The Museum of Jewish Art and History is situated in the historic Marais district in one of the finest private mansions in Paris. It retraces the development of Jewish communities through their cultural heritage and traditions. It places special emphasis on the history of the Jews in France, but also looks at the communities in Europe and North Africa, which helped to make French Judaism what it is today. Apart from religious art objects, textiles and manuscripts, the museum presents unique documents about intellectual, artistic and historic movements – including the archives of the Dreyfus affair. Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine and other artists illustrate the role played by Jews in 20th Century art.
The mansion was built from 1644 to 1650 by the architect Pierre le Muet for the Comte d’Avaux. The Duc de Saint-Aignan acquired it in 1688 and undertook its alteration and modernisation. André Le Nôtre was hired to design a formal garden with ornamental beds. Sequestered after the Revolution, the townhouse changed hands several times and was divided up into workshops and living quarters. At the end of the 19th century, the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan was lived in by Jewish immigrants from Poland, Romania and the Ukraine. In 1942, during the main roundups of the Jews in Paris, several inhabitants of the building were arrested and deported. Thirteen of them died in Nazi concentration camps. In 1986, on the initiative of the Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan was made available to a museum of Jewish civilisation, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme. The museum opened in 1998.
Having inherited the collection of the private Jewish museum in rue des Saules, the museum also benefited from the allocation of major collections by the Culture Ministry, including the Isaac Strauss Collection formerly in the Musée de Cluny. Since its inception, the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme has endeavoured to add to the original collections, focusing on France, the history of the Jews, religious art, ethnography and works by Jewish artists.