The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is one of the most beautiful residences of Renaissance style on the French Riviera. The monument, also called villa Île-de-France, is perched at the top of the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Transformed into a museum, it allows visitors to discover the refinement and pronounced taste for the Italian Renaissance style of Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild.
THE JEWEL OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA
Béatrice de Rothschild, born in 1864, married a French banker named Maurice Ephrussi in 1883. Both were passionate about architecture, nature and art. The young woman collected works of art and sumptuous residences. In 1904 the couple separated and the following year, Beatrice discovered Cap Ferrat. She was immediately seduced by the natural beauty of the place and decided to settle there. At the time, the French Riviera was already a popular vacation resort, especially for high society. She acquired a 7-hectare rocky and barren piece of land on which she built a villa whose architecture was reminiscent of the great houses of the Italian Renaissance. Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild imposed pink, her favorite color, throughout the villa.
It took 5 years of work to build the villa Île-de-France, named after an extraordinary journey on board the steamer of the same name. The shape given to the main garden, with its view of the ocean, reminds us of the deck of a ship. To perfect the illusion, the baroness required her gardeners to wear a navy beret so that she could imagine herself surrounded by a crew on a ship travelling the world. The exterior facades, painted pink, are typical of Renaissance architecture in Italy. Only the entrance porch is of flamboyant gothic inspiration. Inside the house, the furniture is refined, and the decoration is meticulous. Numerous collectors’ items and exceptional pieces have been used to furnish the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
On her death in 1934, Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi bequeathed the management of the villa to a foundation bearing her name so that the building could be turned into a museum. This was done on April 2 ,1938, however, it was not until 1960 and a change of curator for the site to become known to the public. In 1990, the scenography of the place was rethought, the Villa Ephrussi became one of the most visited monuments between Nice and Menton with 130,000 visitors per year.
PARKS AND GARDENS
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild has no less than 9 dream gardens. Beatrice was a nature lover and she knew how to honor nature with its exteriors. French, Spanish, Florentine, lapidary, Japanese, exotic and Provençal gardens are to be discovered! A simple stroll through the baroness’s gardens is an invitation to travel that transports the visitor to different green worlds.
REFINEMENT AT ALL TIMES
It was in the patio of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild that the baroness welcomed her guests and held receptions. This inner courtyard is lined with columns in pink Verona marble which support Italian Renaissance style arcades. The musicians stood on balconies on the second first floor, visible from the patio.
The grand salon is undoubtedly the most sumptuous room in the villa. Offering a view of the Baie des Fourmis at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, it bears witness to the baroness’s pronounced taste for the Italian Renaissance. The Louis XVI style furniture is spread throughout the room to form different areas for resting, playing, and sharing. On the ceiling is a painting by the Venetian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo, illustrating The Chariot of Love pulled by doves. The two carpets in the grand salon come from the chapel of the Palace of Versailles and the Great Gallery of the Louvre Palace.
The small salon welcomed the guests after the meal so that they could chat. It is adorned with tapestries representing the adventures of Don Quixote. In this room, collector’s items are displayed side by side: paintings by François Boucher, paintings by Jean-Frédéric Schall, Pellegrini’s marouflaged canvas, a fireplace screen that once belonged to Marie-Antoinette, and a pedestal table with a pewter tray signed Compigné.
In the first half of the bedroom, the Venetian bed is decorated with Chinese silk embroidered with flowers and birds. The Rothschild family had been trading silk with the land of the rising sun since 1838. The second part of the piece is in the shape of a rotunda. On the ceiling, an illustration from the 18th century Venetian school depicting the Triumph of a patrician family is painted.
Beatrice received her close friends in her boudoir and would write on a writing desk that is said to have belonged to Marie-Antoinette. In the wardrobe section, Asian-inspired clothing and dresses dating from the 18th century are still present. Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild followed the Chinese tradition of women having tiny feet. To meet this requirement, Beatrice folded all her toes, except for the big one, under her plantar arch. The small slippers she wore are displayed in a showcase.
In the bathroom, also in the shape of a rotunda, woodwork painted by Pierre Leriche subtly conceals small toilets with a washbasin, a dressing table, and a bidet. The bathtub, which was supposed to stand in the center of the room, has disappeared. The dome overlooking the bathroom is decorated with a chestnut trellis.
THE LOUNGES ON THE SECOND FLOOR
The lounges on the second floor are equally richly decorated and surprising. The furniture is a tribute to the know-how of 18th century French cabinetmakers. The tapestries come from the Gobelins Manufactory or were made from François Boucher’s cartoons. A small living lounge exhibits German porcelain from the very first hard-paste porcelain workshop in the West. In another, Beatrice paid homage to her pets by decorating the room with monkey motifs.
THE PORCELAIN COLLECTION
An incredible collection of porcelain is showcased in the dining room of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, as well as in the next room. Having inherited her father’s taste for beautiful tableware, Beatrice assembled one of the richest collections of French porcelain in the world. Most of the pieces presented come from the Manufacture royale (Royal Manufactory) of Sèvres near Paris.