Like many great places in New Orleans, what you see from the street is only part of the story.
This is especially true with M.S. Rau Antiques. Certainly, when you pass the front of the French Quarter showroom (630 Royal St.) you can see some of the exquisite objets d’art and antiques that have helped M.S. Rau garner an international reputation.
When you step through the front door, the quality — and quantity — of the items housed there is made quickly apparent; beautiful jewelry, artwork, silver and furniture abound. But go back further into the gallery, and you feel as if the owners are playing some elaborate optical trick: beyond the first room is more space and thus more treasures, a fact that appeared impossible from the vantage point of storefront.
So, there I was at the back, ogling an extremely rare, eight-foot-tall Ice Age bear skeleton and wondering how far this antique store stretches out — if, indeed, there was any end to it — when I realized that I’d stopped thinking about the main purpose to my trip to M.S. Rau: to visit the store’s renowned “secret room.”
Following my guide through the tromp l’oeil door that leads to the aforementioned mysterious room, I wondered what I’d see inside. Would it be a disappointment, a la Geraldo Rivera’s anticlimactic jaunt into Al Capone’s vault? Or was there more wonder to behold?
Thankfully, it was the latter.
Here’s a brief selection of what’s in the secret room (which is actually three floors): art by the European masters, including a Van Gogh and three Monets. Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask. Two paintings by Norman Rockwell, and one by Winston Churchill — who knew? Oh, and there’s a dinosaur skeleton. One moment you’re gazing upon a painting by one of history’s most important leaders, and the next, you’re turning your attention to a dinosaur. And, guess what? Unlike a museum, every single object is for sale, and for that reason (and several others) M.S. Rau is a true national treasure right here in New Orleans.
Video Transcript: Explore the Secret Room at M.S. Rau
Fleurty Girl: New Orleans is known for having some of the best antique shops in the world, and you can’t mention New Orleans and antiques without mentioning M.S. Rau, right here on Royal Street.
Bill Rau: People ask me all the time, ‘How do we pick out what’s in our gallery?’ And I’d like to tell you there’s this wonderful science behind it, but I’d be lying.
One of the amazing pieces we have is called the Hupfeld Violina. It automatically plays the piano on a roll; that by itself is not that unusual. This one also plays three violins at one time, with the most extraordinary concert sound you’ll ever hear. It’s something that’s amazing that you’re not going to find anywhere else.
We have a broad range of phenomenal antiques from small pieces of glass to paintings by Monet and Van Gogh and pretty much everything in between.
Fleurty Girl: This 25,000-square-foot showroom is often viewed by visitors as more of a museum with beautiful and rare pieces on display.
Rau: People come into our gallery all the time and say, ‘Oh, you’re a museum with price tags.’ That’s somewhat true, except we’re slightly better than a museum because you can take some of the things home with you.
Fleurty Girl: And you don’t have to be a collector to come by and enjoy it. There’s even a secret room, and I’m told if you ask nicely you might be able to get in.
Rau: We have a room behind a hidden door. It’s where we tend to keep our very best art. In that room right now, we have three Monets, a Van Gogh, two Norman Rockwells, two Pieter Brueghel Juniors, and I could go on and on. And all anybody has to do is ask to see the secret room, and we always show it to them.
We’re the place to go when you want the very best. And we try to find things of beauty. We try to find things of historical significance. We try to find things that are unique and rare. Whether you’re interested in silver or jewelry or furniture or paintings and I could go on and on, we’re more than likely going to have something that really blows you away.
Fleurty Girl: M.S. Rau is a rare gem that you won’t want to miss. I’m Fleurty Girl, and that wraps up another edition of GoNola TV, and we’ll see you next time, darlin’.