contents to the city of Paris, honouring her husband’s wishes.
Now their former home is the Musée Jacquemart-Andre.
The townhouse or mansion located in what was the village of Monceau, in the outskirts of Paris, later became part of Paris’ huge urban development instigated by Napoleon III and entrusted to Baron Haussmann.
Edouard André bought a plot on the newly developed, Boulevard Haussmann and within just 6 years had built a mansion inspired by the beautiful Palais Garnier, the famous Parisian Opera House.
In 1875, he opened his residence with a ball, millionaires and dignitaries attended. Articles appeared in society newspapers, praising its opulence and beauty.
Unlike other mansions, this mansion was set back from the street, to allow for a circular driveway which enabled horse and carriages to arrive, drop off their guests and continue back out on to the street, as to not cause congestion in front of the mansion.
They entertained their guests in their State Apartments, consisting of grand chandeliers, famous works of art, magnificent furniture and artefacts from around the world.
When they welcomed a smaller gathering a wall between the reception area and state apartment rooms, was cranked up through the floor by their servants, to enable a more intimate setting and disappear into the floor for their grand balls.
The winter garden, a room with exotic plants and a glass ceiling – which was a fashionable room to have at this time, was a place where the ladies could seek refuge from the crowds.
Positioned at the end of the apartments and the base of the Winter Garden, is The Grand Marble Staircase, extending up to an open oval space, with mirrors to reflect all its opulent beauty.
Because, the city of Paris responded to the former owner’s wishes, to preserve the home and it’s collection, the sumptuous museum, offers you a glimpse into bourgeois life in the 1800’s and allows you to imagine what it might have been like to be an honoured guest in their magnificent home.
I may not have arrived in style, nor was I a guest at one of their decadent soirées but I was excited to re-visit this wonderful museum again.
No line up, self serve lockers in the cloak room, which enabled me to leave behind any items I didn’t want to carry around and a very informative audio guide adds to the experience.
I love poking around former residences of the bourgeois and Musée Jacquemart-Andre is one of the finest you will see in Paris.
I spent much more time than I anticipated, exploring every nook and cranny and was hungry by the time I was ready to leave, it was still raining outside and instead of trying to find a reasonable cafe in the area, in the rain, I opted to have lunch in the museum.
The original dining room with a fresco ceiling and sumptuous surrounds serves lunch and afternoon tea.
Sitting under the watchful eye of Madame Jacquemart’s bust, in fine surrounds, I enjoyed a delicious salad, topped off with a glass of Rosé and I was ready to face more of Boulevard Haussmann and Avenue des Champs-Elysées. It was still raining but as luck would have it I was moving against the dark, threatening clouds.
Towering against a backdrop of blue clearing skies, I could see the Arc de Triomphe ahead.
It may sound romantic, walking down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées but I am not a big fan, however I do enjoy at least one stroll down the wide cobbled street.
I find the crowds daunting and the big brand name shops of Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, way out of my reach.
Window shopping is all I can afford but I walked this way for a reason, I wanted to visit the Petit Palais.
After the heavy grey clouds and rain, a bright rainbow beamed across the sky.
It was that gorgeous time of the day when the fading Paris light bounces off everything turning into a golden glow.
I was torn whether to drink in the sunset from one of my favourite bridges, Pont Alexander III and watch the lights of the Eiffel Tower come alive or slip indoors to the Petit Palais.
Standing with my back to the glass roofed Grand Palais, peering the Petit Palais opposite, with only a hop, skip and a jump away to the bridge, it was a tough decision to make.
These are the dilemmas I am faced with in Paris. So much to do and for me, so little time left.
Admiring the light as I climbed the steps leading up to the golden arched doorway of Petit Palais, I knew that the brilliant light would be gone by the time I left.
Perhaps the scary, unsmiling security guard thought I was casing the place or had watched re-runs of the movie The Thomas Crown Affair once too often.
The ornate iron and marble interior staircase in the Petit Palais is magnificent but I was having trouble trying to figure out the best angle to photograph it and needed to linger to ensure a people free shot.
In the end I gave up and she won.
Revisiting the portrait room void of people, three times, had scary guard lady suspicious of me again and breathing down my neck.
I wanted to explain to her that the portrait captivated and haunted me.
I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or whether the painter had intended to capture the sadness in his subject’s eyes. I could feel tears beginning to well up.
I missed the last golden winter rays of sunlight that caresses the buildings and gives them that golden, seductive glow but I enjoyed my time inside from the cold admiring the art and rooms of the Petit Palais.
Without a tripod, the only thing left to do was walk and soak up the Paris night with my eyes and capture it in my memory.
The cold breeze coming off the Seine was finding ways to slip up under my coat and the melancholy for my little remaining time, was finding ways to slip into my emotions.
Thrusting my hands deep into my pockets and bracing myself against the cold, I continued to walk so as to observe everything around me.
This anxiousness always rears it’s ugly head around this time of the year, I can’t explain it and I am never quite sure when it will hit me.
Today it bubbled to the surface when I was peering into the sadness of the woman’s eyes in the portrait.
Maybe it was a reflection of the pain and sadness that has plagued me these past few years, maybe I wondered what pain she had to endure to have that very familiar look or maybe it was simply that my time in Paris was coming to an end.
Waiting for my dinner to arrive, despite my sadness past and present, I can still manage to find beauty in the simplest things and the tiniest of details.
Paris does that to me…
Musée Jacquemart-Andre – official website in English 158 Boulevard Haussmann Paris 75008 Entry Fee: € 11.00 (includes audio guide) Nearest Metro: Miromesnil, Saint Philippe du Roule, Saint Augustin Opening Times: Monday-Sunday 10am – 6pm Late Nights: Monday and Saturday until 8.30pm during temporary exhibitions Disabled Access: YES but only to the first level (lift to be installed in 2014) Musée Jacquemart-Andre Cafe Opening Times: Monday-Friday 11.45 a.m to 5.30 p.m (lunch from 11.45 a.m to 3 pm and snacks from 3 p.m to 5.30 pm) Saturday and Sunday for brunch 11 a.m to 3 pm Late-night opening on Mondays and Saturdays until 7 p.m. during temporary exhibitions Cafe Menu – PDF Petit Palais – official website in English Avenue Winston Churchill Paris 75008 Entry Fee: Free admission Nearest Metro: Champs-Elysées Clémenceau Opening Times: Monday-Sunday 10am – 6pm Late Nights: Thursdays until 8pm during temporary exhibitions Disabled Access: YES