Five Minutes with Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild

Words by
Julien de Beaumarchais

17th March 2023

SPHERE meets Julien de Beaumarchais, a sixth-generation family member and co-owner of Château Mouton Rothschild, to discuss the history of their iconic artist label, celebrating its centenary next year, and his latest collaboration for the 2020 vintage, with the impressionist artist Peter Doig.

It is such a privilege to steward the art project and Paintings for the Labels… which are now an important part of my life, though that was not always the case.  Paintings for the Labels used to be a travelling exhibition only, and when I was growing up its creator, my mother Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, was constantly on the road, giving people all over the world a chance to see her “baby”. As an adult, however, I realised that the whole Paintings for the Labels thing was a brilliantly successful idea and there was nothing more to add. Since her death in 2014, when I was 43, it has been my privilege to carry on the tradition of that hugely exciting annual connection between Mouton and a famous artist. I started with the label for the 2012 vintage (the wine has to mature for two years), illustrated with a magnificent fresco by the Catalan painter and sculptor Miquel Barceló.   

Château Mouton Rotshchild, Front Wall. Crédit: Pierre Grenet - Astoria Studio
Château Mouton Rotshchild

When my grandfather Baron Philippe started his art collaborations in 1924… he was an ambitious 22-year-old who had just started running the family estate. In fact, he wanted the label for Mouton 1924 not to showcase a work of art but to celebrate château bottling, a revolutionary initiative at the time. The highly conservative Bordeaux wine trade deplored both the innovation and the label, too iconoclastic in its format and in the choice of an avant-garde poster artist, Jean Carlu, whose Cubist ram was the last straw.

My mother realised the collaboration with artists was significant… when, on a business trip to the United States, she was invited to dinner in a very elegant mansion, in the entrance hall of which the owners had framed and hung in majesty their collection of all the Mouton labels. That is when the idea of creating an exhibition came to her, inspiring her to seek out the original artworks and create the Paintings for the Labels exhibition in 1981. As the works were in very different formats, however, she faced the challenge of how to present them in a unified way. The solution she found was to show the works in individual display cases, created by a friend of hers, the designer Francis Lacloche. The exhibition has since been hosted by over 40 leading museums around the world, in Europe, Asia and the United States, enchanting wine and art lovers alike and attracting large numbers of enthusiastic visitors.

Artwork for Château Mouton Rothschild 2020 label, left to rigth,  Peter Doig, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, Camille Sereys de Rothschild
Artwork for Château Mouton Rothschild 2020 label, left to rigth, Peter Doig, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, Camille Sereys de Rothschild

When I took over this project in 2014, my overriding concern was… to keep the tradition alive here and now, investing myself in the process each year with enthusiasm and dedication. My second priority is to strengthen the bonds of friendship and inspiration between the artist and Mouton. I want the artists to immerse themselves in our universe so that it nourishes their creation for the label, and perhaps helps them to find a subject that none of their predecessors has treated before them, like Peter Doig and his representation of a musician among the vines. Third, I want to diversify the range of creative techniques and attract great artists from countries under-represented or entirely absent from the exhibition. And last but not least, as in the past with John Huston, Prince Charles and the bottle for Mouton 2000, I want to surprise!

The choice of Peter Doig for me was based on… his success in creating his own inimitable world. Sure, he takes an interest in tradition, in the great masters who have preceded him, like Gauguin, van Gogh, Matisse, Munch and Bacon, but he isn’t confined by them. He is interested in representation, but suggests and blurs more than he actually represents. Peter Doig, our Mr Mouton 2020, marks the return of a tradition of great figurative painting in the vein of Freud or Barceló, and that is extremely important for us. He is generally reckoned to be one of the world’s greatest living painters and I urge everyone who can to hurry to London and catch his exhibition at the Courtauld Institute.

Peter Doig's label for Château Mouton Rothschild 2020
Peter Doig's label for Château Mouton Rothschild 2020

The original artwork he created to illustrate the label… is gouache on paper. A person wearing a hat is playing a guitar, bracketed by two giant vinestems bearing lush clusters of grapes and huge leaves, with harvesters going about their business around him. The background shows that the scene takes place at night, at full moon. The moon sheds so much light that night and day are one, reminding us that wine, from the barrel to the bottle and the glass, from the cellar to broad daylight, is constantly passing from darkness to light. The guitarist, face barely visible, is concentrating on his music, passionately engaged in his nocturnal serenade to the vine… To continue the musical analogy, he seems to be listening to it in order to compose the soundtrack of the vintage, like the winemaker who blends the different grape varieties to create the final score that will make Mouton 2020 sing to the best of its ability. As well as being a celebration of the fertile union of art and nature at Mouton, the scene is also Doig’s fascinating personal reverie on the nocturnal birth of a great wine, seemingly brought to life by the strange magic of a song played on the guitar.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2020
Château Mouton Rothschild 2020, £559

My favourite artist’s label of all time is… the most recent one, so in this case Peter Doig’s! Seriously, though, it is impossible for me to choose: I love them all because each label, each artwork created for Mouton, is so exciting and unique.

I believe the unique qualities that make a Mouton Rothschild wine are… its timelessness, and also its capacity to transcend time while embodying history, the history of both Château Mouton Rothschild and each vintage, seen through the prism of an exceptional terroir brought to its highest expression by the work accomplished in the vineyard and the winery to produce truly unique wines.

When I’m not with the artists, you’ll find me… at Pauillac, working on the various projects that my brother, my sister and I are currently carrying out at our estates, or else running around the world representing Mouton, or at an exhibition or a museum somewhere.

My most treasured possession is… my heritage, my family history, its values, everything that has been handed down to me by my parents and my forebears, the whole cultural and historical heritage that I seek to preserve and enhance for future generations.

Peter Doig
Peter Doig

A place I like to go in London is… The Wolseley, at Saint James’s. They do everything: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper! I love the table discreetly situated in an alcove on the right when you come in, protected from draughts, from which you can take in the restaurant’s decor and the spectacle of people coming and going.

To do my job, I can’t do without… my KA thermos flask filled with tea, or Perrier Energize and ginger when the weather’s hot, and my bottle of peppermint oil – oh, and of course my sister Camille’s chocolate macarons!

Books and music I have particularly enjoyed recently are… Blanc, by the French explorer Sylvain Tesson, and the poetry of Louis Aragon, especially La Diane française and Brocéliande. In music, my favourites at the moment are at opposite ends of the spectrum: on the one hand I am discovering a star of French rap from the late 90s and noughties, a genre that left me completely cold at the time, and on the other the operas of Verdi. It has been absolutely fascinating to realise just how much Verdi gets everything right, all the time.

My guiltiest pleasure is… cheese – all types of cheese!

Peter Doig with Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild at Château Mouton Rothschild
Peter Doig with Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild at Château Mouton Rothschild

My philosophy of life is… I love life and I love philosophy, separately, but a philosophy of life? No way!

The one thing (impossible) I’ve always wanted to do is… to speak, and hence to understand, lots of foreign languages.

The project closest to my heart is… to renovate and reorganise the Museum of Wine in Art at Mouton Rothschild over the next few years.

 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, 2020

Peter Doig's latest show is at The Courtauld until May 29, 2023.