Alice’s Wonderlands at Waddesdon

A new exhibition celebrating the life, collections and legacy of Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922) has opened at Waddesdon Manor. The Buckinghamshire chateau, now in the care of the National Trust, is marking the centenary of her death with an exciting programme of exhibitions and displays that highlight her role in its history.

Gardening was one of Alice’s great passions and her cousin and friend, Constance Battersea said that ‘at her call, the flowers seemed to spring from the earth.’ Alice’s letters often demonstrated her deep horticultural knowledge, on matters ranging from soil types to plant disease and she pioneered new gardening techniques, such as three-dimensional carpet bedding.

Alice lived and entertained alongside her brother, Ferdinand de Rothschild, who built Waddesdon, and she inherited the Manor and its contents after his death. Not only was she a passionate gardener, she was a great collector of Renaissance and 18th century art.

Alice was one of the unique figures of her lifetime – remaining independent and in control of her personal fortune, in contrast to and in spite of contemporary expectations. She built her life around gardening and collecting while successfully managing her multiple estates. Described as a perfectionist – such were her preventative conservation methods they became known unofficially as ‘Miss Alice’s Rules’ – there are nevertheless many good practices still in use at the Manor a century after her death.

She was part of that final generation of country house owners in Britain before life changed irrevocably with the First World War. The war affected her deeply, not least because she was part of a European family and was herself born in Frankfurt. Alice was the youngest child of Anselm and Charlotte von Rothschild and spent her early life in Vienna. However, the death of her mother when Alice was only 12, meant that she spent the rest of her youth shuttling between various relatives.

She moved to England when she nineteen years old. She and her brother Ferdinand, who had lived in England since 1860 were neighbours on Piccadilly in London, and purchased adjoining estates in Buckinghamshire. With Eythrope completed in 1879, and Waddesdon Manor in 1883, their country social lives were deeply intertwined. Alice died in 1922, in Paris, an independent perfectionist to the last.

An exhibition in Waddesdon’s Coach House will explore Alice’s horticultural legacy, bringing to life the principle gardens she created – including her own gardens at neighbouring Eythrope. This exhibition includes reproductions of an extraordinary set of colour diascopes of the Waddesdon and Eythorpe gardens from around 1910.

In the Family Room of Waddesdon Manor there is an overview and exploration of Alice’s life, family and friends, including correspondence, sketchbooks, catalogues and estate management records. Displays throughout the Manor will highlight how Alice put her own stamp on Waddesdon and include rare works of art from delicate textiles to paintings and Sèvres porcelain to early English earthenware and Renaissance enamels and maiolica.

The exhibition and displays will also have an online presence, with digital catalogue entries, blogs and a film. There is also a programme of special tours, including an opportunity to visit the Walled Garden at Eythrope, which has been painstakingly restored by Lord Rothschild, giving a real sense of the perfection and horticultural standards characteristic of Alice.

(above: Stereoscopic autochrome plate of the Dairy c.1910. Waddesdon Image Library)

Pippa Shirley, Director of Collections and Gardens at Waddesdon says: “Alice has long been a familiar part of Waddesdon’s story, but one of the most exciting aspects of this exhibition is the new light we are casting on her life and influence. Less well known than she deserves to be, she was an extraordinary woman who stands out in an age dominated by men, intelligent, exacting, discerning and independent, and whose spirit lives on in a place which may have been created by her brother but which she made very much her own. From her gardens and her collecting to her friendships and her love of dogs, everything she did was characterised by energy, passion and a legendary attention to detail. The Centenary is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate her individualism and bring an intriguing personality to a wider audience.”

The exhibition – Alice’s Wonderlands’ – runs until 30th October 2022 – booking essential for timed entry to the House so please visit: https://waddesdon.org.uk/your-visit/tickets

Image of Alice top left: Portrait of Miss Alice de Rothschild 1866 (photo) Waddesdon Image Library, Josef Lowy;  pictured top right: Stereoscxopic autochrome plate of Alice’s sitting room at Waddesdon Manor circa 1910.Waddesdon Image Library.

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