Jacob Rothschild lets the Economist browse among his acquisitions:
The first artist he collected was an idiosyncratic Swiss-Italian sculptor, Giacometti. He has been collecting ever since, not just for the walls of his sitting rooms, but for Spencer House in St James’s, London, which he helped to restore (he lent a Panini and a Romney from his own collection), and for Waddesdon Manor, the vast pile in Buckinghamshire, which he inherited from an aunt.
Waddesdon was built in the 19th century by a French architect in the style of a French chateau. It belongs to the National Trust, which means it is open to the public. It is still run, however, by Lord Rothschild, and the pride he takes in it is evident from the acquisitions he regularly makes for Waddesdon on behalf of his family trusts. He purchased a fine painting of “A Boy Building a House of Cards”, by the distinguished 18th-century painter Chardin, to improve the quality of the collection of French paintings at Waddesdon—“an irresistible acquisition” he says. But he is best pleased by a pair of gorgeous, colourful, busy paintings by Panini of a ball and a concert given in Rome at the Palazzo Farnese, to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin’s eldest son in 1751. Lord Rothschild had coveted them for three years, but decided they were too expensive, at $10m each. Then the stockmarket faltered in the summer of 2007 and he made a low offer, which was accepted. He is thrilled: “They really ought to be in the Louvre or Versailles,” he says.
Other acquisitions for Waddesdon are Antoine Francois Callet’s portrait of Louis XVI, who gazes out on a silver service that belonged to George III. But the least expected new piece is in the garden, not far from the gilded, ornate aviary. Done by Sarah Lucas, a bold, young English artist, it is a life-sized model cast in bronze of a shire horse called Perceval pulling a cart loaded down with two vast marrows. There is no driver, no reins; the longer you look the more surreal it seems.
Inside the house are fine portraits by Reynolds, including the Garrick that hung in his office, and Thomas Gainsborough. Most surprising is a pair of unusually large, very striking views of Venice by Guardi, but perhaps the most valuable single painting at Waddesdon is a Lucian Freud portrait of Jacob Rothschild himself, looking down introspectively.
All in the Family (The Economist)