Fuseli at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris
One of the great hidden gems in Paris, the Jacquemart-André Museum is a must-see for art lovers planning a trip to the City of Lights.
We can visit this amazing museum and this one-of-a-kind exhibit together.
While you may not have heard of this museum, it offers something truly unforgettable — combining a quality collection with a beautiful mansion to hold it. And the museum’s origins and everything it has on offer today are yet another remarkable story from the storied streets of Paris.
Who Were Jacquemart and André?
This stunning private museum began with Édouard André (1833 - 1894). He was the inheritor of an enormous fortune, thanks to his family’s banking enterprise that found great success during the Second Empire — the time that Napoleon’s nephew Napoleon III ruled France as a dictator from 1852 to 1870.
It was a time of great change for France and Paris in particular. New renovations greatly changed the way the city looked and felt, and there were generally high economic prospects for those ready to take advantage of the new situation.
These conditions led to the family’s prosperity. With that money, the young Édouard became deeply engrossed in the world of French politics, but his support for Napoleon III eventually proved to be quite unpopular after the fall of the Empire and the rise of the Third Republic.
With his political prospects suddenly reversed, he retreated entirely into his budding art collection. But the question became where to put all of it. He hired an architect to design him a mansion fitting the grand collection André was building.
The result was an enormous and fantastically detailed palace devoted to art, a major achievement of Parisian architecture at the end of the 19th century.
Fitting, then, that it would soon be inhabited by an artist, after André married one Nélie Jacquemart.
Long before their marriage, Jacquemart built a career as a successful artist. She found success early, breaking into the Salon at the young age of 22, and continued to work in many forms of art, including portraiture. One of her commissions was to paint the portrait of a wealthy man named Édouard André.
Nine years later, the two were married.
Before their union, both had amassed large amounts of paintings and sculpture, and together they continued to build their collection.
The couple made yearly trips to Italy. There, they always purchased artwork to take back with them. This led to them gathering the greatest collection of Italian art in all of France. But they also had many pieces from Egypt and Turkey.
Édouard died in 1894. He gave all of his art to his widow, wishing that eventually it would be turned over to the public as a museum.
Under Nélie’s care, the collection continued to grow, especially with artwork from England. When she died in 1912, this massive endowment of art was handed over to the Institut de France, which used their mansion to house a museum exhibiting their once-private collection.
What Can You See Here?
The Musée Jacquemart-André is an astounding place to visit for the building alone. Its grand design returns you to the heights of French style and excess in the 19th century. The rooms each have their own theming — one is even given bright pink walls, creating strong character.
Every inch of the building is given luxurious detail. The ceilings have scenes on them, just as the walls are crafted with golden accents and intricate designs.
The grounds are impressive, as well. This mansion was built on Boulevard Haussmann, named after the designer Napoleon III entrusted to fully renovate the city. This boulevard served as one of the proving grounds for the success of this massive project — and the grandeur of this mansion no doubt served those ends well. It exudes power, sophistication, and ostentation.
What’s so special is that, being in the hands of the Institut de France, its maintenance has kept the building looking spectacular. To walk through its halls is to feel as if you have gone back in time.
And, of course, the artwork inside the building is tremendous.
Édouard and Nélie’s collection focused primarily on artwork from the Italian Renaissance (often to the chagrin of Italians at the time the collection was being built). That means there are many, many great works to be found in this vein. But their Italian art goes well beyond this period, including entire frescoes by Tiepolo (1696 - 1770).
You will find transcendent objects from many Italian masters, for instance a stunning relief sculpture by Donatello (1386 - 1466). It depicts the martyrdom of Saint Sebastion, a favorite scene of the time, rendered in the shallow bas-relief style that the artist pioneered. Created sometime around 1460, it uses both high drama in its composition and subtly in its technique to bring the scene to life.
Among Donatello’s contemporaries at the museum is Paulo Uccello (1391 - 1475). His Saint Georges and the Dragon (1430 - 35) serves as the centerpiece of the entire museum. While his name has not remained as famous as others, the artist helped lay the foundation of perspective that would go on to transform Western art long after the Renaissance.
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This painting on wood panel shows what makes him such an odd and hard-to-categorize figure. His style remains much more fun and flagrant than his counterparts who were trying so hard to exemplify a realist style. Notice how playful and cartoonish the dragon is, and yet see the deep perspective Uccello creates.
Of course, there are many, many more works of art in the permanent collection. They range from 18th century French painters (including none other than Fragonard) to painters from the Dutch Golden Age (including the always fascinating Rembrandt) and beyond.
Eating at the Jacquemart-André Museum
After an hour or two mesmerized by the fantastic artwork and architecture on display here, you are likely to become famished — and it will be time to nourish the body after all that nourishing of the soul!
The Café Jacquemart-André sits you down among the beautiful paintings or you can eat outside on the patio, with the sounds of the Champs-Elysées drifting through the air.
