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Baronne Henri de Rothschild's unique collection on view at Fondation Bemberg
Marinus van Reymerswaele, Saint-Jérôme méditant. Huile sur bois, 75 x 107 cm. Musée de la Chartreuse-Douai © RMN.

TOULOUSE.- It is under the subtle title ‘Même pas peur !’ (‘Fearless’) that the Fondation Bemberg is presenting for the first time ever (from 29 June to 30 September 2018) the Baronne Henri de Rothschild’s unique collection, generously loaned by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. A superb selection of ancient and contemporary works on the theme of vanities completes the scope of the collection and enriches the exhibition itinerary.

The amazing collection that once belonged to the Baronne Henri de Rothschild (1874–1926) comprises around 200 pieces, mainly miniature skulls, some of which are embellished with precious stones, smoking cigars, or designed to be used as a tie clip. There are also skeletons, amulets, rosary beads, trinkets, and ivory, wood, and marble engravings; there are all sorts of sacred and secular objects, most of which originate from the West and some from the Far East.

The Baronne Henri de Rothschild bequeathed the collection to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which was founded 150 years ago. Sophie Motsch, Conservation Assistant at the prestigious museum, is its eminent specialist and emphasises the unique nature of this collection—with its particular theme and because it was assembled by a woman, which was extremely unusual at the time.

To highlight the presence and symbolism of the skull in art from the Renaissance to the present day, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings and contemporary works—by artists such as Gerhard Richter, Niki de Saint Phalle, Annette Messager, Brassaï, and Miquel Barceló—will provide an insight into past and contemporary representations of the allegory of vanity.

‘Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas’: ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ is the phrase in Ecclesiastes. The Fondation Bemberg commissioned the scenographer Hubert le Gall to evoke the fragility of the human condition, the passing of time, the vacuity of power, and the accumulation of possessions. He is responsible for conveying both the more fantastical side of this collection and its invitation to live life to the full.
Via this fourth summer exhibition, the Fondation Bemberg, under the presidency of Alfred Pacquement, aims once again to pay tribute to collectors, including, as in this case, those who are quite unusual, while pursuing a policy of openness and sharing with respect to the general public, as advocated by Georges Bemberg.

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