A passion for fine art and collecting
The Rothschild love of collecting may have developed in the streets of Frankfurt. There the five brothers would have seen the gold and silver antiques which their father Mayer Amschel traded. Just a generation later their children would be avid collectors themselves. James de Rothschild (1792-1868), the youngest son of Mayer Amschel was a discerning collector of art. In England, Nathan's son Lionel (1808-1879) collected silver and gold pieces. Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), built the magnificent mansion at Waddesdon to house his collections; his cousin Alfred, (1842-1918) displayed his exquisite collections at his London residence at 1, Seamore Place and his country estate at Halton. Mayer Carl von Rothschild (1820-1886) in Frankfurt amassed an important collection of gold and silver, and Alphonse von Rothschild (1878-1942), of the Viennese family established one of the finest collections of Renaissance gold and silver religious works ever assembled. These are just some examples of the many collections amassed by members of the Rothschild family.
The Rothschild family collections
Many of the great Rothschild collections were dispersed on the death of their owners and divided between subsequent generations. Other passed out of the Rothschild family by inheritance. Much was given to museums and galleries. In England, Ferdinand gave to the British Museum the Waddesdon Bequest, his spectacular collection of Renaissance treasures. In France, Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) gave his collection of prints and artworks to the Louvre. Other members of the family either created their own museums, or left instruction that museums be established after their death, such Alphonse von Rothschild, or Beatrice Ephrussi (née de Rothschild) (1864-1934) who created what became the Musée Ephrussi Rothschild at her villa at St Jean Cap Ferrat. Many collections were dispersed in the tumult of war-torn Europe, looted from Rothschild residences.
Provenance research using the collections of The Rothschild Archive London
The Rothschild Archive London primarily holds the business records of the Rothschild banking houses; the Archive has only a few collections of personal papers of members of the Rothschild family.The Archive does not hold complete records of collections owned by the many branches of the family, and researchers should note that little personal correspondence (such as that concerning commissions, purchases and correspondence with dealers and other collectors) survives. Large quantities of private and personal records are known to have been destroyed, and many of the Rothschilds requested that personal records be destroyed by their executors after their death; for example the private papers of Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) and Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918) are known to have suffered this fate, and both Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) and Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922) left instructions that after their deaths receipts and papers relating to the purchase of works of art should be destroyed. The Archive holds no private papers of other families into which members of the Rothschild family have married, such as the Goldschmidt-Rothschild family.
The Archive holds:
- A comprehensive list of major sales of Rothschild collections from 1854 to the present day. This information was compiled by a third party, who shared their research with the Archive; it has not been independently verified. The Archive is working to confirm the validity of entries, but it is, on the whole, reasonably accurate;
- A collection of sales catalogues for major Rothschild sales. Please note that the Archive does not hold a copy of all the sale catalogues of all major Rothschild sales;
- A select number of inventories of collections, largely in documents compiled for administrative purposes such insurance valuations, probate and estate purposes. These are generally arranged under the name of the property or estate to which they refer;
- A select number of catalogues of collections, such as those privately published by members of the family during their lifetime, for example: the 'Luthmer' catalogues of the collections of gold and silver work of Mayer Carl von Rothschild (1820-1886) (RAL 000/2266); the 'Davis' catalogues of the collections of art and obejcts of Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918) (RAL 000/2281); a further large album of photographs of the art collection of Alfred de Rothschilfd (RAL 000/2430); catalogues of collections of the Viennese family (RAL 000/793); catalogue of the collections at Mentmore Towers of Hannah, Lady Rosebery (née de Rothschild) (1851-1890) (RAL 000/848/16/2);
- Account books (largely relating to domestic purchases made by members of the French Rothschild family between 1870-1919). These volumes were kept at the Paris bank in the rue Laffitte, and largely record payments for domestic work and household expenditure. Please note, it can be challenging to trace payments for individual works of art and objects in these volumes, as in many cases the account books record only the amounts; the items purchased and where they were purchased from is usually not recorded;
- Small collections of receipts, largely for domestic purchases by certain members of the English Rothschild family. These receipts and bills were preserved in the records of the London bank, as they were paid from accounts held at the bank at New Court. They are receipts for household purchases, although occasionally purchases of artworks and objects (or matters relating to the repair and restoration of artworks) are sometimes recorded: Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879), private receipts, 1858-1879 (RAL XII/41/7-8); Anthony de Rothschild (1810-1876), private receipts, 1854-1873 (RAL XII/41/1-4); Mayer de Rothschild (1818-1874): private receipts, 1856-1873 (RAL XII/41/5-6); Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918): private receipts, 1876-c.1942 (RAL 000/174, RAL XII/42/1-14); Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917): private receipts, 1905-1918 (RAL XII/17/0-13); Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942): private receipts, 1921-1941 (RAL 000/2208/1-23); French family: private receipts (RAL Lafite Papers). Please note that very few receipts for purchases of art works and objects survive in the collections of The Rothschild Archive London, even for major or important purchases;
- Rothschild estate and probate papers including wills, codicils, and other estate papers and papers concerning bequests and legacies to other family members, friends, colleagues, employees, museums and galleries, hospitals, schools, charities, municipal authorities etc. Please note that the Archive does not hold copies of the wills of all members of the Rothschild family, and that access to some items relating to estate matters may be restricted;
