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Nissim de Camondo

A few years ago the great ceramic artist, Edmund de Waal, wrote a fabulous book which immediately became a bestseller worldwide: The Hare with Amber Eyes. In it he describes how a collection of Japanese Netsukes reached him through his grandmother’s family, the Ephrussis, originally from Odessa. They ended up immensely rich having become the world’s largest grain-trader, at the “Hotel Ephrussi,” 81 Rue Monceau in Paris. A few houses down that beautiful Parisian street, at number 61, there is another Parisian treasure. There one will find the residence of the successful Camondo banking family, originally hailing from Istanbul. It is now a museum named after Nissim de Camondo, who lost his life as a pilot in the French army during the first world war. For many years, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Camondos, led by their pater familias Moïse, were part of the Parisian high society. Moïse, by the time of his son’s death, had become one of the world’s prime collectors of decorative French arts. He decided that after his death his house at Read More

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Toile de Jouy

Returning to Versailles where Joris and I were staying with friends a year ago, we happened to drive through a small town called Jouy-en-Josas. The name rang a bell, and we asked our hosts whether this town might by chance have anything to do with “Toile de Jouy,” which is the famous printed cotton that has been a favorite of interior designers for more then two centuries. It proved to be not exactly by chance: Jouy-en-Josas, about 20 miles from Paris, is indeed the birthplace of Toile de Jouy – and its claim to fame: originally a small rural village on the banks of the river Bièvre, Jouy became the undisputed center in France of this highly specialized industry for more than sixty years. On the main street of the village stands the charming small Château de l’Églantine, which now houses the Museum of Toile de Jouy. When we returned to Jouy this summer to the see the Museum, it was closed for renovations, but in December we were lucky: it had coincidentally reopened the day before we returned to Read More

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Summer Afternoon Walk

It is beautiful afternoon in June, and I have made plans to go on my regular walk with my neighbor and friend Sally Bedell Smith. Sally is the author of a number of best selling biographies as well as the contributing editor at VANITY FAIR.  Luckily for us, our friend Peggy Noonan happens to be in town this weekend and is going to join us. The author of a bestselling memoir, “What I Saw at the Revolution,” about her time serving as speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan, Peggy is a weekly columnist for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, and regularly appears on the Sunday morning talk shows, which has brought her to Washington. After making sure Digby is taken care of, I set off to meet Sally and Peggy.  As I walk out the front doors of my building I always stop and consider the beautiful front façade. Built over a hundred years ago it still has a strong presence in a city known for its historic monuments. I pass the magnificent residence of the French Ambassador on Kalorama Road. Read More

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Hillwood Estate

In a quiet street not far off the beaten path of Connecticut Avenue sits Hillwood Estate, Gardens, and Museum, a precious little gem resting on a hill, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and former home of famed hostess Marjorie Merriweather Post.  I joined Robert on a hot summer day for our own tour of the home, maintained in the same pristine condition it enjoyed during Mrs. Post’s life. Merriweather Post, the daughter of C.W. Post and heir to the Post Cereal Company, was a formidable woman of her time, creating three large estates – Hillwood in Washington, DC, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, and Camp Topridge in the Adirondacks – that reflect her style and taste.  Post’s third husband, Joseph E. Davies, was Ambassador to the former Soviet Union for two years (1937-8) after the Russian Revolution, giving Merriweather Post  access to amazing art and artifacts, most of which came directly from the Romanov family’s collection, as we saw firsthand: both the Russian Liturgical Gallery and the Icon Room, two rooms that we pass through directly off Read More

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Tefaf & Wallpaper

The European Fine Art Fair (“TEFAF” to its aficionados) takes place in March every year, in the charming city of Maastricht, in the southernmost tip of the Netherlands.  In the quarter century of its existence, it has developed into one of the most important art fairs in the world: first class art dealers can no longer afford not to participate, the quality of the works on offer, also thanks to a rigorous vetting process, is extremely high – as, unfortunately for prospective buyers -, are most of the prices. Popularity and reputation have their price; TEFAF has grown into a huge fair, which requires many days for visitors who really want to get a full overview: not only the quality, but also the quantity of the works of art on offer is becoming nearly overwhelming. For a number of years now, our friends Jan and Nicole, retired diplomats who live in France, have organized an annual three-day pilgrimage to TEFAF for a group of international friends – an event we are always immensely looking forward to, also because Jan and Read More

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Spanish Steps

In line at Starbucks the other morning, awaiting the caffeine fix required to start my day, I overheard, in front of me, a conversation on the “Spanish Steps”. As I live in Europe part of the year, I am always in the market for fresh perspectives on favorite old friends over there whom I think I may know well, but in reality do not. “Overhearing” now turned into active eaves-dropping, and I was surprised to learn that the conversation was not at all about Rome, but that we have our own version of the Spanish Steps right here in Washington DC.: a young cousin of one of the worlds best known and most venerated architectural icons, centrally located near Embassy Row – and relatively unknown. Later in the day, as a faithful reader of detective novelist P.D. James, I felt that the time had come for further investigation. So, armed with a picnic basket, I headed over to Kalorama to pick up Robert and Digby, and we set out for S and 22nd to see for ourselves. Arriving at our Read More