Château Mouton Rothschild commissions blue-chip artists to design labels for its new vintage.
As jobs go, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild has a completely unique one. Born in 1971, the younger son of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, it is up to him to commission the artist to illustrate the label each year for the legendary château, a tradition continued annually since 1945. Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore are just a handful of the famous names whose original designs have graced its bottles.
Previously his mother’s prerogative, he has overseen this responsibility since her death in 2014, when he selected painter and sculptor Miquel Barceló as the artist for Mouton 2012. De Beaumarchais de Rothschild studied art history and worked for several years at galleries and dealers until 2009, when he decided to devote the bulk of his time to the family business, where he became a member of the Supervisory Board.
He describes his singular role maintaining the legacy of the tie between art and wine at the storied château.
How did your grandfather come up with the idea?
The adventure of Mouton Rothschild and art started in 1924. However, the intention was not to associate a great artist with the label but rather to celebrate the birth of a revolutionary innovation, when my grandfather Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) insisted on bottling the entire harvest at the château. To give his decision an eye-catching visual dimension he commissioned the design for the label from poster artist Jean Carlu. The Cubist label was ahead of its time and not well received. But Baron Philippe was not one to let go of an idea lightly. In 1945 with the return of peace he crowned the label for the vintage with the ‘V’ for victory, drawn by young painter Philippe Jullian. Since 1945 a different artist has been invited each year to create an original artwork for the vintage.
How are artists chosen?
We choose only those artists whose reputation equals that of Mouton. No artist in our collection ever needed to illustrate a label in order to boost their career. Today, I lead the selection process in consultation with the two other owners of Château Mouton Rothschild: my sister Camille Sereys de Rothschild and my brother Philippe Sereys de Rothschild. Artists are chosen first and foremost because we like their work. We also try to ensure that the artists vary from one year to the next, in terms of their cultural background, their means of expression and their artistic universe. For example, there is a very clear difference between our choice of Peter Doig for Mouton 2020 and Olafur Eliasson’s label for Mouton 2019. The artists are not paid — they never have been and never will be — but are given cases of Château Mouton Rothschild as a token of gratitude, including some of ‘their’ vintage, of course.
How are you steering this tradition into the future?
I started in September 2014, for the 2012 vintage because the wine has to mature for two years. The label for Mouton 2012 is illustrated with a wonderful fresco by painter and sculptor Miquel Barceló. He had been chosen personally by my mother Philippine de Rothschild but I was in charge of the whole process. It was a highly emotional experience, coloured by life, death and the perpetuation of great art by great artists from one generation to the next. So that makes nine labels altogether: Miquel Barceló, 2012; Lee Ufan, 2013; David Hockney, 2014; Gerhard Richter, 2015; William Kentridge, 2016; Annette Messager, 2017; Xu Bing, 2018; Olfaur Eliasson, 2019; and Peter Doig, 2020. First and foremost, I choose famous artists for whose created world I have a personal liking. My priority is of course to keep the tradition alive in the present, investing myself in the process each year with enthusiasm and determination. But I look to the future and would like to diversify the range of creative techniques, as well as artists’ cultural origins.
Did you have a background in art before you took up this responsibility?
My grandfather first revealed the intimate link between wine and art to me when I was a child. Captivated by all forms of art, I studied art history and then worked in the art world at Artemis Fine Arts and Salamander Fine Arts, dealing in Old Master paintings and drawings. The creators of those works had been dead for a very long time but, after 2014, having become responsible for the artists who would illustrate the label for our next vintage, I found myself dealing with famous people with strong personalities who were very much alive.
How did you pick the artist of the current vintage?
For Mouton 2020, we wanted an artist who uses canvas and pictorial material to express figurative subjects. Unrivalled as a colourist, Peter Doig focuses entirely on painting and has become one of his generation’s foremost exponents of the discipline, holding exhibitions all over the world. There is something very special about his technique and his universe that sets them apart in contemporary figurative art. Doig’s subjects are very varied, his painting resists any classification; he has succeeded in creating his own, inimitable world. Doig’s paintings have no message or concept but fascinate in the way their exceptional technique serves to create a mysterious, dreamlike atmosphere that invites you to feel, to contemplate, perhaps to smile a little bit sometimes.
Do you have some collectors who have all the bottles?
There is no doubt about that. To complete their collection of our artists, lovers of Mouton are always on the lookout for a missing vintage, not only in a standard bottle but also in larger formats. That sometimes gives rise to auction-room battles. They may originate in the wish to own all the formats of a single vintage, as recently with the exceptional result of a Sotheby’s auction of Mouton 2020. They can also occur when several collectors at the same time seek to acquire a bottle bearing the missing label and artwork.
What is your favourite label?
My favourite label is always the new one; it is impossible for me to choose. I love them all because each label, each artwork created for Mouton, is so exciting and unique. Each has its own story, its own anecdotes, and I wouldn’t like to single out any one in particular. They are all so full of life that I much prefer to tell their story at Mouton, in front of each display case in our Paintings for the Labels exhibition. So come and see me there.