The Times of London profiles Lord Jacob Rothschild and his plan to turn Waddesdon, the last of the Rothschild homes in the UK, into a Contemporary Art attraction:
We are to meet in the Waddesdon Dairy — not, of course, a cowshed but a beautifully designed suite of offices with artworks and magnums of Rothschild wines on casual display. I am greeted by a succession of elegant women — secretary, press officer, curator — before reaching Lord Rothschild in his inner sanctum. Tall, thin, stooping, aged 73, he seems at first — but not for long — to be too diffident and wuffly to be the great Establishment fixer he is always supposed to be. There is hardly an arts or heritage pie in the country that doesn’t have Lord Rothschild’s finger in it. When the National Gallery wanted to build a controversial extension, when the National Lottery set up a heritage fund, when Spencer House needed restoring or Somerset House reviving, Lord Rothschild was the man to do it. […]
So — Waddesdon. The point about Waddesdon, he explains, is it’s the lone survivor of “le style Rothschild” and he is determined to preserve it. “My family built, I think, 42 houses in the 19th century, in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic and here. The only one that’s still intact and open to the public is Waddesdon. I mean there are other Rothschild houses — there’s one in Geneva, which has a very important collection, but it’s not open to the public, and there’s one in France my cousin Guy gave to the University of Paris, but there’s nothing in it now; it’s used as a film set. So it’s tremendously important that Waddesdon should survive in a different form of glory.”
He wants to attract more visitors but can’t let more than 100,000 a year into the house because it would damage the collections. So he plans to develop more attractions in the grounds and has converted the coach house into a gallery to show contemporary art. It kicks off this month with an exhibition of glass sculptures by the Campana brothers (two Brazilians from Sao Paulo) and a giant Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Blue), in the aviary. “Do you know the Campana brothers?” he asks, and shows me a book of their work. We stare at several photographs of piles of soft toys. “Is this your sort of thing?” I ask doubtfully, and he laughs, “No, it’s not!” while his PR winces in the background. His sort of thing is more the Chardin interior he bought for Waddesdon last year, but he accepts that contemporary art may be a greater visitor draw. “Everyone in the museum and heritage world is saying you get better visitor numbers with contemporary works of art — such as the Jeff Koons at Versailles, or the Twombly ceiling at the Louvre. I have a bet that the Koons will stimulate more visitor interest than the Chardin. Which is a shame, but may be true.” […]
It was his mother and maternal grandmother, Mary Hutchinson, who stimulated his interest in art. Mary Hutchinson was a friend and relative of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury group, mistress of Clive Bell and Duncan Grant. She was painted by Matisse and they stayed friends. Lord Rothschild recalls that Matisse used to send her arum lilies for her birthday and “she would paint the insides and we’d watch them shrivel. She was passionately interested in art, that’s really what she lived for, and she had quite an influence on me”.
She introduced him to Giacometti and the first artwork he ever bought, at 22, was a Giacometti. His father was furious because he sold his grandfather’s stamp collection to pay for it but, given the relative market values of Giacomettis and stamp collections today, it was an early example of his investment nous. He persuaded Giacometti to paint his cousin Beatrice “because that gave me an excuse to see my cousin, whom I liked very much, and to go round to his studio, which was very interesting”. His wife, Serena Dunn (heiress to a shipping fortune), gave him another Giacometti as a wedding present.
Financial Genius Lord Rothschild on Modern Art (Times of London)