The First Stateside Auction of the Legendary Rothschild Collection, Built Over Centuries, Nets $43 Million


Bidding at the first evening of Christie’s Rothschild auction series in New York was befitting of the gilded wares on offer, as nearly every lot soared past its presale estimate and one was hammered down for a seven-figure sum ten times its high estimate.

The four-part sale began yesterday (October 11) with Rothschild Masterpieces. The series—with offerings spanning Old Master paintings and European furniture to Italian Renaissance maiolica and 17th-century jewelry—marks the first auction dedicated to the European banking dynasty on North American shores.

The first evening sale in New York saw a total haul in excess of $43 million, with a 95 percent sell-through rate. The highest-priced item was Gerrit Dou’s A young woman holding a hare with a boy at a window (ca.1653–57), fetching just over $7 million (including fees), well above its presale estimate of $3 million–$5 million. Although the artist trained with Rembrandt as a young man, over time he deviated away from the Dutch Master’s subject matter and began painting people going about their daily tasks.

Gerrit Dou, <em>A young woman holding a hare with a boy at a window</em> (ca. ca.1653–57). Courtesy of Christies.

Gerrit Dou, (ca. ca.1653–57). Courtesy of Christies.

A pair of fauteuils (armchairs), ca. 1770–71, came in second with a realized price of $6.2 million (estimate: $600,000–$1 million). They belonged to Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s last mistress, who kept them in her château de Louveciennes. A rare survival of the French Revolution, they later adorned Alphonse and Leonora de Rothschild’s hôtel particulier in Paris. The couple, part of the family’s French branch, inherited the mansion in 1868 and filled it with the paintings, furniture, and decorative arts.

A pair of late Louis XV gilt walnut fauteuils by Louis Delanois, Joseph-Nicolas Guichard, and Jean-Baptiste Cagny for Madame du Barry (ca. 1770–71). Courtesy of Christie's.

A pair of late Louis XV gilt walnut fauteuils by Louis Delanois, Joseph-Nicolas Guichard, and Jean-Baptiste Cagny for Madame du Barry (ca. 1770–71). Courtesy of Christie’s.

​​The Rothschild family rose to prominence after Mayer Amschel Rothschild established a banking business in 1760s Frankfurt. The enterprise evolved into an international dynasty after his five sons set up practices throughout Europe. The Rothschilds had not only a head for banking, but a passion for collecting. So opulent were their homes that the term “goût Rothschild,” or “Rothschild taste,” eventually entered the lexicon. 

Other lots notched even larger margins over their presale estimates. A Roman cameo portrait of the Emperor Claudius, which had previously been sold by Christie’s in the 19th century, fetched $2.1 million—more than 10 times its low estimate. The imperial cameo is sculpted in three layers of sardonyx. The cameo itself was made ca. 41–54 C.E., although it’s mounted in a 16th-century gold setting and bears a drop-shaped pearl that was likely added in the late 19th or early 20th century.

A silver-gilt nautilus cup, in the form of a goblet with an open-jawed monster, yielded just over $1.5 million, outperforming its $100,000–$150,000 estimate by a wide margin. It is attributed to Mark of Cornelis Jansz van der Burch of Delft, the Netherlands. Its approximate date of 1607 places it just after the establishment of the Dutch East India Company. Its dominance of the spice trade gave it a de facto monopoly over nautilus shells, which were almost exclusively imported through Amsterdam and resold through Dutch traders.

The Rothschild sales will continue, with additional live auctions on October 12 and 13, and an online auction—where bidding starts as low as $100—from October 3 to 17. 


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