Sunday, August 9, 2020

Liliane de Rothschild

I like writing about my favorite clients over my decades as an art dealer.  Among them were members of The Rothschild dynasty that originated in Frankfurt-am Main, Germany, my family’s hometown.  

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) sent his sons to London, Paris, Vienna, and Naples, setting up a banking network across Europe.  Over several generations, my family dealt with the British, French, and Austrian branches of the dynasty.  I learned early on how important personal connections are in life. I have personal evidence that some of the Rothschild’s felt close to our family.  The surviving matriarch of the Vienna Rothschild’s, Clarice, felt perfectly comfortable crashing my first wedding.  It was a large affair and she came in on the arm of another widow and client of ours!

Shortly after that another member of the Rothschild family, this time on the French side, wanted me to meet Baroness Elie de Rothschild (Née Fuld-Springer, 1916-2003).  In order to avoid any awkwardness, the introduction was to be made at a charity luncheon at the home of Baroness Elie (Liliane) de Rothschild.

Liliane de Rothschild

It was a huge affair but after lunch, I got to speak with Baroness Liliane and made two faux pas, one worse than the other.  My parents always had wine with dinner, and I got a sip of wine in my water from the time I could sit at the table!  The wine at this lunch was clearly a step above.  So, when I asked the Baroness about the wine she replied, “Oh, it just one of our little house wines”.  Hearing that line many times over the coming years I learned what that meant.  It was not Lafite but one of the neighboring vineyards … good enough for me!  

My second mistake was commenting on their Constantin Brancusi (1867-1957)… turned out it was a Cycladic head (c. 3200–c. 1050 BC)!  Amazingly enough, after showing off my brilliance, I was still invited back whenever I was in Paris.

Constantin Brancusi, Muse 1912

At that first meeting, Baroness Liliane asked whether I had children and at the time I could say, yes, a boy and a girl.  Liliane’s response was so wonderful I can still hear her  “Le Choix du Roi”, the choice of kings! I have since used the expression whenever the occasion arises. 

Baroness Liliane was a passionate historian, concentrating on 18th century France and in particular, Queen Marie Antoinette.  Our gallery had acquired an ornate key that came to us with the story that it was for the Chapel at Versailles.  It was a good story, but we had no proof.  I told this to Liliane who insisted on buying it anyway.  You can imagine how good I felt when we received a letter (no email back then) saying that the Baroness had been to Versailles and with the director had tried out the key on the Chapel door and it fit!

In 1989 we did a video of our gallery celebrating 50 years in the United States.  It consisted of a history of the family and interviews of museum directors, curators, and private clients.  When she visited New York, Liliane agreed to do an interview from her son’s apartment, and here is her 9-minute segment from the finished product. I was delighted to discover that it is included in the Rothschild archive:

When Baroness Liliane passed away and I told my children that I was going to Paris to be at the funeral. one of them commented, “I thought the Rothschilds lived forever!” For me the memories certainly do.

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