THE BROADER PICTURE: AT HOME WITH THE ROTHSCHILDS

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The Independent Culture
Waddeson Manor is the voluptuous, Henri II-style French chateau that Ferdinand Rothschild (1839-1898) built near Aylesbury, between 1874 and 1890. A plutocratic architectural outsider, this lavish house sits unexpectedly on the edge of the Chilterns in a decidedly old-fashioned swathe of rural Buckinghamshire. Inside its opulent halls you will find an equally unexpected and remarkable new painting commissioned by Jacob Rothschild from Jean-Marc Winckler, a Parisian artist expert in reworking classical styles. Winckler's expansive baroque oil - a cornucopia of architectural cartouches, fecund greenery, milky cherubs and rosy rustic maidens - reveals all 42 major European houses (an astonishing number) built or rebuilt by members of the diasporic banking family since Mayer Amschel Rothschild (c1784-86) initiated the family fortunes in Frankfurt. His face is shown at the core of the painting.

Spreading from the root of a giant tree - the central conceit of Winckler's exhaustive canvas - are gold cartouches depicting family mansions in France, Germany, Austria, England, Switzerland and Italy. These were built by scions of Mayer Amschel, who sent his five sons out to various parts of Europe to found the Rothschild banking empire. By working together across the continent, the Rothschilds revolutionised banking and became, extraordinarily quickly, extraordinarily rich. With their fortunes they built the mansions which you can spot in Winckler's hugely enjoyable painting. Each was the home of a direct descendant of the first banking Rothschild, and they are spread more or less evenly across the countries in which the family has set up home and till.

Although one hopes to find a pattern in their collective design as rigorous as the painter's own, there appears to be no definitive "Style Rothschild". What this eclectic meeting of grand houses has in common (if "common" is a word that dares raise itself in such elite company) is the grand gesture - a generosity of spirit and an unrepentant love of opulence. This is the theme Winckler has taken up with his astutely historical brush. "The painting took me 2,200 hours," says the artist, precisely, over lunch in the Five Arrows Hotel (the exquisite Waddeson Manor estate pub). "I painted the houses in a strictly logical sequence to avoid favouring one over another." Is there precedent for such a family tree of houses on canvas? "Not exactly," says the artist, "although you will find enormous paintings of battle scenes in 17th- century France that make use of similar devices."

There is certainly no other European family that has built on such an extensive domestic scale. Many of the Rothschild houses boast flocks of estate cottages; Waddeson has more than 100. And as for Winckler's expansive painting, it proved to be one of the most popular attractions at the Manor this Easter. (If, like the Easter visitors, you want to know which house is which, see the caption above.) !

Key to the Rothschild manors, reading from left to right (names are as they appear on the painting; dates are those of construction, of new buildings, or reconstruction of existing ones):

Top row: La Clairiere, Haute Alpes, 1936; Exbury, Hampshire, 1919; Ascott House, Buckinghamshire, 1873-88; 5 Hamilton Place, London, 1881; Halton House, Buckinghamshire, 1881-83; Tring Park, Hertfordshire, 1874-78; Ashton Wold, Cambridgeshire, 1910-20; Ferme du Coteau, Calvados, 1907-12.

Second row: Manoir Sans Souci, Oise, 1906-08; Pregny, Geneva, 1858-64; Gunthersburg, Frankfurt on Main, 1840; Koningstein, Konigstein, 1887-96; Mentmore Towers, Bedfordshire, 1850-55; Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, 1855; 148 Piccadilly, London, 1862-67; 33 Faubourg St Honore, Paris, 1956; Chateau de la Muette, Paris, 1914-22.

Third row: 41 Faubourg St Honore, Paris, 1876-88; Ferrieres, Seine et Marne, 1853-62; Villa Acton Pignatelli, Naples, 1841; 15 Untermankai, Frankfurt on Main, 1846; Gunnersbury, Middlesex, 1835; 8-10 Bockenheimer, Frankfurt, 1829-70; Schillersdorf, Moravie, 1842-55; Gruneberg, Frankfurt, 1844-51; Les Fontaines, Oise, 1878-88.

Fourth row: Armainvilliers, Seine et Marne, 1876-88; Boulogne, Hauts de Seine, 1850-61; Waddeson, Buckinghamshire, 1874-90; Chalet des Oyats, Pas de Calais, 1881.

Fifth row: Laversine, Oise, 1882-92; 19 Rue Lafitte, Paris, 1836; Eythrope, Buckinghamshire, 1876-79; 14-16 Theresianumgasse, Vienna, 1872-80.

Sixth row: 23 Avenue Marigny, Paris, 1873-83; Cannes, Alpes Maritimes, 1882; Grasse: Villa Victoria, Alpes Maritimes, 1888; Reichenau, Nieder Osterreich, 1884-85.

Seventh row: 11 Rue Berryer, Paris, 1872-78; Chateau Lafite, Gironde, 1868; Steinbach, Nieder Osterreich, 1900; 24-26 Heugasse, Vienna, 1876.

Waddeson Manor is open to the public. For information about opening hours telephone: 01296 651282

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