Library Traces French Rothschilds

Paris - Two hundred years ago, a young scion of the Rothschild dynasty arrived in France, and now is the subject of a charming exhibition at the old National Library in Paris.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social network will get a glimpse of his sumptuous life.

The youngest son of Frankfurt banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the dynasty, Jakob Rothschild, as he was originally called, arrived in Paris in 1812.

Five years later, after the family was ennobled by Austrian emperor Franz I, he renamed the bank “Banque MM. de Rothschild Frères,” (the ’de’ indicated nobility).

In 1818, he moved the bank’s headquarters to the townhouse of Napoleon’s former chief of police, Joseph Fouche, on Rue Laffitte, close to the Paris Bourse.

His meteoric rise began after 1830 when the “Citizen King” Louis Philippe was crowned. Prime Minister, Francois Guizot, preached the gospel: “Enrichissez-vous” (Enrich yourselves).

Railroad Baron

Nobody embraced this dictum more than James de Rothschild, depicted above in this 1864 portrait by Hippolyte Flandrin.

He frequently dined with the king at the Tuileries Palace and bankrolled some of France’s biggest industrialization projects, including the Ligne du Nord, the railroad that connected Paris with Lille and Brussels.

The opening of the monumental Gare du Nord, the gateway to Paris for British visitors arriving by train, was one of the proudest moments of Rothschild’s career.

His relationship with Napoleon III, who succeeded Louis Philippe in 1848 as president and became emperor in 1852, was less friendly -- much to the delight of Rothschild’s competitors who froze him out of several national projects.

Yet within a few years, Le Grand Baron had become indispensable, and the emperor’s 1862 visit to Rothschild’s country house, the Chateau de Fériées, sealed his return to favor.

One of the most impressive items in the exhibition shows just how indispensable he had become. After the country’s defeat in the war against Prussia in 1871, he issued a check for one million Prussian thalers. He personally paid the first installment of war reparations imposed on France.


The emphasis of the show is on the brilliant social life of James, who married his niece Betty. In their townhouse adjacent to the bank, they entertained Le Tout Paris, including composers Gioacchino Rossini, Hector Berlioz, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, as well as painters Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Eugene Delacroix.

Rossini was happy to compose a “Hymn to Napoleon III” on the occasion of the emperor’s visit to Ferrieres. Chopin dedicated a waltz and a ballad to Rothschild’s daughter Charlotte, to whom he gave piano lessons.

Not the least of the reasons why Le Beau Monde flocked to Rothschild’s dinner parties was his gifted cook Antonin Carème who had worked at the courts of St. James and St. Petersburg before coming to Rue Laffitte.

There he created the Soufflé a la Rothschild, the Saumon à la Rothschild and the Filet de Boeuf à la Rothschild, slices of cold beef covered with foie gras and truffles and other delicacies documented in his “L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise” included in the exhibition.

“The Rothschilds in France in the 19th Century” runs at the old National Library, 5 Rue Vivienne, through Feb. 10, 2013. Information: