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The Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild was born in London in 1914 (Batsheva was the later-adopted Hebrew spelling of her given name Bethsabée) but came from the French arm of the great banking family, being the second and youngest daughter of Baron Edouard and Baroness Germaine de Rothschild. After an early education at home she was at the Sorbonne and had just completed her degree in Biology when the Nazis invaded France in 1940. Batsheva fled with her parents to New York where she continued her studies at Columbia University. Later in the war she joined the Free French Movement and after the Allied invasion of France went to Paris, where she joined her brother Guy who was there as a Captain in the French army. Batsheva worked as a liaison officer between the French and the Americans, a job she remembered as requiring a fine sense of diplomacy.
On returning to America after the war the heady environment of New York stimulated Batsheva who built on the love of music that had been such a feature in her parents' home in Paris where great artists such as Artur Rubinstein had come to play. A purely fortuitous visit to Martha Graham's studio led to a lifelong involvement with modern dance. She established the B. de Rothschild Foundation for the Arts and Sciences which helped to organise concerts and performances by Martha Graham's and other dance companies, as well as supporting scientific projects.
Batsheva was always keenly aware of her Jewish identity. She first visited Israel in 1951 and became a permanent resident in 1962. For over 40 years she made highly significant contributions to the arts and sciences of her adopted country. Her most important contribution was arguably the establishment in 1967 of the Science Foundation that bore her name and which sponsored numerous scientific projects and research. However, it was her promotion of modern dance that occupied most of her time and the one for which she will probably be most remembered. In 1964 she founded the Batsheva Dance Company and later the Bat-Dor Dance Company, the start of a longstanding professional association and friendship with Jeanette Ordman, as well as the Bat-Dor Studios of Dance. The Bat-Dor achieved distinction not only in Israel but also on a wider stage with tours in America, Poland, Russia, China and many other countries besides. For her contributions to the Arts and Sciences of Israel she was awarded in 1989 Israel's highest honour, the Israel Prize.
In addition to the Old Master Paintings and works of art that she had inherited from earlier generations Batsheva had a keen interest in Impressionist and Modern art. The pleasure she got from mixing the old with the new in her house in Tel Aviv was very much a reflection of her approach to life that sought to stimulate the development of artistic expression as well as the progress of scientific research.
Many of the pictures and works of art in the Baroness' collection were purchased originally by her grandfather Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), but the origins of the French Rothschild art collections and the wealth that allowed them to be both acquired and built go back to Alphonse's father Baron James (1760-1868), the youngest of the five brothers, or 'arrows', of the second generation of Rothschilds. It was James who helped found MM de Rothschild Frères in Paris in 1817 and who after the death of his London-based brother Nathan in 1836 became primus inter pares, the foremost member of his generation in the family. His marriage to the highly intelligent, cultured and beautiful Betty in 1824 coincided with the purchase and development of major properties in and around Paris. His residence at 19 rue Laffitte was purchased in 1818 and was modified, decorated and reconstructed at various stages between 1820-36 and was to become a major social environment in which James and Betty entertained leading European politicians and financiers of the day in addition to cultivating major figures in the arts such as Rossini, Chopin, Delacroix, Balzac and Heine. It was the château de Ferrières, however, that was perhaps James's most majestic construction. Purchased in 1829 it was transformed between 1853-63 by Joseph Paxton, the creative genius of the Rothschild-owned Mentmore Towers in England. The design of the interior was left to Eugène Lami who worked closely with Baroness Betty - grand portraits in the hall, Gobelins tapestries in the gallery above, 17th Century painted leather panels from Pommersfelden in the Salon des familles, placed within frameworks and fixtures of Languedoc marble, antique Pyrenean granite, natural and ebonised woods, all embellished with commissions from living artists such as the sculptor Cordier and the painter Rousseau, helped to create an extraordinary environment redolent of the Renaissance and Louis XIV. Lami created a mise-en-scène in which to display grand pictures and grand furniture to grand effect. Ferrières became more of a palais than a château and reflected James's rise to the very heights of French society, to an almost sovereign status demonstrated so clearly by the 'state visits' of Napoleon III in 1862 and of the King and Queen of Belgium in 1867.
On James's death in 1868 Alphonse inherited not only the management of the Rothschild concerns in France which he ran with his brothers, Gustave (1829-1911) and Edmond (1845-1914), but also his father's financial and political skills that were 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. He inherited also the château de Ferrières as well as his Paris residence at 2 rue Saint-Florentin where he had been living since 1857, the year of his marriage to his English cousin Leonora. Although he undoubtedly added to his father's collection at Ferrières, the 'stage' at the château had to a large extent already been set by his parents and a 1903 inventory of the collection at 2 rue Saint-Florentin shows that most of Alphonse's acquisitions, including many of the pieces described in this catalogue, were housed and displayed in what was once Talleyrand's house. 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 the decorative arts that he concentrated his most assiduous pursuits, which had started when at the age of 22 he acquired faiences and enamels on a trip to Italy, and which mirror the comparable purchases made by other branches of the Rothschild family in the second half of the 19th Century. The extent and continuity of Alphonse's purchasing is borne out by the Comptes Courants, or accounts ledgers, of the French Rothschilds from 1870-1905 which show that Alphonse continued to add to his collection with as much energy and as copiously in the last years of his life as he did in earlier years. The pictures were naturally hung in various rooms about the house, while the vast collection of decorative objects, including the Emaux de Limoges et de Venise, Verres Venise et Arabes, Cristaux et Bijoux, were concentrated in musée settings of vitrines in the Fumoir (where the Rembrandt and Benson were hung), as well as the Salon vert, Salon rouge and Boudoir entre-sol. After the Paris Commune of 1871, during which barricades were erected in front of his house, Alphonse had special, custom-tailored and upholstered portable cases made for many of the works of art so that in the event of any future civil unrest precious works of art could be quickly packed and dispatched to safety. Alphonse's prescience benefitted the next generation for the cases were put to good use by his son Edouard, whose later inventory labels are attached to some of the cases in this sale, during World War I and the Front Populaire crises of the 1930s. Ironically, the cases undoubtedly protected their contents from damage when in 1941 the Nazis transported their plunder of Rothschild collections to Germany, and performed the same role thankfully when the Allies made sure that the same objects were delivered safely back to the Rothschilds at the end of the war.
Alphonse's acquisitions were not directed solely to his own collection. Like many of his cousins of different generations based in various cities in Europe, he became fully absorbed not only into the society of his country but also into its cultural identity. In 1867 he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. For over four decades and inspired by patriotic, educational and cultural aims Alphonse purchased over 2,000 works for over 150 institutions throughout France. Against a mounting storm of increasingly anti-Jewish sentiments in France that was to culminate in the Dreyfus affair, Alphonse never wavered in his philanthropic donations. In 1889 at the Odiot sale he purchased a 15th Century statue of Ste. Jeanne d'Arc which was sent directly to the Musée de Cluny. Alphonse was celebrated for his largesse - the Countess of Warwick, on a visit to Ferrières in the 1880s, described Alphonse and Leonora as 'the most lavish entertainers of their day'. Blessed with an unflappable temperament and a generous spirit he was recognised by his contemporaries as being the very model of a perfect, courteous and sophisticated gentleman.