Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild - a shortish photographic essay.

In April of this year, AGA and I were on a holiday in the South of France, staying for part of the time at Menton, a small town close the Italian border.
While there we decided to motor over to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, located at St. Jean Cap Ferrat, not far from Nice.
It was such a lovely place, and situated in such a delightful part of the Cote d’Azur that I thought I would share it with you.
The Villa, now known as the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild used to be called ‘Villa Ile de France’ and was commissioned in 1905 by Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi.  Mme. Ephrussi was born Beatrice de Rothschild in Paris in 1864.  Coming from a fabulously wealthy family she married into the equally, fabulously wealthy Ephrussi family – it was not the happiest of marriages.  There was much discord and tumult.  Added to this, her husband infected her with an STD resulting in an inability to have children.  This had an understandably traumatic effect upon Mme. Ephrussi and did not nothing to heal the growing rift between husband and wife.  They soon after separated.  As a result Mme. Ephrussi decided to throw herself into three things she was extremely passionate about: travel, antiques and animals.  
With a shrewd eye she purchased many antiques from all over Europe, often attending the salesrooms herself.  Her specialities were eighteenth century French furniture, porcelain and decorative elements as well as Italian and Spanish Renaissance metalwork.
And she travelled: always on the move.  Seeking new diversions.  Europe.  Asia.  Wherever she went, she shopped.
Her animals became, in a way, her substitute children, having free run of her houses: cats, dogs, a monkey…
Mme. Ephrussi also loved to gamble and already had two houses in Monaco but in 1905 her father died and she inherited a large fortune.  She decided to build the house at Cap Ferrat so that she did not have to take the night train direct to Monaco.  The house is on a piece of land jutting out into the Mediterranean and she had the land sculptured and worked into the rough shape of a ship and called the estate the ‘Ile de France’ after a luxury cruise liner she was fond of travelling on.  So pleased was she with this that she had the gardeners whom she employed to tend the extensive grounds, dressed as French sailors!
So, now you know a little of the background of the house, on with the tour!
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
When you arrive at the Villa you enter through the middle door in this photograph although the front entrance that Mme. Ephrussi and her guests would have used was around the other side..  She loved the Venetian 'look' and wanted this to be reflected in the exterior of her house.  If you have been to Venice you will note some similarities - especially the windows.  Interestingly the house is painted a rosy pink with cream window surrounds but I read that it was originally painted in a more subdued butter yellow.  If this is so then I have no idea when it was first painted in this colour which does look slightly garish. 
The stone well in the front is just one of the many architectural antiques she acquired throughout her life.
The house is administered by the Academie des beaux arts and part of the building is a restaurant but we will ignore that part.  It was rather commercialised and we had our own picnic lunch elsewhere.
On entering the house one arrives in a large vaulted 'patio' on to which all the villa's rooms face.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
As I didn't realise I would be writing a blog when I went to the villa, I didn't take as many photos as I would have liked because I bought a lovely guide book, and while you could take as many photographs as you wished, you could not use a flash so the results are often grainy.  My apologies for this.

The patio is where one collect one's audio guide.  We always try to get these because they are usually very well done and we find that one gets such a lot of interesting information from them 
(We work it so that we press the button for the next piece of information at the same time by saying in unison: "one two three and press!") 

