Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Art in Hidden Corners: Paris Collections Open

PARIS -- Art lovers need no excuse to come to Paris, but there are two extra reasons to make the pilgrimage this spring.

Two jewels in the French capital's cultural crown -- the private Jacquemart-Andre Museum and the public Delacroix Museum -- have just reopened after undergoing extensive renovation.

Jacquemart-Andre, one of the best kept secrets in France, is a graceful 19th-century mansion on Paris' Boulevard Haussmann housing a private art collection in the same class as London's Wallace Collection or New York's Frick Collection.

Its treasures include a superb collection of Renaissance Italian paintings and sculpture, a room full of Dutch old masters and a bevy of 18th-century French and British artists. Sumptuously restored during a nearly five-year closure, the museum is a delight to visit.

Individual audio systems provide a guided tour of both the architecture and furnishing of this banker's palace and the works of art.

Visitors punch in a simple numerical code for more detailed commentaries on individual paintings or features.

A visit to this relatively confidential museum, which can be capped by a light meal in the elegant tea-room, is the ideal way to recover from elbowing past herds of tourists or schoolkids to glimpse the plethora of artistic treasures of the Louvre.

Designed by the architect Henri Parent, the mansion was built between 1868 and 1875 by Protestant banker Edouard Andre during the expansion of bourgeois Paris under Emperor Napoleon III and his town planner, Baron Haussmann.

In 1881, Andre married the noted portrait artist Nelie Jacquemart and the two devoted their 13 years together to buying up art across Europe, especially in Italy, and hosting glittering receptions at their Paris home.

When Andre died, his wife continued to travel in Greece and Italy, Egypt, India and Burma in search of art treasures.

Jacquemart died in 1912 after bequeathing the house and contents to the Institut de France on condition that it should be open to the public as a museum.

President Raymond Poincar? attended the ceremonial opening the following year. The interior, with its spectacular marble double staircase, gracious ballroom and galleried hall in which the couple hosted concerts, would be well worth the visit even if it were not studded with well restored masterpieces.

These include Rembrandt's eerie "Pilgrims of Emmaus," a haunting "Ecce Homo" by Andrea Mantegna, a stylized "St. George Slaying the Dragon" by Uccello and a bustling Tiepolo fresco of "King Henri III of France Received by the Doge Cantarini" that was painstakingly transferred from Venice to Paris.

Among the French and English collections are works by Chardin, Boucher and Gainsborough, and portraits by Prud'hon, Vigee-Lebrun, David and Reynolds.

Many of the works are beautifully displayed, although the lighting in the library makes it hard to appreciate the dark Dutch and Flemish masters -- Rembrandt, Hals and van Ruysdael -- without the reflected glare of the spotlights.

Unlike the spacious Jacquemart-Andre collection, the Delacroix Museum has had to overcome severe space constraints in adapting the 19th-century master's last home and studio in a residential Left Bank apartment house.

The once cramped museum, founded by the Society of Friends of Eugene Delacroix, has gained a little extra space thanks to the purchase of a small adjoining apartment by the state.

The main charm lies in the artist's studio, an airy, high-ceilinged building in a leafy courtyard behind the house, and in the beauty of Place Fuerstenberg, the square on which the artist spent his last six years from 1857 to 1863.

Anyone hoping to find Delacroix's greatest masterpieces in the museum will be disappointed.

Many are on show in the nearby Louvre and Orsay museums, in addition to his magnificent wall paintings decorating the National Assembly and Senate chambers, and in the Saint-Sulpice and Notre Dame de Lorette churches.

The only major work at the Delacroix Museum is the 1845 "Madeleine in the Desert," a softly erotic treatment of the religious theme of the death of Mary Magdelen whose "supernaturally beautiful smile" was celebrated by the poet Baudelaire.

But there are a number of other oil paintings, engravings and sketches, reflecting many facets of Delacroix's talent and interest, as well as the painter's palettes and correspondence with relatives and pupils.

The works include scenes from his travels in North Africa, religious paintings, illustrations of Shakespeare's Hamlet, political cartoons and rare attempts at murals on classical themes, rescued from Valmont Abbey.

An exhibition of the Delacroix Museum's acquisitions of the last decade will be showing until Sept. 2.