The ultra-confidential Salomon de Rotshchild mansion nests two marvels that can only be visited by appointment: the Balzac Rotunda and the Cabinet of Curiosities.
But before discussing further the Balzac Rotunda and the Cabinet of Curiosities, we must talk about the private mansion that houses the Salomon de Rothschild Foundation, built under the aegis of Adèle de Rothschild.
In 1862, Adèle von Rothschild, from the family branch of Naples but brought up in Frankfurt, marries her whimsical cousin Salomon, from the Parisian branch of the family, at the age of 19. Salomon prematurely dies in 1864, leaving Adèle a widow at the age of 21 with a young child of 7 months, her daughter Hélène.
The young lady who was celebrated some time before by the Parisian high society and whose ball gowns were widely commented and admired by the press of the time withdraws from the world, burying herself in widowhood.
In 1873, Adèle sets her sights on the plots of the “Beaujon estate”, located a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées. The “Beaujon estate” included a small castle built by the architect Nicolas-Claude Girardin in 1781 for the wealthy banker Nicolas Beaujon but it was sold in 1801 and transformed into a fair where one of the first roller coasters (then called French mountains) stood. The fair was destroyed in 1824 and several apartment buildings were built on the plots. The French writer Honoré de Balzac acquired a house there in 1846, in which he died in 1850.
Adèle razes the castle of the former “Beaujon estate” to the ground to replace it by a neo-classical mansion. The construction, which lasted from 1874 to 1878, is entrusted to Léon Ohnet (who died prematurely) then to his pupil Justin Ponsard. The architecture, which is inspired in the vestibule by another Rothschild property – the Ferrières castle – denotes the enthusiasm of the time for the 18th century.
Adèle also acquires in January 1882 the plot where Balzac’s house was located.
Madame Hanska, Balzac’s widow, sells Adèle the small house acquired the famous writer on street Fortunée (now street Balzac). As soon as Madame Hanska dies in April of the same year, Adèle has the unsanitary building demolished in order to enlarge her garden and build a rotunda there in memory of the great writer.
The Balzac Rotunda preserves several souvenirs, such as the “Portrait de Balzac”, a marble by Marquet de Vasselot.
Columns, vestiges of the “Beaujon estate” and its Saint-Nicolas chapel, are still visible in the gardens of the mansion. Adèle has the original chapel destroyed, as experiments in occultism and black magic were carried out there by Madame Hanska’s son-in-law. Terrified by what she finds in the chapel, Adèle purely and simply razes the chapel to build the Balzac Rotunda.
Adèle dies in her mansion in 1922 and bequeaths her luxurious residence and her collections to the French State, provided that the Cabinet of Curiosities remains as it is.
The Cabinet of Curiosities, which was restored in 2001 and which has been open for guided tours by appointment since 2017, resembles a sanctuary and brings together the collections gathered by Salomon de Rothschild before his death as well as the collections acquired by Adèle during her widowhood.
Appearing in Europe in the 16th century, cabinets of curiosities bring together objects of various origins and types evoking the richness, beauty and diversity of the world.
The Cabinet designed by Adèle mainly brings together works of art from Europe, China, Japan, Iran or India. The 16th century German and Swiss stained glass windows, the gilded leatherwork from the beginning of the 18th century decorating the walls and the 17th century French tapestry on the ceiling form a set that symbolizes the eminently artistic character of this room.
By arranging the Cabinet of Curiosities and drawing from the collections she inherited, Adèle delivers a very romantic portrait of her late husband. The once whimsical Salomon – the troublemaker of a conventional family who practiced levitation, who spent lavishly on gambling, who had to go into an American exile following staggering losses on the Stock Exchange – is forgotten. Adèle offers posterity the conformist image of an art lover with sure taste.
The other collections brought together by Adèle are scattered among the major French institutions (Louvre Museum, Cluny Museum, Museum of Decorative Arts, to name a few). The Salomon de Rothschild Foundation now houses the headquarters of the “Fondation des Artistes”.
Visit by appointment only, arranged by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
February 26, 2022