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September 25, 2023

Sale of Rothschild treasures soars above estimates at first of-its-kind auction

Masterpieces from the Rothschild family's trove were sold for $43,237,900 at the first dedicated North American sale of works belonging to one of the great collecting families

By Suzanne Elliott

A treasure trove of masterpieces from the French branch of the Rothschild family smashed estimates at a ‘lively’ auction at Christie’s New York last week. 

Sales at the auction – the first North American sale of works belonging to the great collecting dynasty – totalled $43,237,900. 

[See also: The enduring legacy of Coco Chanel]

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The star lot was Gerrit Dou’s A young woman holding a hare with a boy at a window, which achieved $7,068,000. Other highlights included Dutch School, circa 1650 The Triumph of David ($4,406,000); a pair of late Louis XV giltwood and white-painted fauteuils ($6,221,000); and a Roman sardonyx cameo portrait of Emperor Claudius ($2,107,000).

The auction offered the opportunity to own rare works that have come to define the celebrated ‘le goût Rothschild’ (translated as ‘the Rothschild taste’), which refers to the style of interior decoration and living epitomised by the Rothschild family through the generations.

Collections from a sales of Rothschild's objects
A selection of highlights from the sale / Image: Christie’s Images Limited

Cécile Verdier, President of Christie’s Paris said: ‘A lively auction with active collectors in the room fighting against 40 Christie’s staff members, taking bids from international bidders. This sale expressed just how much ‘le goût Rothschild’ remains relevant today.’

‘A world-class collection of art and objects’

The works in these sales were largely acquired by Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868), the founder of the French branch of the banking family, his wife Betty (1805-1886), and their son Baron Alphonse (1868-1949), who filled their Paris home and their grand country estate, Château de Ferrières, with treasures.

The Triumph of David, a set of embossed and painted leather panels, has an estimated auction price of between $1-2 million / Image: Christie’s Images Limited

‘Since the 19th century, the Rothschild name has been defined by a world-class collection of art and objects,’ says Csongor Kis, Christie’s European furniture and works of art specialist. ‘Their taste and approach to collecting is unparalleled, and continues to resonate today.’

Much of the interior at Ferrières was designed by the artist Eugène Lami, who played a key role in developing the celebrated Rothschild aesthetic. 

[See also: Own a piece of Victoria, Lady de Rothschild’s contemporary craft collection]

Sale highlights

From the 18th century, the Rothschilds have been renowned for assembling masterpieces and displaying them against a backdrop of extraordinary interiors.

‘They would lavishly display their collections in luxurious and impressive yet comfortable houses,’ says Paul Gallois, head of European furniture at Christie’s London. ‘Yet their goût shouldn’t be defined by extravagance. It’s mainly about the identification of the best works of art at the highest level within historical and cultural contexts.’

[See also: Spear’s Wealth Management Awards Winner Interview: Rothschild & Co]

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The Rothschild Masterpieces evening sale included the most outstanding pieces from the private collections of the French branch of the Rothschilds. The kunstkammer (cabinet of curiosity) featured furniture and works of art, including Italian Maiolica, French enamels, silver and vertu, from antiquity to the Baroque.

A Roman Sardonyz cameo portrait of emperor Claudius; a French post-Palissy earthenware cistern, circa 1600-1650; a polychrome enamel footed plate / Image: Christie’s Images Limited
A Roman Sardonyz cameo portrait of emperor Claudius; a French post-Palissy earthenware cistern, circa 1600-1650; a polychrome enamel-footed plate / Image: Christie’s Images Limited

[See also: The influential legacy of banking great Sir Evelyn de Rothschild]

Le goût Rothschild presented European furniture, ceramics, and works of art in the opulent style for which the family is known.

‘The Rothschilds were drawn to the very best,’ says Dominic Simpson, senior international consultant, European ceramics.

‘In 15th-century Europe, the preeminent ceramic art was Hispano-Moresque pottery from Spain, and this was followed by Italian maiolica in the 16th century. The Rothschild collection has important representative pieces from both of these periods.’

The Rothschild Masterpieces live auctions was held in New York on 11-13 October, while the online auction takes place between 3-17 October.

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