February 27, 2013

Sense and Sensibility in the Marais

What is the counterpart of a hysterical woman? Well, a hypochondriacal male, of course. Don't you just love that comparison? These are the bits of remarkable details the most amazing guides of the Paris Walks team come up with.

Today a young lady - who has completely lost her heart to the 18th century - took us around the Cognacq-Jay museum. It was her first tour around the museum but boy was she "switched on". Information was literally flowing out of her. Cerise seemed quite driven to transmit as many facts as humanly possible within the two hours of our programmed tour. I felt quite sorry for the non-English natives since our guide was going at 100 miles an hour. However, she did not miss a beat and combined just the right amount of facts with juicy insinuations to keep 18 ladies on their toes and listening attentively.

The delightful little Cognacq-Jay museum was created from a bequest by the founders of the once famous Samaritaine Department Store, Ernest Cognacq and his wife Louise Jay. They had started as modest shopkeepers but became extremely wealthy and they enjoyed collecting works from the period when France led the world in stylish grace and elegance.

The museum is housed in a lovely old Marais Mansion and the objects are set out in period rooms to evoke the life of the day. The wood panelling, paintings, sculptures, furniture and decorative objects were all of very high quality.

We admired fêtes galantes (a French term referring to some of the celebrated pursuits of the idle, rich aristocrats in the 18th century) and music lessons (romantic scenes depicting luxuriously costumed ladies and gentlemen flirting, picnicking and playing music at gallant country parties).

We learnt about "sumptuary laws". They attempted to regulate the balance of trade by limiting the market for expensive imported goods. They were also an easy way to identify social rank and privilege and often were used for social discrimination. Apparently the luxury trade (porcelain, furniture,silk, glass) within France was stimulated by Louis XIV during 18th century.

Did you know that Marie Antoinette's favourite painter was a woman named Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun?

It never occurred to me that a Secrétaire (writing desk) is where you keep your secrets.

We finished our tour in the most amazing attic elevated by poutres apparentes (exposed wooden beams) and a spectacular view onto the roofs of Paris.

I will now have to take time to watch "Sense and Sensibilty" again which I am certain, will take on a whole new sense after having followed Cerise on her tour of sensibility.

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