5 Reasons to Visit the Cognacq-Jay Museum
In my opinion the best museums in Paris are the hidden, private ones that don’t draw the crowds that the more well known establishments do.
Being able to show up at any time in the day guaranteed to not have to deal with crowds or queues is a unique experience in the French capital.
For a long time my favorite private museum in Paris was the Musée Jacquemart-André over in the 8th arrondissement. It is the real life home of a once very affluent Parisian couple who traveled the world collecting incredible pieces of art and furniture to bring home with them.
I love the idea of entering a space that real life individuals once inhabited. Unlike regular museums, these private museums were initially curated by individuals completely unaware that the space would one day be walked through by millions of strangers.
Similar to the Jacquemart-André, the Cognacq-Jay Museum is a gem of Le Marais. Located toward the north of the district, the museum is open to visitors daily except for Mondays (Read more about Discover walking tours).
It is a short walk from the Picasso Museum which is great to do for a few hours before heading to the Cognacq-Jay. Le Marais in general has a lot to offer in terms of sites and museums; the Cognacq-Jay is an easy one to do and doesn’t require obscene amounts of time to see everything within its walls.
8 Rue Elzevir, 75003 Paris
1. The History of the Cognacq-Jay Museum
La Samaritaine was once a historic department store well known around Paris. Roughly ten years ago it closed down for good, but remains the legacy of Marie-Louise Jay and her husband Ernest Cognacq.
This was their main source of income for the early years of their lives. Later on, they developed a new interest in the collecting of art and furniture. Fast forward a century or two and this is still the collection we go and view today.
I like to draw parallels between this couple and the couple behind the Jacquemart-André museum. Similarly, Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart were a married couple who dedicate the later part of their lives to collecting works of art for their display space.
Thanks to these collectors over the years they leave behind preserved art collections that form the private museums we know and love.
2. Permanent Collection of the Cognacq-Jay Museum
It should be noted that the permanent collection at the Cognacq-Jay museum is completely free to the public to visit. It is only necessary to pay admission if you would like to experience any of the temporary exhibitions.
The theme of the museum revolves around the Age of Enlightenment.
Each significant piece is accompanied by a plaque that explains the history and relevance to the space. Essentially, what you come to this museum to see is everything inside of the hotel space. The floorboards, wall panels and paint included.
Amongst other pieces in the museum are a variety of artworks, sculptures, antique collectables and elegant furniture. The children’s portraits and Asian artworks are fascinating — don’t miss these during your visit.
3. Gardens in the Cognacq-Jay Museum
In addition to the impressive interior, the Cognacq-Jay Museum also features some impressive gardens for visitors to enjoy either before or after their visit. They belong exclusively to the Hôtel Donon and technically do not make up part of the official museum.
You can’t get to the gardens through the museum. You actually have to leave the property and go around the entire block to the back entrance of the mansion which is where you’ll enter the gardens from rue Payenne.
There are benches and grass patches on which to laze. Some visitors like to bring a packed lunch to enjoy on the lawns.
4. Nearby Attractions of the Cognacq-Jay Museum
Le Marais is one of the most vibrant and attraction filled neighborhoods in Paris. A visit to the Cognacq-Jay Museum puts you in the heart of this area and within walking distance of many other worthwhile excursions.
For a trip through the 17th century walk over to the Carnavalet Museum just one block south. I also love the Institut Suédois Gallery on the same road just slightly north.
You are also a five minutes walk away from the famous Rue des Rosiers. This is the Jewish road of Le Marais and where you’ll find synagogue and kosher food stores.
Also on Rue des Rosiers is the biggest falafel attraction in all of Paris. L’as du Fallafel is an institution in terms of late night dining in the 4th arrondissement. It’s a must while in Paris but try go later to avoid the long lines. You could even take your meal back up to the Cognacq-Jay Museum gardens to enjoy them there.
5. Experience 18th Century Living at the Cognacq-Jay Museum
If there’s any reason to visit the Cognacq-Jay Museum it would be to immerse yourself in 18th century art, decor and history.
This was an interesting era during the ebb and flow of Paris life. Seeing in tangible form in an old hotel building is quite transportive and surprisingly calming. This is somewhat the opposite of the rest of the museums around Paris, where chaos is the natural state of things and crowds rule the space.
Being able to stroll through this private museum at your own, glacial pace without interference from fellow visitors is a refreshing museum experience to have while in Paris.
The Cognacq-Jay Museum is a not-so-hidden gem in the heart of Le Marais. Both the museum and neighborhood are important to visit during your time in Paris. I’ll see you at le hotel!