luck or money?

me at the museumWould you rather be rich or lucky? My favorite museum provides the answer. Haunted by great wealth and heartbreaking tragedy the beautiful Musee Nissim de Camondo is a Paris treasure.

Conte Moise de Camondo had it all.  He was the scion of one of Europe’s wealthiest banking families.  Sephardic Jews, they had fled Spain in 1492 to escape the inquisition. Settling in Constantinople, they owned one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire.   After a stint in Venice where they picked up their titles, the Camondo’s moved headquarters and families to Paris 1868.

the entrance of the house from the balconyMoise’s father, Nissim bought a luxurious house at the fashionable 63 rue de Monceau.  Moise grew up hanging in the Parc Monceau surrounded by rich and fashionable Parisian Society. Like many of his contemporaries he was enamored with all things 18th century. He considered the reigns of Louis XV and XVI as “one of the glories of all things France”. He passionately collected both fine and decorative arts from this period.

Less passionate was his marriage to Irene Cahen d’Anvers, the daughter of another equally wealthy Jewish banking family. When she was 11, Renoir painted her portrait. After 5 years and two children she ran off with their stable hand who also happened to be an Italian count. She later converted to Catholicism to marry him.

When Moise inherited the house in 1912 he hired Rene Sargent to rebuild it. He wanted 18th century style with modern conveniences to house both his children and his spectacular collection.  He intended his son, Nissim to inherit this house and his banking empire. But Nissim was killed in in air combat in 1917 during WWI. He was hailed a hero. His father’s heart was broken. Though he continued to refine and add to his collection he sold his banking interests and largely withdrew from society. When Moise died in 1935 he gifted the house and all its contents to France with the stipulation things remain where he had placed them.

the family treeDon’t feel sorry for his daughter Beatrice… yet. He left her a huge fortune. She didn’t really care about the house or the stuff in it. Her obsession was horses. When the Nazi’s occupied France she thought her friendship with senior government officials, (they would go riding in the Bois de Boulogne together,) her incredible wealth and her conversion to Catholicism would protect her from anti-Semitic policies. She was wrong. In  1942, Beatrice, her ex-husband and two children were arrested. In November 1943 they were deported to Auschwitz and murdered.

The house is now open to the public. It is a wonderful opportunity to see a phenomenal collection of 18th century treasures. Marie Antoinette’s desk is here. It is also a chance to see what were the most modern kitchens, bathrooms and luxurious comforts of the early 20th century.

As for the Camondo fortune? Irene, Moise ex, survived the war and claimed it as Beatrice’s only heir. Long divorced from her second husband legend has it she squandered the money living high and gambling along the Riviera before dying penniless in 1963. Most unlucky!