Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), Paris.
Baron Edouard de Rothschild (1868-1949), Paris.
Confiscated from the above following the Nazi occupation of Paris by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg after May 1940 and transferred to the Jeu de Paume (ERR no. R 4859).
Restituted to the Rothschild Collection.
Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild (1914-1999), Tel Aviv, sold
Christie's, London, 14 December 2000, lot 70.
Rothschild inventory no. E. de R. 290.
KUNSTKAMMER OBJECTS FROM THE COLLECTION OF BARON ALPHONSE DE ROTHSCHILD (1827-1905)
(LOTS 1-4, 16-20, AND 33-35)
Le goût Rothschild and the patronage of Renaissance works of art
The French Rothschild art collections and the wealth that fueled them began with Baron James Mayer de Rothschild (1792-1868), youngest of the five brothers known famously as the five “arrows” of the family. Founder of MM de Rothschild Frères in Paris, Baron James lived with his wife Betty in grand style at 19 rue Lafitte, although their most magnificent creation was the château de Ferrières, which he thoroughly updated in the family taste for the Renaissance style.
Joseph Paxton, the architect of the Rothschild-owned Mentmore Towers in England, transformed the exterior of Ferrières between 1853 and 1863, while the interior was designed by Eugene Lami who created an extraordinary mise-en-scène in which to display grand pictures and grand furniture to grand effect. Ferrières became more of a palace than a château and reflected James’s rise to the very height of French society, where he achieved an almost sovereign status, demonstrated by the state visits of Napoleon III in 1862 and of the King and Queen of Belgium in 1867.
In 1868 Baron Alphonse James de Rothschild (1827-1905), James’s eldest son, inherited not only the management of Rothschild concerns in France but also his father’s financial and political skills, used to great effect in protecting and enhancing his family’s interests as well as those of France through events such as the fall of Louis-Napoleon, the Paris Commune and the Franco-Prussian War.
Inheriting the château de Ferrières and its superb collection of furniture, sculpture, tapestries and pictures, Alphonse set about acquiring precious works of art to form a treasure-cabinet, or Schatzkammer, in the manner of Renaissance princes. In the 16th century, vessels made of prized materials such as rock-crystal and agate were worthy of mounting in gold, enamel, and gemstones, and an assemblage of these objects created a spectacular display of wealth.
Although Alphonse bought a certain number of Dutch 17th century and French 18th century pictures, including Boucher’s celebrated portrait of Madame de Pompadour in 1877, it was towards gold-mounted objects of vertu that he concentrated his most assiduous pursuits. Alphonse’s interest in precious objects had started at a young age; at the age of 22 he acquired faïence and enamels on a trip to Italy. The extent and continuity of Alphonse’s purchasing is borne out by the Comptes Courants, or account ledgers, of the French Rothschilds from 1870-1905, which show that Alphonse’s vast collection of decorative objects, including “Emaux de Limoges et de Venise, Verres Venise et Arabes, Cristaux et Bijoux,” were concentrated in museum-style vitrines at Ferrières, displayed in the Fumoir as well as the Salon vert, Salon rouge and Boudoir entre-sol.
The only problem with such a voracious demand, which was shared by other branches of the Rothschild family in the same period, was the matter of supply. Frédéric Spitzer, a brilliant dealer, positioned himself to supply Alphonse, his family, and other collectors of the day with exquisite objects in the Renaissance style that often surpassed the quality of 16th-century examples. The superb works in the present auction, all undoubtedly acquired by Alphonse from Spitzer’s shop in Paris, were made by exceptionally talented craftsmen, among them Reinhold Vasters and Alfred André.
Frédéric Spitzer (1815-1890) owned an antique business in Aachen from about 1850 until 1869, and it is during this period that he almost certainly came across the goldsmith Reinhold Vasters, the appointed restorer at the Aachen Cathedral Treasury. In 1852 Spitzer purchased a large house in Paris on the rue de Villejust, which became known as musée Spitzer. Here he amassed a huge collection of Renaissance and Renaissance-style gold and silverwork and other works of art of every description.
Preferring to be known as an amateur, or knowledgeable collector, Spitzer was in actuality a retailer moving in the most elegant social circles in Paris. As the introduction to the Spitzer sale catalogues of April 17 and June 16, 1893, noted “pendant douze ans (1878-1890) l’hôtel de la rue de Villejust a été le pèlerinage de toute l’aristocratie européenne, aristocratie de naissance, de talent ou de fortune.”
Writing in 1909, the year of Spitzer’s death, Stephen Beissel observed that Spitzer, “as is well known, employed for almost fifty years a series of first-rate artists in Paris, Cologne, Aachen, etc., who made him old things.” Due to Charles Truman’s discovery of his drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Vasters is now known to be the Aachen artist. Recently, curator Marion Campbell has suggested that the Cologne supplier may be the superb enameller Gabriel Hermeling, who worked from 1860 to 1904. In Paris, the “first-rate” artist must be, without doubt, the jeweler, Alfred André, whose surviving metal patterns and molds were the subject of a groundbreaking study in 2000 by Alexis Kugel.
Reinhold Vasters (1827-1909), like Spitzer, became increasingly wealthy after 1850, and by 1880 was publically exhibiting works of art from his personal collection. Indeed the 1902 Dusseldorf exhibition, Kunsthistorische Ausstellung, included no fewer than 500 pieces owned by Vasters. Predictably, the highlights of Vasters’s collection included gold-mounted Milanese rock-crystal and enameled jewels.
Alfred André (1839-1919) established his first shop in 1859 and became known as a leading restorer of Medieval and Renaissance decorative art. In 1880 he converted a large four-story building on the left bank into a workshop for goldsmiths, hardstone carvers, and ceramicists. His reputation as a conservator was widespread and culminated in his being employed to restore a Milanese rock-crystal casket in the Escorial. For this he was awarded the Order of Charles III by the Spanish Royal family in 1885.
The survival of a large number of metal patterns for jewelry and gold mounts in the collection of the André firm in Paris leaves little doubt that the workshop produced many Renaissance-style objects. Enameled and jeweled gold mounts, apparently cast from André’s molds, appear not only in the Spitzer collection catalogue and the collection of the Parisian Rothschilds, but also in many of the world’s leading museums, particularly those in the United States. The Comptes Courants of the French Rothschilds from 1870-1905 list some of Alphonse’s purchases over a thirty-five year period from André. In addition to descriptions of a considerable amount of restoration work and purchases at the Spitzer sale of 1893, there is mention of several jewels being from the “époque Renaissance.”
It is a tribute to the skill of the makers that so many Renaissance-style works of art have been accepted as genuine throughout much of the 20th century. Indeed their work was so sophisticated that it is only through the chance survival of the Spitzer catalogues, Vasters’s drawings, and André’s models that it has become possible to identify their productions today.
(For details on the recent attributions to Alfred André, see Alexis Kugel, with Rudolf Distelberger and Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, Joyaux Renaissance: une splendeur retrouvée, Paris, 2000, and on the discovery of Reinhold Vasters, see Charles Truman, “Reinhold Vasters, the Last of the Goldsmiths,” Connoisseur, vol. 199, March 1979, pp. 154-161.)