Theatres of Life - The Rothschild Collection At The Wallace Collection London

By Emma Grove | 13 November 2007
Drawing of a man on horseback looking out over some hills with another man pointing in front of him.

Anthonie Crussens, Landscape with horseman and two soldiers, 1686. Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust). © National Trust, Waddesdon Manor. Photo: Mike Fear

A selection of around 75 drawings from the fabled Rothschild collections is being exhibited at the Wallace Collection in London until January 27 2008.

Usually found at Waddesdon Manor, the great Rothschild house near Aylesbury, this will be the first time the drawings have been exhibited elsewhere.

Eclectic but unified by a fascination with 18th century life and morals, the collection includes work by major French artists of the 1700s, such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

A dancer dancing in costume: yellow trousers, top, headress and jewellery.

Leon Bakst, Costume design for a dancer Nègre Diamanté: costume design for Scheherazade, 1910. Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)© The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor. Photographer: Mike Fear

Depicting everyday and courtly lives, architecture, fashions, battles and religion, the drawings also reflect 18th century French aspirations and interest in Dutch art.

One group of drawings offers particular insight into fashion. Moreau le Jeune was French court painter to the King and in his set of drawings, well-groomed and decadent ladies and gentleman dressed in the high fashion of the day are seen flirting at the theatre or pulled between two suitors.

Often with a moral tale and perhaps not entirely approved of by the artist, they were designed to show off the clothes and styles of the day.

A grey/blue church like building with three towers, a larger middle one with spire.

Juste Messonier, Design for the facade of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, pre-1750. Messonnier b.1693, d.1750. Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust). © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor. Photographer: Mike Fear

Artist and stage designer, Léon Bakst, who painted the amazing Sleeping Beauty panels at Waddesdon, provides a striking and much later interpretation of contemporary costume. Le Prince’s drawing Young Woman in Russian Costume, once more demonstrates the fascination with representing fashion and costume.

Other works are in contrast to these images of the gentler side of private lives, and violence is to be found in three rare and untypical images by Charles-Nicolas II Cochin that show the horror of war by illustrating chapters of a field book on gunpowder, missiles and bombs.

The collection also includes a very rare drawing by François Boucher - best known for his classical scenes that almost never represented physical pain - of the scourging of Christ before he was led away to be crucified at the orders of Pontius Pilate .

Four people including two women in big dresses seated round a table in a room with chandeliers.

Jean-Michel Moreau, Le Souper Fin, 1777, Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust). © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor. Photo: Mike Fear

Works by Eugène Lami and David Wilkie will close the exhibition, reflecting on the 19th century fascination with the previous century.

The selection of drawings, which was mainly compiled by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the 19th century as a record of France’s golden age, continue to enthuse Rothschild taste to this day; the backdrop of one serving as an inspiration for the recently redecorated blue Dining Room at Waddesdon Manor.

Located on a hilltop overlooking Aylesbury Vale, Waddesdon Manor was built in 1874-89 by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his outstanding collection of art treasures and to entertain the fashionable world. The manor is now owned by the National Trust.

The exhibition is free. After the Wallace Collection the exhibition will travel to the Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham from April 12 to June 1 2008.

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