One of the most famous and talked about fortunes in the modern age is of course that of the Rothschild family. It began in the 1700s when Mayer Amschel Rothschild sent his five sons away from his self-made financial house to five different financial capitols of the world to grow the business.
The party, held on December 12, 1972, was the most coveted invite in town among Parisian society. Marie-Hélène, a member of the ultra wealthy Rothschild banking family and grand doyenne of Parisian society masterminded the fantastical and fabulous fete from start to finish. This is just an account from just one of her parties – she had many. But whatever the date, whomever attended, she was meticulous in planning every finite detail, making sure each gathering was an intriguing (and clearly intoxicating) blend of art, literature, haute couture and dance.
To keep with the theme, invitations were written backwards and meant to be read in a mirror inspired by a painting by Magritte. Guests were required to wear “Black tie, long dresses, & Surrealist heads”. Surrealism began in the early 1920’s as a cultural movement that explored notions of reality, dreams, the subconscious, reason or lack-there-of, and liberating the imagination. Surrealists reveled in the possibilities of releasing the mind from reason, the confines of social acceptance, of ideas of conventionality. Psychoanalysis was growing in popularity and ideas about the unconscious were bubbling to the surface as poets, philosophers, artists and others tried out their new ways of seeing the world.
The Château de Ferrières was lit in red to make it appear as if it was on fire. Scenes from Roman Polanski’s movie about Satan “9th Gate” were filmed there. In “Eyes Wide Shut”, the occult ritual takes place in another Rothschild mansion, Mentmore Towers in the UK.
Once inside guests were faced by servants and footmen dressed as cats draped over the spiral staircase in various states of repose. Guests had to pass through a kind of labyrinth of hell, made of black ribbons to look like cobwebs. the occasional cat appeared to rescue the guests and lead them to the tapestry salon. Here they were greeted by guy with a hat to resemble a still-life on a platter, and by Marie-Hélène wearing the head of a giant stag weeping tears made of diamonds.
Never has there been a dinner party quite like the “Diner de Têtes Surrealiste” that took place at the suburban Parisian mansion of Baron Guy de Rothschild and his ‘hostess with the mostess’, Marie-Helene de Rothschild. Pictured above.
Only the crème de la crème of Parisian high society got an invite, but let’s rewind to 1972 and crash this hoity toity (if not a teensy bit fabulous) shindig.
The place settings (with dead fish laying in lieu of forks), every detail of the Rothschild’s party was thoroughly considered. While food is obviously a key element of a party, it will never be as memorable as its unique presentation and one must provide plenty of talking points. Nothing inspires conversation like a dead tortoise or fish.
The following costume made reference to the famous painting The Son of Man, making a direct biblical reference to Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. notice the lizard / salamander on her attire.
The Sky Man and Golden Girl
The pudding was a life- size model of a woman, naked but for a rose, lying on a bed of roses, the whole thing made of sugar. This linked symbolically to a “human sacrifice” an effigy on a bed of roses linked with the Rose secret thus being Rosicrucian.
Placing a birdcage on one’s head, or antlers, or a brick wall, or a cloudy sky makes one think of the possibilities of the mind. If you paint your face with abstract eyes, with words, or cover it with diamonds, what does that say to your friends? Is it a representation of your inner world, a reflection of the world you see outside, or a visual poem that just is?
Irrational juxtaposition of imagery prevalent in Surrealist art was prominently on display in the form of food, décor, and centerpieces. Guest Baron Alexis de Redé later recalled,
“Marie Hélène proved that she had the flare and imagination to create something unique and worthwhile. None of this was created by charm alone. It needed a degree of ruthless determination. She attended to every minute detail of style in her life and also in her entertaining. She was a great hostess with all the qualities. She loved parties and people…