Beatrice de Rothschild and the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat.
On Cap Ferrat, it sits like a cherry on the top of a trifle, the pink palace of Beatrice de Rothschild. The views from it and of it are spectacular. To the west lies the deep harbour of Villefranche and to the east is the genteel resort of Beaulieu with its discreet hotels and splendid villas including the extraordinary creation of Theodore Rheinach at Villa Kerylos. Miss Beatrice’s palace dominates them all. Unlike most villas and mansions the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild stands, not embosomed by cypress and pine trees, but boldly on the skyline. It is a very emphatic piece of architecture, painted not a dainty shade of pink but a bright, zinging Pucci pink.
One feels it rather reflects its owner, Beatrice de Rothschild, daughter of Alphonse de Rothschild and his wife, Leonora de Rothschild, from the English branch of the family. She was born to the luxury and the indolence of fin de siècle Europe, one of the gratin of the Parisian banking world. Beatrice could want for nothing.
Certainly at this villa she let her imagination run riot. A capricious lady, one suspects, who changed her mind almost daily, probably hourly, and certainly exasperated no less than ten architects in the building of this extraordinary dwelling. The final result is, I suppose you might say “Italianate”, with a delightful loggia overlooking the gardens on the seaward side. But it is a very individualistic “Italianate” for Miss Beatrice was a great collector of what we nowadays call “Architectural Salvage”.
From Spain came medieval monasteries, from France came ancient fireplaces and from Italy marble columns. These were all delivered by train to the railway station at Beaulieu, where Miss Rothschild would choose which bits were to go to the villa and which were to be discarded. Any bits not actually incorporated in the building were given a second chance in the Stone Garden. That is one of the many themed gardens which proliferate in the grounds. A Japanese garden, a rose garden, a Spanish garden and a cactus garden to name but a few. All planted in soil which was imported by the ton onto the erstwhile barren rock on which the villa stands. These are immaculately maintained by a team of gardeners, who can be seen on the lush lawns, a considerable rarity hereabouts, removing plantains by hand.
Inside, naturally, the décor and furnishings are not only eclectic but much is of museum quality. Like the Empress Eugénie and all the other Rothschilds, Beatrice sought to evoke in her home the luxury of 18th century France. These furnishings are ill-at-ease in the searing sunlight of the South of France, designed as they were for the dim palaces of the Ancien Regime. In the distinctly 19th century ambiance of the Salons Louis XV and XVI, with their enormous plate-glass windows overlooking the bay, we have Sèvres porcelain, comparable in quality if not in quantity to the British Royal Collection. There are paintings by Boucher and tapestries by Gobelins, recounting the tale of Don Quixote. As if that were not enough the floors are covered with extremely rare carpets woven for the Grand Gallerie du Louvre, and for the chapel at Versailles. On these, in turn rest furniture by some of the premier ébènistes of 18th century France. Ceilings are by Tiepolo and Pellegrini, acquired from Italian palazzi. A stately, formal and imposing setting which reflects not only the taste of a world soon to be swept away in the mud of Flanders, but also a generation which was firmly looking backwards.
In the upstairs rooms, awash with more superlative furniture is a collection of 18th century Meissen porcelain as well as examples from other German factories. Most famous is the Meissen monkey band modelled by Kandler. There are porcelain games counters in porcelain boxes, ormolu mounted clocks set with Meissen figures. In the corridors which surround the central atrium and look down on its tessellated floor, are Persian carpets, hangings from Bokhara and more 17th and 18th tapestries. One of Miss Beatrice’s more unusual penchants was for metalwork in the form of wrought iron, signs, balconies and gateways all these find a home on this narrow walkway around the interior courtyard.
For those interested in the Decorative and Fine Arts, this villa is probably the highlight of the tour. But there is also Serre de la Madonne (the other “Hidcote) for the garden enthusiast, the unique Fondation Maeght at St Paul-de-Vence and the beautiful city of Nice, amongst a welter of other destinations.
The visit is enhanced by three talks, “The Creation of the Cȏte d’Azur”, “Queen Victoria in the South of France” & “Gardeners in the South of France”, all specifically prepared to help “set the scene”..
Details of the itinerary from: Nicholas Merchant 17 East Parade Harrogate North Yorkshire HG1 5LF.
Telephone: 044(0)1423340017 Mobile: 07508134517