Ernest Cognacq established the Samaritaine department store in Paris. With his wife Louise Jay [1838-1925] he built up an enormous art collection, primarily of eighteenth century paintings and decoratorive arts. The collection was displayed in a museum near the Samaritaine and in the Cognacq-Jay home. Childless, the couple adopted their grand nephew Gabriel Cognacq [1880-1951] as their successor at the Samaritain. Upon their death, Gabriel inherited about a third of the collection from the the home; the remainder joined the rest of the collection to form the Cognacq-Jay Museum, bequeathed to the city of Paris. Its first curator was Edouard Jonas, a picture dealer who had advised Cognacq on his acquisitions. Gabriel Cognacq added substantially to his inheritance. At one point he intended to leave his collection to the Louvre, but this relationship deteriorated following the Second World War, during which he acted as President of the Museums of France. His behavior during this period had post-war repercussions which led him to change his will and leave the collection to the Cognacq-Jay, effectively disinheriting his wife and son. A court verdict overturned the will, and ordered the collection dispersed at public auction. The Cognacq sale of 1952 was one of the most important and sensational events in the twentieth century art market.
Cabanne, Pierre. The Great Collectors. Paris, 1963:99-121
Cabanne, Pierre. "Les Grands Collectionneurs: Les Cognacq." Jardin des Arts 179 (October 1969): 72-85.