Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Cap Ferrat is a little peninsula off the Côte d’Azur, just east of Nice. Bordered each side by the little beach inlets Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat is a little slice of French Riviera heaven. Atop the narrowest section of this little peninsula sits a pink palace called the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.  

Born in 1864, Béatrice de Rothschild was the daughter of Alphonse de Rothschild, the important Parisian banker. At 19, she married Maurice Ephrussi, very wealthy in his own right but also an avid gambler. Over the course of the marriage, Ephrussi not only passed onto Béatrice a disease that prevented her from ever having children, he also quickly lost his fortune. Béatrice's parents petitioned for a separation before their daughter could be financially ruined by her husband's debts and in 1904, she was divorced after 21 years of marriage. Just one year later, her father died and she was given her inheritance; Béatrice was single and childless, but ridiculously wealthy. It was this year she started building her dream home.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, or Villa Ile-de-France as it was christened - she might have been crazy, but she didn't name her home after herself - was inspired by her husband’s cousin’s home, the Villa Kerylos, situated not too far from Cap Ferrat, which she had visited before the separation. Her villa was built between 1905 and 1912 with all the modern commodities of the time; an elevator, bathrooms, and a telephone. The gardens, which are actually nine individual gardens puzzled together, she also designed with the help of her staff holding cardboard cut outs of trees on the plot to she could envision it from her balcony. She kept animals all over the property, which became a substitute for the lack of children. Famously, she held a marriage ceremony for two of her dogs; invitees, both two-legged and four-legged, were requested to dress 'black tie'. She had a particular love for monkeys - she owned two as pets - characterised by a little room on the first floor called the 'petit salon des Singeries’, depicting monkeys all playing instruments in the paintings on the panellings and walls.

She also spent her days amassing an expansive art collection in the traditional Rothschild taste, by not sticking to any particular movement, instead selecting the very best from all eras and styles and displaying them all together. Trains would arrive from Paris stocked full of treasures and she would select her pieces directly from the carriages, the discarded artworks sent back to Paris on the same train. In the villa today, these artworks are on display where she positioned them; my favourite pieces being François Boucher's Diane sur les Nuées and a playing card table that once belonged to Marie-Antoinette that she had gifted to a friend. Her personal belongings are displayed around the apartment, dresses draped on chairs, shoes “discarded” on the floor, like she still lived there and the Belle Epoque had never ended and she’d just popped down for a dip off a little rocky cove directly under the gardens.

Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild died in 1934 at the age of 69. In her will she left her villa and its art collection to the Beaux Arts Academy intending for it to be opened as a museum.

The entire experience of visiting this glorious mansion is still a highlight from a summer spent in the south of France four years ago. Wandering through the property, it was wonderful to daydream what it would have been like to live there, imagine the parties and people the place once hosted and to be completely surrounded by such opulent beauty. It is the epitome of the Belle Epoque, my favourite era, and as sad as her life may seen on the surface, she strikes me as woman that lived to entertain herself and not limited herself to appease the politesse of the day - completely my kinda lady.

xx

Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild, the museum site.
View the artworks, museum and grounds on the Google Art Project.

5 comments :

  1. Yes it is a beautiful house and stunning gaedens plus a gorgeous dessert was eaten at the tearoom. But the most memorable thing for me was the feeling you got from being there - peaceful and creative and the spirit of Beatrice definitely lingered there.

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  2. This is absolutely STUNNING! Makes me want to book tickets tomorrow, thanks for sharing!

    -Natalia
    http://glitterandpassport.blogspot.com/

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  3. So beautiful. I think I have to visit there someday.

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  4. Wonderful place... what a view!

    Greets from Greece :)

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