Paris has some amazing museums, most of them pretty famous, but here’s one that’s still almost secret.
The d’Ennery Museum, situated on the extremely chic avenue Foch (not far from the Arc de Triomphe) is managed by the Guimet Museum, known for its incredible collection of Asian arts. However, d’Ennery (named after its founder) is not your everyday museum – in fact it’s only open for an hour every week, and you have to sign up months in advance.
Sounds complicated, right? Well, we managed to sign up, and what awaited us was absolutely extraordinary…
The d’Ennery Museum was initially a private collection that was bequeathed to the state, together with the building it is housed in. Playwright Adolphe d’Ennery and his wife Clémence were huge Asian art enthusiasts, and their collection – unlike anything else in the world – contains over 6,000 items.
The couple lived in this huge building specially made for their purchases, in among the exhibits, and towards the end of their lives decided to leave everything to the state so that it could become a museum in their name, allowing the public to access the collection.
Alas, the museum has had numerous problems over the years. Managed by the Guimet Museum, apparently there is not enough money to keep it open during the week, and the building looks like it needs work. Some of it looks almost abandoned.
The ground floor used to be the Armenian Museum in France until 2011 when the building completely closed to be brought up to safety standards. Although the museum was promised it would reopen directly after this, it has remained closed, the exhibits have been in storage ever since, and a mudslinging battle involving the Ministry of Culture still hasn’t found a solution. The d’Ennery Museum now uses the ground floor rooms… for storage.
It has to be said, some dedication is needed in order to visit the d’Ennery Museum – you have to send an e-mail to the Guimet Museum to request one of the dozen-or-so places available per weekly visit (which is at 11.30am every Saturday, free, and takes an hour). Several times, wew ere told that the next few months were fully booked, so be sure to plan ahead.
During the visit, you’ll see that only one floor of the vast building is actually open, and even that could do with a little work. The lighting isn’t great, the paint is peeling in certain spots, there’s a fair amount of dust…
It’s a little sad that such an exceptional collection, deliberately bequeathed so that everyone could enjoy it, is now impossible to access most of the time.
So that’s the backstory. We managed to get our spots on the tour (thanks to a cancellation, or so we were told), turned up ten minutes early as requested, and were invited to wait in a ground floor room for the guide. The decor here gave us an idea of what was to come…
Our guide took us upstairs, and standing in front of a display case of figurines she explained the history of the d’Ennerys, how they were friends with Georges Clemenceau who was twice the prime minister of France (from 1906-1909 and 1917-1920), how Jules Verne was a witness at their wedding… Just to give you an idea of their social circle.
From here we couldn’t properly see the first proper room of exhibits, and had absolutely no idea that there were three or four more to follow, all of them vast.
We then moved into a decently-sized room at the front of the building, with large windows and a large number of display cases.
We were told that the d’Ennerys were not trying to build a museum through their purchases, but instead just bough what they loved. This explains the wide variety of pieces.
They were obviously monied, and even the display cases were made specially for the space. With many of the building’s rooms closed, there’s a lot on show in every room, a mix of wooden chests, statuettes, sculpted characters… It’s a real cabinet of curiosities.
The least one can say is that there are an awful lot of things on show. Our guide gives a lot of interesting information, but in a real museum everything would be labelled with a succinct explanation. Here, there isn’t enough time to ask about specific pieces, and the arrangements are puzzling. It’s a bit of a shame.
In the second part of this first room there were even more display cases, and a glimpse of a bigger room…
We next enter a space as large and impressive as a theatre foyer! There are objects everywhere, and the room extends seemingly into the distance, divided into two sections by a giant arch. It’s an incredible sight, like stepping back in time. Wherever you look there’s another work of art, full of details to study.
Only Paris can offer such unusual places…
The second part of the room still had some surprises for us…
And at the far end of this huge room there was… another room, and boy is it big!
The ceiling is once again at least 7 metres high, there’s a little cubbyhole in one corner, and a vast mirror in another that’s supposed to increase the natural light from the tall windows.
When you think about the effort, time and money put into collecting all these objects, it’s a shame that they are hidden away for six days of every week.
One hour is a little short for a visit to such a cornucopia, and our time is up. We leave a little sad, but also amazed by the incredible venue and collection that we’ve just seen.
If you are able to organise your visit to Paris in advance, we heartily recommend booking a (free!) visit to the d’Ennery Museum.
The d’Ennery Museum (here) is open once a week (11.30am Saturdays) for a free 60-minute guided visit with fifteen people maximum
To sign up (well in advance), send an e-mail here
To check out all our photos of the d’Ennery Museum, click here.