Beauty and Sadness: the House of Camondo

 

"Parc Monceau," Gustave Caillebotte, 1877, Public Domain

“Parc Monceau,” Gustave Caillebotte, 1877, Public Domain

The painting above is “Parc Monceau,” by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877. In 1911, Compte (Count) Moise de Camondo built his mansion on the edge of the very elegant Parc Monceau in Paris. The park still looks much the same as it did then, and the house is preserved as though the family had just left. But a visit to the Musee Nissim de Camondo in Paris ends with sobering realities. Newsreels show footage from the First and Second World War, plus some footage of the family members who were swept up in those wars, making this venerable family line extinct.

The Camondo family were prominent in Europe as merchants, bankers and philanthropists beginning in 15th century Spain.  After all Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they settled in Venice, where they prospered. When Austria took over Venice in 1798, they were again forced to relocate.  They went to Istanbul. Eventually, family members made their way to Paris where they already had business interests.  By that time, they had acquired the hereditary title of “Count.”

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Moise de Camondo built his dream home. His dream was to live as an aristocrat in the 18th century. His tranquil salons are hushed now; not too many tourists make their way to the Parc Monceau.  In Moise’s day, his rooms were filled with friends, laughter, good conversation and music.

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Moise filled his mansion with priceless art and furniture. He also had the very latest in plumbing and fixtures.

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Moise’s state-of-the-art kitchen produced fabulous meals served on museum-quality china.

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But this idyllic life did not last long. Moise’s only son, Nissim, volunteered as combat pilot when World War I broke out. He was killed in action. When Moise died in 1935, he named the mansion for his only son and left it to be opened as a museum of 18th century decorative arts.

There was still plenty of money left over after Moise’s death for his daughter, Beatrice de Camondo.  She was a busy socialite. She saw no reason to change her life even as World War II began; like so many others, she apparently believed her family’s wealth and titled status would protect her.  Sadly, Beatrice, her two children and her husband were deported to Auschwitz between 1943 and 1945.  They were never seen again.

The mansion built in 1911 by Moise de Camondo still stands as he left it, a beautiful but melancholy sight in Paris.

 

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