History seminars at the IHR

Collecting & Display (100BC to AD1700)

Convenors: Dr Andrea Galdy, Susan Bracken, Adriana Turpin

Venue: Torrington Room, 104, Senate House, South block, first floor, unless otherwise stated.

Time: Monday, 6.00pm

If interested persons are not receiving emails from the conveners, they should contact collecting_display@hotmail.com.

Autumn Term 2014
DateSeminar details
13 October Creating le gout Rothschild: the English Rothschild family in the nineteenth century

Nicola Pickering (curator at Eton College)

This paper will focus on the English Rothschild family in the nineteenth century and the style of decoration and nature of collecting which came to be known as le goût Rothschild. The interiors and collections of six Rothschild residences in the Vale of Aylesbury and the collecting activity of their six owners feature in this paper.  It will be argued that a shared Rothschild taste which was common to these residences and collections was not unique in this period, but was certainly distinctive. Many of the interiors of the Rothschild mansions in the nineteenth century had common elements: overall the interior ensembles were highly decorative; the furnishings were generally luxurious, and boiseries and antique tapestries were often present. Furthermore the decorative arts which were most plentiful were those of the French eighteenth-century.

In these tastes the family did not differ dramatically from existing nineteenth-century trends, they did not initiate new fashions in collecting or the presentation of domestic spaces and in general their preferences were an endorsement and elaboration of the established styles favoured by the landed classes. Yet the Rothschilds’ presentation of their residences and their collecting activities in the nineteenth century were considered by contemporaries to be especially noteworthy and distinctive. The reasons why the phrases le goût Rothschild or le style Rothschild (with their implied sense of uniqueness) may have come into existence will therefore be explored in this paper.

The wider family network to which the English Rothschild family members belonged and their particular pan-European background, were among the most significant influences on the formation of their collecting tastes. It will also be shown that the carefully devised furnishing of the family’s country residences was conducted in collaboration with a network of dealers all over Europe. Names such as Alexander Barker, Charles Davis, Samson Wertheimer, John Webb, Samuel Pratt, the Durlacher Brothers and the firms of Annoot and Gale and Nixon and Rhodes feature frequently on receipts for purchases the Rothschilds made. These dealers often advised the family members on what to buy, acted as agents, and compiled catalogues of their collections. The repeated use of foreign styles and sources in the English Rothschild’s residences and collections therefore reflected the preferences and inherited interests of the wider Rothschild family network, but also those of these dealers and agents.

The wider family network to which the English Rothschild family members belonged and their particular pan-European background, were among the most significant influences on the formation of their collecting tastes. It will also be shown that the carefully devised furnishing of the family’s country residences was conducted in collaboration with a network of dealers all over Europe. Names such as Alexander Barker, Charles Davis, Samson Wertheimer, John Webb, Samuel Pratt, the Durlacher Brothers and the firms of Annoot and Gale and Nixon and Rhodes feature frequently on receipts for purchases the Rothschilds made. These dealers often advised the family members on what to buy, acted as agents, and compiled catalogues of their collections. The repeated use of foreign styles and sources in the English Rothschild’s residences and collections therefore reflected the preferences and inherited interests of the wider Rothschild family network, but also those of these dealers and agents.

Nicola completed her doctorate at King’s College London in 2013. This was an AHRC collaborative award in partnership with the Rothschild Archive, London. Prior to this course of study she undertook an MA in Curating at the Courtauld institute and an MPhil in the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Cambridge.

She is now curator at Eton College and formerly worked for the National Trust as a curator, working in the London and South East region. In the past five years she has also worked in the curatorial departments at Historic Royal Palaces, the Royal Collection, the National Portrait Gallery and Dulwich Picture Gallery.