Édouard and Nélie’s infatuation for Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli


If you are planning a visit to “Perugino, master of Raphael”, currently at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris, save some time to see the rooms that Édouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart have dedicated to the XV and XVI century’s Florentine and Venetian art, and that have been inspired by a fascinating Italian collector, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. This extraordinary couple – he was the heir of a protestant banking family and she was a renown society painter – devoted their entire lives to collecting works of art, and this section of their beautiful home is something that would be rare to come across even in Italy.


It was Édouard the one interested in the Venetian masters, while Nélie preferred the Florentine ones. The French couple travelled a lot in Italy, starting for the 1882 when, the year after their wedding, they spent four months in the country visiting Genoa, Pisa, Perugia, Rome and Florence. In that occasion they probably fell in love with the Italian culture and nature, since in October 1883 they left Paris again to spend seven other months in Italy.


In this second trip they visited for the first time Milan. The city was not as fascinating for them as Venice or Florence, but here they visited the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, that opened in 1881. This museum is to be considered the model to which their Musée italien is inspired, as proved by the two articles published by the “Gazette des Beaux-Art” – the prestigious art magazine directed by Édouard himself – presenting to the French public the brand new astonishing Milanese museum.


Milan was not Édouard and Nélie’s favourite place for buying art pieces, nevertheless here they met some of the best art dealers of that time. In their second trip to Italy, they got in touch with the old Giuseppe Baslini (1817-1887), the brilliant dealer who, according to Wilhelm von Bode, was the real maker of the Poldi Pezzoli’s collection. In 1883 Édouar and Nélie purchased from him the “Portrait of a Duke of Milan” for 1300 lire. The year after the couple bought from Sofia Arrigoni – heiress of the art dealer Carlo Arrigoni, who was amongst the favourite dealers of Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli – two candleholders and two paintings, a “portrait paint par Moro”, and a “portrait d’enfant”, both of them haven’t been identified yet. In Milan they acquired also from Achille Cantoni, at that time an emerging art dealer who did sell to the Poldi Pezzoli museum too. Between 1893 and 1899 he sold to them a small painting attributed to Bergognone, a copy of the Holy Mary with the child by Cesare da Sesto, whose original work was in the collection of the Poldi Pezzoli museum, a “Saint Jerome” attributed to Domenico Panetti, and an “Annunciation” attributed to Giotto.


Carlo and Antonio Grandi sold art pieces to Nélie too, between 1893 and 1912, after Édouard’s death. The most notable amongst them were two paintings attributed to Bramantino and a “Saint Sebastian” currently attributed to Bernardo Zenale. Moreover, Giuseppe Bertini, director of the Museum Poldi Pezzoli (since 1879) and of the Pinacoteca di Brera (since 1882), convinced the wealthy French couple to purchase the Holy “Mary with the child” by Cima da Conegliano, and the “Portrait of a Gentlemen” by Bernardino de’ Conti, but this latter could eventually reach Paris only after a long negotiation with the Italian authorities.

November 25, 2020