A very mod­ern col­lec­tor

The re­tir­ing banker on con­tin­u­ing his fam­ily’s tra­di­tion of artis­tic in­no­va­tion

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Jacob, 4th Baron Roth­schild, talks to Clive Aslet about his lat­est ini­tia­tive at Wad­des­don

Here we have a con­nois­seur who is ea­ger to embrace the lat­est tech­nol­ogy

THIS month, aged 83, Jacob Roth­schild stands down from his po­si­tion as chair­man of RIT Cap­i­tal Part­ners, the in­vest­ment trust he founded in 1961. A visit to Wad­des­don Manor, the Roth­schild palace out­side Ayles­bury in Buck­ing­hamshire, how­ever, sug­gests that he will have plenty to fill his retirement.

Bank­ing is not the only fam­ily trait: the Roth­schilds are fa­mous col­lec­tors (as well as race­horse own­ers and wine grow­ers). Lord Roth­schild, who bought the art deal­ers Col­naghi in 1970 and trans­formed the Na­tional Gallery dur­ing his 1985–91 chair­man­ship, claims not to be such an ac­tive buyer as he used to be, yet some things are sim­ply too good, or too ap­pro­pri­ate, to miss. His lat­est ac­qui­si­tion, made through the Roth­schild Foun­da­tion, is a com­plete set of the 60 etch­ings by Madame de Pom­padour; she had been taught by Boucher. ‘She is a Roth­schild ob­ses­sion.’

Baron Fer­di­nand, who built Wad­des­don in 1874–85, bought su­perb 18th-cen­tury French fur­ni­ture and owned no fewer than 11 paint­ings by Reynolds, but his col­lec­tion was rel­a­tively light in 18th-cen­tury French paint­ings. Lord Roth­schild saw this as a gap to be filled—hence his pur­chase of Chardin’s Boy Build­ing a House of Cards. In 2005, there was no al­ter­na­tive but to buy the Dutch artist Van der Helst’s mid17th-cen­tury Boy with a Sil­ver Cup. The boy holds up a sil­ver Auric­u­lar cup by Chris­tian van Via­nen; that very cup sits be­neath the por­trait in the Wad­des­don Smok­ing Room, hav­ing been ac­quired some­time be­fore 1922.

Wad­des­don is owned by the Na­tional Trust, but is leased back by the Roth­schild Foun­da­tion. Lord Roth­schild never uses the house do­mes­ti­cally: his own coun­try house is nearby. Nonethe­less, his in­volve­ment en­sures that this as­ton­ish­ing prop­erty vies with Chatsworth, Hat­field

and other top pri­vately owned houses in com­bin­ing in­no­va­tion with out-and-out qual­ity—how can other Trust houses com­pete?

The most re­cent man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Roth­schild ap­proach is the Trea­sury. Once a maid’s room, it is now a Wun­derkam­mer with a gold ceil­ing, de­signed by Charles Mars­den-smedley, Peter In­skip and David Mli­naric. ‘Part of the idea is to get peo­ple to come up. We have a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of prints and draw­ings next door.’

Baron Fer­di­nand left his Wun­derkam­mer to the Bri­tish Mu­seum. The Trea­sury makes good this loss with an ex­traor­di­nary haul of the sump­tu­ous, the amaz­ing and the weird—small in scale but of­ten great in value. ‘Roth­schilds have al­ways liked buy­ing ex­trav­a­gant things.’

A group of Baroque pearls, made into curious animals, be­longed to Baron Anselm, Fer­di­nand’s father, who lived in Vi­enna. The present Lord Roth­schild’s taste for such princely odd­i­ties was height­ened at Christchur­ch, Ox­ford, where he was taught by Hugh Trevor-roper, an ex­pert on the pa­tron­age of the 16th- and 17th-cen­tury Haps­burg courts. Fer­di­nand’s sis­ter, Alice, who in­her­ited Wad­des­don on his death in 1898, col­lected Li­mo­ges enamel mir­ror backs; she dis­played them, cu­ri­ously, amid the arms and ar­mour she also bought.

As well found­ing Jewish set­tle­ments in Pales­tine, the French Baron Ed­mond—‘the great­est Roth­schild col­lec­tor’—fi­nanced ar­chae­o­log­i­cal digs; among the finds were pieces of Ro­man glass now in the Trea­sury. Lord Roth­schild con­tin­ues the as­so­ci­a­tion with what is now Israel: a model down­stairs shows the Na­tional Li­brary the Roth­schild Foun­da­tion has funded—‘some­thing I’ve been work­ing on for 20 years’. De­signed by Her­zog & de Meu­ron ar­chi­tects, the build­ing will form part of a tri­umvi­rate with the Supreme Court and the Knes­set, also Roth­schild projects.

Ed­mond’s son James came to Eng­land in the wake of the Drey­fus Af­fair, where he met and fell in love with a young English­woman, Dorothy Pinto. They mar­ried in 1913, and it was James who would leave Wad­des­don to the Trust in 1957. ‘James pre­ferred race­horses to art, but he did col­lect Ro­man coins, start­ing as a boy.’ On dis­play is the ma­hogany case he had made for them.

Lord Roth­schild’s father, Vic­tor, the 3rd Baron, was a bi­ol­o­gist and zo­ol­o­gist by train­ing. He it was who dis­cov­ered the true char­ac­ter of a ‘very beau­ti­ful 1720s gold cup. Some­body in the 19th cen­tury had put enamel rings on it to make it more be­guil­ing to con­tem­po­rary taste. My father saw on the bot­tom how much it was meant to weigh—he found there was a three-ounce difference’.

One of Lord Roth­schild’s own favourite pieces is a ta­ble cen­tre­piece in the form of a tem­ple by Luigi Val­adier, made in the 1780s from mar­ble, lapis lazuli, crys­tal, mother of pearl and or­molu; in­side, the nine muses are danc­ing. ‘When I with­drew from Col­naghi’s, I was paid out in stock.’

In­ter­pret­ing the Trea­sury to the pub­lic is a chal­lenge, as there are at least 300 ob­jects. Here, how­ever, we have a con­nois­seur who does not shut out the 21st cen­tury, but is ea­ger to embrace the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. Down­load an app and smart-phone users will be able to point their de­vice at any ob­ject and ob­tain a de­tailed cat­a­logue en­try. Lord Roth­schild dreams of the time, not far off, when ‘through aug­mented re­al­ity, you’ll be able to put on spec­ta­cles and see all the way around these pieces’. There are han­dlists for the less tech­no­log­i­cally minded.

The pos­si­bil­i­ties of­fered by 3D print­ing have al­ready been demon­strated here, in the copy of paint­ings by Boucher of de Pom­padour by the Fac­tum Foun­da­tion (Vis­ual Arts, Au­gust 14).

At his villa on Corfu, Lord Roth­schild has re­cently spent six months ful­fill­ing the wish of his step­fa­ther, the artist Nikos Had­jikyr­i­akos-ghikas, who died in 1994. ‘He had two ma­que­ttes of Odysseus and Nau­si­caa; he wanted them to be turned into stat­ues and set on a promon­tory. I had them 3D printed—they’re 11ft high and ren­dered in bronze. It’s amaz­ing what you can do.’ Clive Aslet

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