Lord Rothschild: The art-loving philhellene

By Megakles Rogakos, MA MA PhD

The Corfu Heritage Foundation bids farewell to Lord Jacob Rothschild (1936-2024), 4th Baron Rothschild, OM GBE CVO. He was a great British peer, investment banker and a member of the namesake banking family.

Aside his business, he was a passionate financier and patron of the arts, commissioning contemporary works and also sponsoring cultural projects. He played a prominent role in arts philanthropy in Britain as chair of the National Gallery from 1985 to 1991 and of the National Heritage Memorial Fund from 1992 to 1998. At the same time, he supported culture in Greece, turning out to be a great philhellene, comparable to Lord Frederick North (1766-1827), 5th Earl of Guilford, founder of the Ionian Academy in 1824, with whom he felt to have affinities – similar educational background and cultural interests.

It was especially through his mother’s marriage to Nico Hadjikyriaco-Ghika (1906-1994) that he fell in love with Corfu and things Greek. He cared for his summer home at Kanonas, Corfu, and turned it into a place to display his art collection and serve as his headquarters for the archaeological excavations he sponsored at Butrint, Albania’s greatest classical site. He supported the publication Reincarnated Painting: Sculpture by Ghika that ACG Art of the American College of Greece produced in 2006 to celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth (www.acgart.gr/ACG-EXHIBITS/PAST/GHIKA/GHIKA.htm).

He had close ties with both the Count and Countess Spiro Flamburiari and made a lasting promise to be there for them whenever a significant opportunity of cultural collaboration arose. It was so that on 30 May 2014 he attended the unveiling of the bust of Edward Lear, commissioned to Margo Roulleau-Gallais by Mr Derek Johns and the Count, both founders of the Edward Lear Society, at the Corfu Reading Society (www.edwardlearsociety.org/2014/06/19/edward-lear-bust-finds-permanent-home-corfu-reading-society/). In 2018 the Rothschild Foundation sponsored the Corfu Heritage Foundation’s publication for the bicentenary of the Order of St Michael and St George (www.corfuheritagefoundation.org/order-of-saint-michael-saint-george/). In 2022 the Rothschild Foundation again joined forces with the Corfu Heritage Foundation to acquire on behalf of the Ionian University the degree that the University of Oxford bestowed on Guilford in 1819, as part of his efforts to establish the Ionian Academy (www.corfuheritagefoundation.org/the-ionian-university-honours-guilford/). In 2024, once again, the Rothschild Foundation aided the Corfu Heritage Foundation in order to produce a lavish album to honour Guilford on the 200th anniversary of the Ionian Academy (www.corfuheritagefoundation.org/1824-2/).

Now, Lord Rothschild lives on through his eloquent portrait by Lucian Freud, created over the period of three years, 1986-1989, at a time when he was chairing the National Gallery.

His daughter Hannah Rothschild CBE (b. 1962) and grandson Mr Edoardo Tomassini-Rothschild (b. 1994), who have both already left a clear cultural imprint, are bound to continue along Lord Rothschild’s art-loving course.

Athens, 26 February 2024

Lucian Freud (Berlin DE, 1922-2011). Man in a Chair – Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, 1989. Oil on canvas, 114 x 80 cm. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Lord Jacob Rothschild and Count Spiro Flamburiari with Margo Roulleau-Gallais’ Edward Lear (2012) at the Corfu Reading Society, Corfu, on 30 May 2014.
Mr Edoardo Tomassini-Rothschild, Lord Jacob Rothschild and Dr Megakles Rogakos with Amikam Toren’s Rule Britannia (2018) at Villa Kanonas, Corfu, 18 September 2023.

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