- Photographs: The Archive collection includes a number of large photograph albums and loose photographs of the interiors of some of the great Rothschild houses; these images can assist in identitying pieces in situ: Halton House and 1, Seamore Place (Alfred de Rothschild) (RAL 000/887, RAL 000/880/20/1 and RAL 000/2281); Tring Park (Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild) (RAL 000/880/22/1); Waddesdon Manor (The 'Red Book' of Ferdinand de Rothschild) (RAL 000/880/21/1); Gunnersbury Park (Lionel and Leopold de Rothschild) (RAL 000/924/8/1); 5, Hamilton Place (Leopold de Rothschild) (RAL 000/924/8/1 and 000/1961); Mentmore Towers (Mayer de Rothschild) (RAL 000/284 and RAL 000/1168); 11 rue Berryer (Adèle, Baroness Salomon de Rothschild) (RAL 000/848/12/1);
- The ‘Lafite Papers’: This collection consists of papers of the French Rothschild family. The papers were formerly held in Bank vault of de Rothschild Frères, rue Laffitte, Paris, and then transferred to the Archive from the Château Lafite. The papers mainly relate to private finances, including the series of volumes of Accounts of French family members referred to above; also included are files concerning the family's properties, wills and charitable activities, handled by the French business on behalf of the family. Please note that access to some papers is restricted;
- The ‘Moscow Papers’ (58 series): A collection of private papers, largely relating to the French Rothschild family. The papers were seized during the Second World War, and later formed Fond 58 in the Centre for the Preservation of Historico-Documentary Collections in Moscow, previously known as the Special State Trophy Archive, which was established in 1946 to house documents captured during the Second World War. The papers date largely from the between the late 19th century and the late 1930s. The collection consists of 1,395 files relating to 26 members of the Rothschild family and their relatives. Of this total number of files, 1,233 are concerned with six members of the family: Henri de Rothschild (1872-1946), Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965), Maurice de Rothschild (1881-1957), Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946); Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) and Edouard de Rothschild (1868-1949). A very few papers concern artworks and collections, largely correspondence between Edmond de Rothschild and various museums and galleries concerning exhibition of his collections, and donation of works of art;
- Restitution: The Rothschild Archive has comparatively few records concerning the seizure and return of Rothschild collections during and after the Second World War: The Lafite Papers contain a few files relating to the retrieval of works of art and objets d’art confiscated during the Second World War, largely relating to the collections of James Armand de Rothschild (1878-1957), Edouard de Rothschild (1868-1949), Maurice de Rothschild (1881-1957), Henri James de Rothschild (1872-1947) and Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988); The estate of the late Bettina Looram (née von Rothschild) (1924-2012) has deposited with the Archive a number of files relating to the collections of art looted from the Rothschild family, including a description of the works of art in the collection of Louis von Rothschild (1882-1955) in the form of schedules, inventories and index cards, and photographs of the items in the collection (RAL 000/2135); documentation relating to the collections of Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild, including a printed catalogue (undated) of several collections, (beginning with various members of the Rothschild family), marked up during the war years by an unknown German hand (RAL 000/793); list of the collections of Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild returned by the Frankfurt authorities, 1949 (RAL 000/941).
- Rothschild collecting tastes: Researchers seeking information about the Rothschild’s collecting tastes, are directed to published works by members of the family who were collectors; such works can reveal much about their collecting passions. A list of published works by members of the Rothschild family can be found here Rothschild family bibliography. Please note that the Archive does not hold a copy of all works listed. Researchers may also find information in the small collections of letters held by the Archive that were written between members of the Rothschild family. See also 'Le Goût Rothschild' for further information.
Further secondary sources may be also of interest, such as the recently published catalogue of Rothschild collections donated to the French state, Les Rothschild: une dynastie de mecenes en Frances, Pauline Prevost Marcilhacy (Paris: Louvre Éditions, 2016), a copy of which is available in the Reading Room.
Provenance researchers may find the guidance published by The German Lost Art Foundation helpful. In September 2020, The Foundation published an English language version of the November 2019 'Leitfaden Provenienzforschung', with the title 'Provenance Research Manual to Identify Cultural Property Seized Due to Persecution during the National Socialist Era'. The manual ranges from chapters on philosophy (the historical, ethical and moral obligation to confront Nazi looting of cultural property and the crime perpetrated by Nazi rule in general) to practice, methodology and case studies. It provides details on the kinds of numbers, stamps, labels, ex libris, trademarks, hallmarks, autographs, dedications, engravings and insertions to be found in and on objects and their significance. It lists archival sources, in Germany and elsewhere, literature and other online resources, and genealogical data and resources. One chapter focuses on fair and just solutions, looking at the presumption of loss and burden of proof, the search for heirs and the deployment of the German Advisory Commission. An Annex lists useful databases and sources on art dealers. To download the Manual, click here. For the Annex, click here.
Access to records about collections
Although records of the Rothschild business up to the date of 1945 are generally accessible to researchers, access to personal family papers may be restricted. For further information collections held by the Archive, Go to The Guide to the collections of The Rothschild Archive »
The Trustees of the Archive ask all researchers wishing to access our more detailed resources online, or those wishing to request an appointment to consult original sources in our Reading Room to first register with The Rothschild Research Forum. Once you have been accepted as a member of the Rothschild Research Forum, you will have access to our website Rothschild Collections which contains more detailed information about the records we hold concerning collections of the Rothschild family. Apply for membership of the Rothschild Research Forum »
For further information about undertaking provenance research using the Archive collections, please contact The Rothschild Archive » Please note that the staff of the Archive cannot undertake detailed provenance research on behalf of enquirers.