Alphonse de Rothschild

Paris, 1827 - Paris, 1905

Portrait d'Alphonse de Rothschild @The Rothschild Archives

Version française   

Alphonse de Rothschild was the elder son of James Mayer de Rothschild (1792-1868) – head of the French Rothschild branch – and a major collector and patron.  He associated his name to the creation of numerous museums outside Paris and played a paramount role in the creation of the Paris musée des Arts décoratifs.  Alphonse belonged to the board of directors of the Compagnie des Chemins de fer du Nord (northern railway company), became its administrator in 1852 then CEO in 1868. The same year he also took position at the head of the family bank.


From 1885, year of his election at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, he started to develop his patronage toward contemporary artists in a systematic manner. In the year 1892 itself, he acquired over two hundred pieces from the Salon des artistes français and Société nationale des beaux-arts and donated them to more than fifty museums across France. Alphonse and his sister, the baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild, had a prominent influence over the career of Camille Claudel, buying about fifteen works of art from the artist and offering them to museums in France 

Alphonse de Rothschild, a European gallery

Alphonse de Rothschild mainly assembled his collection between 1870 and 1895 with masterpieces of Dutch, Flemish or French painting. The collection was shared between the Saint-Florentin mansion and the Château de Ferrières Alphonse had inherited from his father.

Alphonse notably collected earthenware, gemstones, paintings, furniture and sculptures. In addition, he inherited an important ensemble of Dutch and French paintings from his father in 1868 (Hall, 2012). Among them were the Portrait of Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate duchess of Orléans by Hyacinthe RIgaud (Perpignan, 1659 - Paris, 1743); Mademoiselle Duclos in the role of Ariane by Nicolas de Largillière (Paris, 1656 - Paris, 1756); Portrait of Betty de Rothschild by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (Montauban, 1780 - Paris, 1867), displayed in the hall of the Château de Ferrières. In the same mansion, Alphonse also displayed works of art he acquired. Those included the Portrait of Lady Spencer (1776) by Joshua Reynolds (Plympton Saint Maurice, 1723 - London, 1792) and the Portrait of the Marchesa Geronima Spinola-Doria of Genoa by Anthony Van Dyck (1626, Musée du Louvre).

In Paris, within the “Salon Rubens” of the Saint-Florentin mansion (Prevost-Marcilhacy, 2016), Alphonse displayed a selection of his most prestigious masterpieces:  Hélène Fourment with a carriage (1639, Paris, Musée de Louvre, acquired by “dation” (in payment of property transfer tax), 1977) and Rubens with Hélène Fourment and their son Peter Paul (circa 1635, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Donation by Mr and Mrs Charles Wrightsman in homage to Sir John Pope-Hennesy, 1981).

Among the many Dutch paintings once owned by Alphonse, some other masterpieces are now curated at the musée du Louvre: The Atronomer by Jan Vermeer (1668, dation-in-payment of property transfer tax by Guy de Rothschild, 1983); the Woman drinking with soldiers by Pieter de Hooch (1658, donation by Jacqueline Rebecca Louis de Rothschild – Jacqueline Piatigorsky, 1974) and Master Hare by Joshua Reynolds (1788, bequest of Alphonse de Rothschild)


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Portrait of Baroness James de Rothschild (Betty de Rothschild), 1848, private collection.

Laura de Fuccia, Project manager, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, 2019

Further reading


–  Prevost-Marcilhacy, Pauline (dir.) « Salomon de Rothschild, 1835-1864, et Adèle de Rothschild, 1843-1922 », in Prevost-Marcilhacy, Pauline (dir.), Les Rothschild, une dynastie de mécènes en France, 3 vol., Paris, éditions du Louvre/BNF/Somogy, I, 2016 and more specifically in this section of the volume :

–  Hall, Michael, « Le baron James de Rothschild, collectionneur de tableaux anciens », exhibition catalog, Les Rothschild en France au XIXème siècle, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2012, p. 124-136.

–  Prevost-Marcilhacy, Pauline, « Alphonse de Rothschild », in Prevost-Marcilhacy, Pauline (dir.), Les Rothschild, une dynastie de mécènes en France, 3 vol., Paris, éditions du Louvre/BNF/Somogy, 2016, I, p.118-133.

Online Resources

See the themed research dedicated to Alphonse de Rothschild’s collection at the Hôtel de Talleyrand 


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