Saturday, July 16, 2011
Thanks to a friend I am now well versed in the life of the Ephrussi family and
their miraculously saved Netsuke collection of 264 pieces.
I read the story last night and did some googling about it, too.
One branch of this wealthy Jewish family lived in Vienna. It gave me a glimpse into the bygone lifestyle of the very well to-do in turn of the century Vienna with all its glamor, but also its problems. With their summer homes in the (now) Czech Republic, Swiss chalets, French country homes, their extensive art collections, carriages and horses, and connections to other, perhaps even wealthier, families in many countries it's like a step back into a time of presumed 'innocence', of Victorian ideals.
Cultural heights in music, arts, opera, fashions, jewels. Months long family vacations, servants, governesses.
Painters, writers, salons where intellectual minds meet daily.
A life of 'flaneurs' dilettantes, dabblers in spititualism.
Egyptian, Japanese, Chinese art influenced furniture, clothing, decorations...all inspired by newly discovered antiquities - Tutankhamun, Sphinx.
World travelers discovering other worlds and cultures.
And above all the new wealth from international trade, banking, railroads, manufacture.
And not only in Europe, but elsewhere as well - for example Railroad Barons like Flagler.
Amazingly enough, the Palais Ephrussi still stands on the Ring near the University in Vienna. It was designed by Danish architect Theophil von Hansen, designer of the
and the Musikvereinssaal (home of the Vienna Philharmonic), to name a few truly outstanding buildings. Growing up in Vienna I passed by it many times.
It currently houses the offices of Casinos Austria (kinda apropos, eh?).
Netsuke are miniature sculptures that were invented in Japan during the17th-century to serve a practical function (the two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean "root" and "to attach"). Traditional Japanese robes (kimono) had no pockets; however, men who wore them needed a place to store their personal belongings, such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines.
Their solution was to place such objects in containers (sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' obis. The containers may have been pouches or small woven baskets, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes inro, which were held shut by sliding beads on cords with fasteners that secured the cord at the top of the sash called netsukes, carved, button-like toggles made from wood or ivory, preferred. They are tiny. Some modern works today command high prices in the UK, Europe, the USA, Japan and elsewhere.
Charles Ephrussi, born Odessa, died France, known art historian collected these tiny works of art and gifted them to his Viennese nephew Victor Ephrussi upon his marriage.
Thanks to a loyal maid, known only by her first name, the 264 pieces of the Netsuke collection were squirreled away from grasping Nazi hands during the Annnexation of Austria in 1938. The tiny carvings 'slumbered' safely within the maid's mattress (at great risk to her) and were delivered freely, without a even second thought, after the war into the hands of a surviving family member, the oldest daughter Elisabeth. They traveled with an Ephrussi brother (of Elisabeth) to Japan and were finally inherited by one of her grandsons, an artist himself.
Who set out to trace the history of the pieces and thus his family, as well.