When we travel with our clients to Bordeaux, one of the tour highlights is the Château Mouton Rothschild “Labels Room” — a remarkable two-story exhibition displaying all the original artwork for the Mouton Rothschild labels since 1945. Artists are legendary, including: Picasso, Chagall, Dalí, Bacon, Hockney, Koons, Balthus, Warhol and many, many more.
In addition to the artwork, each glass display contains personal memorabilia from the artists, often letters to Baron Philippe or his daughter Philippine. Each label has a story and, in some cases, a complicated history. Not surprisingly, a few have been the object of heated controversy.
Great Mouton Rothschild wines to enjoy with the art!
2015 Château Mouton Rothschild. RP 97-99. 60 bottles available in April. $559.99
2015 Château Clerc Milon. JS 95, 24 Bottles available in April. $64.99
2014 Aile d’Argent Blanc. JS 95-96. 4 bottles available. $67.99.
2014 Opus One. RP 96. 12 bottles available. $279.99
2010 Opus One. RP 96. 6 bottles available. $333.99
2007 Opus One. AG 96. 6 bottles available. $389.99
To order: Write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850-687-1370.
Among the many iconic and celebrated figures within French winemaking, none is more mythical than Baron Philippe de Rothschild. A wealthy playboy in his youth, the Baron spent a good deal of time racing in the Grand Prix circuit and even once at Le Mans. He dabbled in theater and film-making, producing the first French movie with sound.
At age twenty, Rothschild took over operations at Château Mouton Rothschild. There, he produced one ground-breaking innovation after another. In 1924, he decided he wanted more control of his wine and established production — fermenting, maturing and bottling — entirely at the Château. At the time, estates sold their bulk production to Negociants who managed wine processing from harvest to marketing and sold the wine under their own name and labels. Rothschild’s historic move revolutionized winemaking as other producers quickly followed his lead.
WINE IN ART
As part of setting up wine production and bottling on his estate, Baron Philippe began to use well-known artists to design and illustrate his labels. Cubist artist Jean Carlu created the artwork for the 1924 vintage. The practice was fully realized in 1945, with the famous ‘V’ for Victory drawn by Philippe Jullian. Every vintage since has had an artist’s work for the label.
As the Baron intended, the labels increased the value of Mouton wines. Collectors dream of having a vertical Mouton in their cellars. Consequently, estates offering comparable vintages tend to go for less at auction than do Mouton with their artful labels.
Also interesting, the featured artist is said to be paid in wine — several cases of various vintages of the classic Mouton Rothschild. Presumably, the vintage and number of cases is negotiable. But the opportunity to have one’s work appear within the esteemed Mouton Rothschild library is an incalculable value most artists covet.
1973 – Pablo Picasso
The 1973 label is “en hommage” to Picasso who passed away that same year. The art featured on the label was not commissioned, but was a painting owned by the Rothschild family, used with permission from Picasso’s estate.
The year was also hugely significant for the Château. After years of intense campaigning and political maneuvering, Baron Philippe finally managed to have his estate reclassified, from a Second Growth to First Growth. A truly extraordinary change. No other estate in Bordeaux has been able to accomplish such a feat. In addition to the Picasso artwork, each 1973 label famously reads: “Premier je suis, second je fus, Mouton ne change.” First I am, second I was. Mouton never changed.
1970 – Marc Chagall
Three years prior to the Picasso label, Marc Chagall was the featured artist. His optimistic interpretation of nature’s bounty is a joyful explosion of bright pastels that fade to midnight blue as he portrays the earth’s movement: day changing to night and spring to winter.
1982 – John Huston
A jubilant ram is the centerpiece in this brightly painted watercolor by American film director, John Huston. One of the last pictures he ever painted, Huston dedicated the piece as follows: “In celebration of my beloved friend Baron Philippe’s 60th harvest at Mouton.”
The “ram” is an iconic symbol at Mouton Rothschild. The word mouton means hill or sheep/ram. The Château’s historic seal features two symmetrical rams facing each other. Coincidentally, or maybe by divine providence, Baron Philippe was born April 13, 1902, making him an Aries, whose zodiac symbol is, of course, a ram.
1987 – Hans Erni
Philippine de Rothschild began to commission artists in 1987 and her signature appears for the first time on a Mouton label. The Baron passed away in 1988; appropriately, the label is dedicated to him. Swiss artist Hans Erni created a portrait of Philippe de Rothschild, with allegorical Rams horns, grape vines and brilliant sun — a fitting tribute to the dynamic and creative genius of Mouton.
1993 – Balthus
Perhaps the most controversial of all Mouton labels, was the work of Balthus (pseudonym of Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola). The internationally acclaimed artist had held exhibitions throughout the world and was one of the few living artists to be represented in the Louvre when his painting was acquired from the private collection of Picasso.
Baroness Philippine greatly admired Balthus and was gratified to have his sketch for the 1993 vintage. She was also quite relieved when the ultra-conservative US BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) approved the label. Later, to her consternation, “a California group calling itself the Sexual Assault Response Team charged that the drawing exploited adolescent sexuality and demanded that the bureau rescind it. ‘The idea that it was kiddie porn was abominable,’ the baroness said. ‘To me, it was a miracle having Balthus. But out of respect for a part of public opinion, we asked the BATF to rescind the label. Then we told ourselves, ‘If it’s not Balthus, it’s nobody,’ and we left the label blank for Americans. Tant pis, too bad for them.” (New York Times, March 28 2000)
Because of the initial approval of BATF, a few hundred cases of the 1993 vintage with the Balthus sketch were imported to the U.S. With the ensuing controversy, collectors have snapped up those bottles, which are now worth minimally $545.
2000 – The Augsburg Ram
To mark the turn of the century, Baroness Philippine created a unique bottle, rather than a label. She chose an artifact from the Mouton Rothschild museum to use as a fired image on the bottle — the Augsburg Ram, a golden drinking vessel sculpted by Jakob Schenauer, in 1590.
Glassmaker BSN developed a new technique for enameling to reproduce the image of the ram on high-quality, heavy black glass. 2000 was also an exceptionally good vintage, making the release highly collectible. Bottles typically sell for $1,700 or more.
1990 – Francis Bacon
Another hommage to a great artist, Bacon gave the Rothschilds one of his last canvases and the label was issued in 1992, the year of his death. The bizarre figure holding a glass of wine is curious to say the least. More obvious are the merits of the vintage, which are extraordinary!
2006 – Lucian Freud
While several of the Mouton labels have been controversial for nudity, others have received criticism for their supposed lack of artistic merit. Lucian Freud’s smiling zebra and potted plant is deemed too childlike by many. Perhaps the Baroness wanted to remind us that a good wine is ultimately for pleasure, not simply to collect and resell.
2014 – David Hockney
Baroness Philippine was eager for her good friend, David Hockney, to design a label. Sadly, she passed away in August 2014 before the project was complete. Hockney’s representation of the cycle of life — an image of an empty glass adjacent to a full glass — is all the more touching for its simplicity and purity of expression. On the final label, Hockney inscribed: “In tribute to Philippine.”
2015 – Gerhard Richter
A new generation is in charge now at Château Mouton Rothschild. Baroness Philippine’s three children are managing the property and commissioned German artist Gerhard Richter, for the 2015 label. Philippe Sereys de Rothschild signed the label as representative for the family.
The work displays wild, kinetic swirls and movement — possibly to symbolize change at the Château? The piece is entitled “Flux” after all and certainly the Rothschild family has been remarkable for innovation and creativity for decades.
But ultimately, with any new developments, modernization or advancements Baron Philippe’s pronouncement still rings true: “Mouton ne change.”