Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Entertaining the Rothschild Way

I found an intriguing article in The Best in European Decoration (1963) on the Baron and Baroness Philippe de Rothschild (the Baroness being Pauline de Rothschild) and their style of entertaining at Château Mouton Rothschild. As sumptuous as the meals might have been, the preparation that went into entertaining guests seemed quite methodical. The choice of table linen, china, and flowers, not to mention the room in which the meal was to be served, was done with the utmost care. I have copied both the text and the captions of the article because really there is no improving upon what was originally written. And you know, I don't think that there is any improving upon the way in which the Baroness set a table, either.

"Not only the grapes are famous at Château Mouton Rothschild (near Bordeaux). Baron and Baroness Philippe de Rothschild provide their guests with food and wine so legendary that awed guests are apt to surreptitiously slip their menu card into their pocket. But besides the delicate succulence of the fare, the table itself invariably engenders a small shock of delighted surprise.

For every meal, the decoration is completely renewed. Always the centrepiece- and this might extend in drifts of leaves or flowers or berries eddying out towards the edge of the table- consists of imaginative clusters of vegetation held by flower-holders placed directly on the tablecloth. These bases are concealed by leaves or moss. The season and what is available in the garden or the park suggest the elements used; shown here are seven tables set for a winter meal. While two include orchids from the chateau's greenhouses, equally sumptuous effects are achieved by simple cabbage leaves or massed pine needles.

Adding to the gaiety are the tablecloths made for Baroness Rothschild. While for town she prefers white, for Mouton she chooses solid colours in delectable shades of orange, coral, yellow, lavender, or hand-blocked printed small designs.

'When one lives in the country', the Baron says, 'variety is essential'. Carrying out this maxim, the table is set in any of several rooms of the château's two houses: a large salon over the vines, a small, intimate sitting room, a library, a corner of the terrace in fine weather, or the regular dining room.

Part of the amusement is provided by some 180 sets of 19th century Creil plates with printed pictures, acquired over the years from all over France before these became collectors' items. A plate from each series has been photographed, given a number and pasted in a notebook. To order the table settings for the next day, the Baroness simply looks in the book, and jots down the selected numbers for her staff. Even the most long-staying guest has never seen the same series come around a second time."

"A forest of catkins, dried ferns and oak leaves spill over a mauve and white hand-blocked cloth. Polychrome Creil plates with hunting scenes. Vermeil, silver and horn knives and forks, the latter shaped like pistol handles. Emerging out of the vegetation are black metal candlesticks painted with a Japanese design. This photograph was taken in the dining room of the original house built by the present owner's grandfather. The walls are lined with linen printed in white and red. Green and gilt Napoleon III chairs."

"A pink cloth sets off decorative cabbage leaves. Sèvres pâte tendre plates decorated during the Revolution and silver tableware."

"Another printed tablecloth, this one heaped with pine cones and needles and, almost invisible here, pots of flowers. This series of Creil plates tells the story of the capture of Orléans by the Duc de Berry. Vermeil and silver tableware."

"Orchids are mixed with heather and moss to create a miniature glade down the centre of this yellow cloth. The plates were made in the 19th century for the family and bear the Rothschild monogram."

"More orchids on another printed tablecloth. The napkins to accompany these printed cloths are white with a monogram embroidered in a matching shade. Baroness Rothschild likes long tablecloths that swirl on the ground like trains."

"Here in a glow of orange: tawny tablecloth bearing seed-pods and orange and blue English stoneware plates decorated for the English trade in Japan. The knives and forks mingle ivory, vermeil and silver."

Image at top: "A small table by a window in the long salon overlooking the vines. Clumps of narcissi, their pots hidden by moss, rise from the centre of a yellow cloth. The plates are Chantilly pâte tendre "décor de brindille". The 19th century knives, forks and spoons, of silver and of vermeil, with hunting scenes, were made in England for Philippe de Rothschild's grandfather. 18th century painted Italian chairs, and Italian consoles on either side of the window holding objects brought back from travels. The sphere by the window is a bronze and ivory 19th century clock that climbs up and down a chain to indicate the time. Around the table, a glimpse of the handsome floor made of large pink and blue rectangles of ceramic squares set in stone."

All images and all text from The Best in European Decoration by Georges and Rosamond Bernier.


  1. Anonymous7:23 AM

    I've read about these fanciful tables the Baroness put together but until now have never seen any actual photos, they're just gorgeous thanks so much for posting them!

  2. Wonderful examples of how to set a table. How I wish I had such a choice of creil!

  3. Beautiful table settings and how wonderful to be able to show that much attention to detail...the ultimate in generous hosting....xv

  4. 180 sets of Creil! Gotta love this + so chic. Thank you.

  5. Kathleen Luckard12:09 PM

    I once read an interesting article about tastemakers who came from Baltimore. It started with Betsy Bonaparte, who married Napoleon's brother, and included Pauline Rothschild and the Duchess of Windsor. The article featured the women, but one could add Billy Baldwin and Harvey Ladew, whose house and topiary garden just outside of Baltimore is charming.

    The article suggested there is a tradition of style in Baltimore because it is a port, with new ideas coming in all the time. The same could be said of my favorite city, Charleston.

  6. That's a very interesting comment about Baltimore, and I think it's true, too. There was also a real gentility to some of these port cities.

  7. I would love to have a cabinet full of beautiful china to set tables like this!

  8. Jennifer I am with Capella on the china, would also love the linens and fabulous ivory, vermeil, and silver serving pieces.

    Art by Karena

    Do come and enter my new Giveaway, a painting!

  9. What lovely tables!