This huge and I have to say, rather chilly void, is filled with a collection of wrought iron work and medieval statuary.  It has a renaissance feel to it and originally had a ceiling decorated with stars.  This is where Mme. Ephrussi held her fabulous balls.  Many aspired to be invited.  Musician played in the gallery, food was served and dancing took place in here.  The ceiling these days is of plain glass.  it does however lighten the space which might have been somewhat gloomy otherwise.
From the patio you move to the Louis XVI Salon which for me was the most beautiful room in the house:
This fabulous photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
This gives you some idea of the room.  The colour scheme in cream, pale pink, and pearl grey; the plasterwork; the furniture (all original pieces of the period); the decoration and the elegance of it all is just wonderful!  
I could have lived in that room and it was at that point that I became an admirer of Mme. Ephrussi.  When we eventually build our own house I will be trying to achieve something like this!  Luckily AGA agrees.
Another beautiful room is the smaller Louis XV Salon:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
Mme. Ephrussi loved the elegance of the 18th Century and sometimes like to wear dresses with panniers (although she also wore the latest fashionable creations).  This salon has two alcoves containing Gobelin tapestries that look as though they were made the other day instead of some two hundred and eighty years ago!
The main bedroom is on the ground floor:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
The bed is Venetian.  You can see one of Mme. Ephrussi's pannier dresses draped over a chair to the right.  The bedspread is Chinese embroidered silk.  Her pet mongoose used to sleep on a bespoke Louis XV style chair in this bedroom.  My dear departed Hamish would have liked that too (he was a Westhighland Terrier, not a mongoose!)
The room has a wonderful view of the gardens from a picture window framed with Roman columns and like all the other rooms is decorated with panelling and objects of beauty that Mme. Ephrussi collected.  I didn't take any more photos of the bedroom because I was suddenly entranced by this:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
I am fairly sure this is Sévres but I may be wrong.  It is so beautiful.  Don't you agree?  I have asked AGA to buy me something like this.  He tells me 'in your dreams'.  That was not the correct answer.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale
This was Mme. Ephrussi's antechamber.  Here she had a telephone and writing desk.  Once again exquisite decoration abounds.
Further rooms contained some of the collection of Sévres porcelain as well as a fair amount of Meissen, beautiful tapestries, furniture and a wonderful collection of works by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, the 18th Century artist.
The upstairs rooms on view consisted of guest bedrooms and a wonderful loggia.  There were collection of Chinese jade and quartz figures, and a Japanese paravent which I didn't care for much.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Here is a view from the loggia.  It show a small part of the garden and a scrap of the Mediterranean Sea.
After the house we went on to the garden:
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
It being early Spring, they were not at their best yet - but still rather lovely to look at and walk through.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Here is one of the many wisteria to be found.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
 Here is another view of the gardens.  The musical fountains were nice but they played music from the era of Louis XIV and of Strauss out of a large CD player which was in my opinion rather gauche.  It was unnecessary and made the garden look like a Versailles wannabee!
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This is one of the lower gardens and I have a feeling that the villa was originally painted in this colour rather than the rosy pink of today. 

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Here is a view from the Temple of Love back to the Villa.  Mme. Ephrussi had a hand in every aspect of this property including the gardens.  The canal contains fish and fountains that work in sequence so that you are never quite sure when they will pop up.  I found it nice that Mme. Ephrussi, so unlucky in love herself, was not in the least bit afraid to have a Temple of Love in her garden.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
This villa is not a part of the estate.  You can however see it from the gardens and I thought it looked enchanting.  If I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a Mediterranean villa, I might be tempted by this one.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
And here is a photograph of the view from the gardens.  Monaco is around the curve of the Promontory.  It was a lovely day's outing and we motored back to Menton, our heads filled with fabulous decorating ideas!

Madame Ephrussi, I salute you!

This photograph comes from Wikimedia Commons
I hope you enjoyed this little tour.  It brought back many pleasant memories for me.  If you are interested in finding out some more things, there is an interesting monograph to be found online.  You can look at it, and download for future reading or reference.  Here is the link:


  1. Hello Kirk:
    This is indeed a wonderful tour of a house which is only known to us through books and photographs and one which we should love to visit. For us, as clearly for you, it contains so very many wonderful treasures, that drawing room alone, but what also fascinates us is the enormous wealth and style which brought it about in the first place. As for the situation - spectacular. And we rather like its present pink colour.

    We are so very happy to have discovered your blog through the comment which you were kind enough to leave on ours. To see your comment, and our reply, it is necessary for you to click on 'Load More'. We shall certainly hope to welcome you again.

    Meanwhile, we have signed as Followers.

    1. Dear Jane and Lance,
      Thank you for your nice comments! This villa truly is a lovely place and I do recommend it if you are in that area. Upon reflection I think I might revise my view of the colour as it certainly makes the place stand out among the lemons and apricots of the many other villas that surround it.
      Now I have to work out how I can 'follow' blogs...

    2. Hello Kirk:
      To Follow is really quite simple. Just click on 'Follow This Blog' [or something similar] above the picture of the Followers and a separate window should open where, again, you click on 'Follow This Blog'. Everything will whirr around and then the window changes and you click on 'Done'.

      This should not present any problem as you are already on Blogger.

  2. What a great tour, Kirk! While you were consumed by the Sevres, I would have been photographing all those panels with the Pompeian designs. I hate to call them Grotesques! Maybe Neo-Pompeian would be better.

    1. Dear Mark, I agree with you. Grotesque is to my mind a rather negative description although I know it is much used when describing a certain style. I with you and prefer neo-pompeiian.