The fare is light, meant for a lunch or brunch, and the tea selection is extensive. Some of the items on the menu change to create themed options related to their current exhibition.
It’s hours are:
● Monday to Friday — 11:45 am to 6 pm
● Saturday — 11 am to 6 pm
● Sunday11 am to 2:30 pm
They do stay open later on exhibition opening nights.
The Johann Heinrich Füssli Exhibit
The current exhibit at the Jacquemart-André Museum features the work of Swiss-born Romantic artist Johan Heinrich Füssli (1741 - 1825).
This artist, whose career was mostly spent in England, left an indelible mark on that country’s painting, and he created some of the most famous works of the 19th century.
His pieces are stirring, gothic, and intense. He drew from mythology and the stage — especially Shakespeare — leading to an appreciation for narrative that few of his contemporaries could match.
He focused on the sublime, a feeling of terror and awe that overwhelms the viewer. It was a subject popular among the writers and painters of Britain at the time, and Füssli remains one of its leading proponents.
If you are interested in seeing his work, it will be up at the Jacquemart-André Museum from September 16, 2022 to January 23, 2023. They have 60 works gathered from private and public collections, including many of his most well known.
Who Was Johann Heinrich Füssli?
The artist was born to the family of a painter and art historian in Zürich, Switzerland. One of 18 children, the young Füssli no doubt struggled to stand out. Even from an early age, he loved English dramaturgy — especially that of Shakespeare and Marlowe.
His father eventually sent him off to a wonderful education at Caroline college, preparing him for a life in the church.
Though he went on to be ordained, life as a Swiss priest was not meant for Füssli. A school friend became embroiled in a political issue, making public a magistrate’s misdoings. Füssli helped his friend, and when revenge was sought, it came for the priest.
Füssli fled, eventually arriving in England in 1765. There, he attended theater, watching the plays he loved since a boy. This gave him the benefit of a lively arts education as well as a way to perfect his still stilted English.
He also began to pursue a career as a visual artist. A large part of his inspiration came from the innovations going on in drama at the time. Leaps forward in lighting, costumes, and staging were revolutionizing the experience. Füssli was drawn in by the acting, too — watching how they used their bodies and facial expressions to communicate.
Plays by Shakespeare were especially common at this time. The Licensing Act of 1737 had clamped down on the freedom of playwrights. The burden of government censorship slowed production of new material, but Shakespeare was in the free and clear. That led to his plays making up a full quarter of all productions on the London stage at the time.
To continue his growth as an artist, he moved to Italy for eight years to study the masters (it is then that he took on the more Latinate Fuseli).
On his return to England in 1778, he got his first major commission. The Shakespeare Gallery was an effort to create a legitimate English tradition of history painting. Füssli contributed many works to this cause, bringing together his passions and leading to many of his most important pieces. He also used his education to involve himself in the world of English letters, writing and translating.
Works like his original The Nightmare (1782) show how he used fantasy, romanticism, and knowledge of the humanities to produce impeccable visions — sharp and compelling. He was uniquely capable of merging the beautiful with the grotesque.
He often loved to mix the supernatural and scary with the sensual. Füssli took inspiration from the ancients to find things to paint this way, but also contemporaries. Christoph Martin Wieland’s epic poem Oberon was a particular favorite of his.
In the 1790s, he joined the Royal Academy and eventually became a professor. During this time, he also started a series of paintings based on the writings of John Milton that would run 47 works and take him nine years to complete. Most of these were based on Paradise Lost, and that subject matter helps close the loop for Füssli’s career, which began with him taking on the orders of a priest.
The paintings in this exhibit give us an in-depth view of this magnificent painter’s oeuvre.
Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck (1787 - 90)
This is a work from his collection for the Shakespeare Gallery. Puck is a fairy character from the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This beloved trickster is shown in all of his facetious splendor. In the play, he has just fooled a horse rider to follow the wrong path. Now he emerges in victory. It is an odd way to show a fairy — imposing and imperious over the scene. But here we have it, complete with a low-angle composition that makes him appear like a conquering tyrant. See how small the secondary characters appear beneath him.
It is colorful and also terrifying. Few artists would take this moment to emphasize and enlarge, preferring a more tamed or ridiculous side of Puck. Füssli, however, is able to see the pearl of the grotesque inside. After all, what is the inner world of the trickster? Why do they do the things they do? What is the joy they feel after doing them?
This painting depicts none other than the famous actor Sir Joshua Reynolds portraying Puck, and there is still another nod to the theater. Notice how the scenery is rudimentary, as if mirroring the set of an actual stage production rather than a fantasy forest.
Hamlet and His Father’s Ghost (1793)
Füssli once again takes up Shakespeare, this time tackling the extremely well known moment in Hamlet Act I, Scene 4. Hamlet looks upon his father’s ghost who has a terrible truth to share with him. For the rest of the play, Hamlet will struggle to take up action and avenge his father, wondering if this vision was real or not. This is Shakespeare and Füssli at their best.
Rather than complicate the scene with setting, Füssli draws things down to stark contrast. This allows the emotion of Hamlet laying eyes on his father’s ghost to burn as the undisputed center of the work.
This is based on Hamlet as played by David Garrick, the most famous actor in all of England at the time. How do we know this for sure? See how Hamlet’s hair stands on end. Garrick actually had a device that allowed him to pull a cord and bristle the hairs of his wig.
The next three paintings we’ll look at come from Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. The play took a long time to find footing with audiences, which started decades after it was written in 1606. When Füssli first stepped foot in England, it had become the most popular Shakespeare play.
Füssli, for his part, arrived on the island already a rabid fan of the work. While still in Switzerland, he had attempted a translation of Macbeth into German. Though this was never published, it shows the artist’s deep love and profound understanding of the play.
The story of Macbeth begins with the title character and a companion coming upon three witches. They predict that Macbeth will be crowned king. When he tells his wife, the two conspire to murder the king and seize power. But guilt and paranoia plunge them into madness.
The Three Witches (1783)
This is one of the most popular images ever painted by Füssli. It shows us the inciting incident of the entire play — the three witches telling Macbeth his future. The tragedy unspools this moment into a series of profound philosophical, psychological, and spiritual questions.
Füssli depicts the witches (known as the “weird sisters”) as androgynous, terrifying. They are supernatural, not fully human. This is the artist showing his command of dark fantasy.
The work is so striking that it has inspired many engravings and copies. Being the most famous depiction of these important characters, it has had an immeasurable impact on the tradition of Shakespearean theater.
Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers (exhibited 1812)
This image from Act II, Scene 2 shows Macbeth horrified by what he has just done — killed the king while he stayed as a visitor in Macbeth’s own home. His wife grabs the daggers and shushes him, so that they do not awaken any guards.
Everything is drawn in black and the silvered light of the moon. The swooping composition of the bodies tells you everything you need to know: Macbeth is pulling away from the daggers that represent his deed, and his wife is quick to seize them.
The exhibit actually has two examples of Füssli painting this scene, each painted decades apart from each other.
Sleepwalking Lady Macbeth (c. 1784)
This time, Füssli turns to Act V, Scene 1. These are the last moments that we see Lady Macbeth.
Over the course of the play, her ambition spurred her to encourage her husband to assassinate the king, an act that made her the Queen of Scotland. But the guilt is too great, and she descends into a hallucinatory madness.
She begins to sleepwalk, drifting down the dark halls of the castle Dunsinane. See how Füssli has her coming out of the shadows, the fingers on her left hand covering up the famous stain of blood (as she says later in the scene: “Out, damned spot!”).
If there was ever a painter who could match the full Gothic pitch of this scene, it is Füssli, whose grasp of the theatrical brings this moment of a scene fully to life.
Apart from Shakespeare, another well that Füssli often visited for inspiration was that of ancient myth. Remember, he was a very well educated man who spent most of his youth preparing for a life of the mind and the soul. He knew well the stories of Greek and Roman mythology — stories he’d read in their original Greek and Latin!
He was also fond of Homer, leading him to help legendary English poet William Cowper with a translation of Homer’s works.
So many of the pieces in the exhibition show his understanding of ancient mythology, as well as the artistic traditions that brought them to life in the past.
During his eight years in Rome, he was able to study the likes of Michelangelo, standing awe-struck under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And he no doubt studied the statuary from all those artists whose names are now lost to time.
That helped balance his Romantic and Gothic impulses, giving his mythic pieces a depth and presence.
Thor Battling the Midgard Serpent (1790)
This is the painting that marks Füssli’s acceptance as an official member of the Royal Academy in 1790. While Norse mythology is popular today, at the time it was not well known at all. That makes this a stand out piece, and a daring choice on the artist’s part.
The Norse god of thunder is locked in combat with a mighty serpent. The composition is vertical, allowing for a low-angle view, a favorite of Füssli. Thor is given sumptuously plump muscles, and the figure is so pale. He appears like one of Michelangelo’s marble statues come to life.
This is a copy of the original made by the artist himself. And no retrospective on Füssli would be complete without one of these paintings. It shows us the full strength of the artist: his love of the dark, his fascination with the Gothic, his flare for the dramatic.
The shining eyes of the horse (the “mare” from which the term nightmare comes) and the incubus (demons who were once blamed for night terrors) flash in the dim room. The woman who is having the nightmare spreads herself over the bed in stylized theatrics.
This is not just horror, it is good fun!
See Füssli at the Jacquemart-André Museum
If you want to see this interesting artist in one of the most interesting museums in all of Paris, you’ve got to come visit before January 23!
And what better way to visit than with a private guided tour in Paris?
As a local tour guide and a professional Art-interpreter, I can give you an advanced Art tour experience of Paris city that takes you to the museums you’ve dreamt of visiting, as well as the ones you maybe have never heard of.