Paris Museums with la muséophile : Musée Cognacq-Jay

France’s capital is a treasure trove of hidden museums. Join la muséophile, or Gemma King as she’s known in the real world, as she takes us to her best picks when it comes to Paris museums. This week we head to Musée Cognacq-Jay to explore the collections of 18th-century art and furniture.

A visit to the museumMyFrenchLife™ - Paris Museums - Musée Cognacq-Jay -

What do we want to see when we go to a museum?


  • we’re looking for the strange and new, something that makes us think or feel differently about the world around us
  • we want to see the familiar, something we’ve read or learned about but never had the chance to see in the flesh
  • we want something in the middle; something we’ve never set eyes on, but which reminds us of what we know
  • we want to see a different side to something we already understand

Musée Cognacq-Jay: stepping back in time

That’s how I feel when I visit museums set in the space people once lived in. In these adapted home museums, you stand in the middle of preserved living quarters from another time.

Visit one of Paris’ museums and find yourself in Marie Antoinette’s chambers at Versailles or Joséphine Bonaparte’s dressing room at Malmaison.

Both are alien experiences; these women lived among unimaginable riches – and seeing their gilt clocks, bejewelled furnishings, and velvet-tasselled canopy beds shows us how very different their lives were to our own.

MyFrenchLife™ - Paris Museums - Musée Cognacq-Jay -

Yet there is also something intimate and familiar about standing in the very room in which these women napped, snored, and put on their makeup.

Imagining them rolling out of bed and splashing water on their faces from the porcelain pitchers displayed right in front of us allows us to see these abstract, often famous figures as real humans, who inhabited real bodies in the real world.

Musée Cognacq-Jay: 18th-century living

MyFrenchLife™ - Paris Museums - Musée Cognacq-Jay Drawing Room - MyFrenchLife.orgThis intimacy is one of the main reasons I love the Musée Cognacq-Jay of 18th-century art in Paris.

The museum is located in the elaborate Hôtel Donon, home to Théodore-Ernest Cognacq (1839–1928) and his wife Marie-Louise Jay (1838–1925), with views of the surrounding Marais streets.

It is filled with rare 18th-century artworks and objects collected by the Cognacq-Jays throughout their lifetimes.

But what I love most about this museum is how it still manages to feel a bit like the home it once was.

Right down to the plush, stubby silk bed in which they did their napping and snoring. Just as we all do (especially the snoring, if you happen to the be l’Américain).

Musée Cognacq-Jay
Opening hours: Tues – Sunday 10.00am-6.00pm; Mondays & public holidays – closed.
Address: 8 rue Elzevir, 75003 Paris
Métro: Saint Paul/Chemin Vert

Have you ever visited the Musée Cognacq-Jay? What is your favourite aspect of visiting a museum? Share your comments and experiences with us below.

Image Credits
1. Musée Cognac-Jay by Cognacq Jay Museum
2-4. © Gemma King
This article was first published on Les musées de Paris and republished here with permission.

About the Contributor

Gemma King

I’m a Lecturer in French Studies at the Australian National University specialising in contemporary French cinema and museums. You can read my blog 'Les Musées de Paris' and find me on Twitter here.

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