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PARIS — Liliane de Rothschild, one of the pillars of Paris society and a passionate art collector with a passion for Marie-Antoinette artifacts, died Tuesday at the family chateau in Asniere-sur-Oise after a long illness. She was 86.
This story first appeared in the February 19, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A spokesman for the family said a private funeral is planned, but details have not been finalized. De Rothschild is survived by her husband, Elie, her children Baba, Nathaniel and Nelly, and numerous other family members.
While a discreet presence in the fashion world, de Rothschild was a loyal follower of the work of her great friend Karl Lagerfeld. “She was a divine, unique person. Her voice alone was a wonder,” said Lagerfeld. “She was a true original and at the same time, the sweetest, most giving person you could imagine. She was fun to be with.”
Her love of the arts and joie de vivre were renowned in social and artistic circles and beyond.
“Her flurry of passion, knowledge and impish laughter were unique, and so sadly leaves our world emptier,” said jewelry designer Joel Rosenthal of JAR.
“She was a lady, really,” added Pierre Lemoine, retired general director of Friends of Versailles. “She had true passion.”
Half French, half Austrian, her maiden name was Fould-Springer and her descendants were illustrious bankers and competitors to the Rothschilds. She married by proxy to Elie during World War II.
Unlike more jet-set members of the family, such as the late Marie-Helene de Rothschild, Liliane immersed herself in the art world and indulged an insatiable interest in Marie-Antoinette, organizing major exhibitions on France’s queen and involving herself constantly in Versailles.
“She was really cultivé, as we say,” said Viscount Olivier de Rohan, president of the Friends of Versailles. “She married into a family that has been a patron of the arts for 200 years in France. She was born and lived in the middle of beautiful things. She was very smart and witty — with a lot of spirit.
“She knew everyone who deserved to be known and was interested in everything that deserved to be looked after. She had a real sense of responsibility. She knew what she was and what she stood for.”
Asked if she could be described as the queen of Paris society, de Rohan demurred: “Oh, I wouldn’t say queen because she did not like to make a fuss, in all her glory. It was not her style. Because of who she was, she did not need to make a statement.
“Let’s say she was a pillar. She’s someone who was essential on the Paris scene, certainly in the world of art and among the old families. She was not someone to be ignored.”
“As a collector, she had a very good eye and was really very knowledgeable. She was everything Jayne Wrightsman would have liked to have been,” said Alexis Gregory, founder of Vendôme Press.
Gregory said de Rothschild created a very “intelligent salon,” always surrounding herself with art historians, museum curators, poets and writers.
Lady Antonia Fraser, who interviewed de Rothschild extensively for her celebrated biography of Marie-Antoinette, called de Rothschild’s collection of Antoinette photographs, coins and personal objects “incomparable.” But what impressed her most was “the depth of her knowledge” and her taste. “She lived with these objects and I think she was the rightful owner of them,” she said. “She was a rare mix in that she was very erudite, but she was a real enthusiast.”
Fraser recalled that during one of her sessions with de Rothschild, she extended an impromptu invitation to a Chanel fashion show, where de Rothschild sat front row like a queen, “but an approachable queen. Everyone came up to her to say, ‘Hello,’” Fraser recalled.
“I will miss her. She was a fabulous person, so brilliant, intelligent and generous,” said party planner Pierre Celeyron, who organized her memorable 80th birthday bash at the Abbaye de Royaumont, where she wore an emerald green dress. “She had a big personality and an enormous culture.”
De Rothschild’s life was not without sorrow. Her grandson, Raphael, died of a drug overdose in New York in 1999 at age 23, which intimates portray as a terrible blow that sent her into a decline from which she never fully recovered.
Susan Gutfreund, who lunched with her friend and travel companion of 18 years in recent weeks, said de Rothschild was in fine spirits, delighting in talk of mutual friends. “She had wonderful optimism,” Gutfreund said. “Besides her insatiable curiosity, her extraordinary wit, she always had a wonderful way of looking at every situation.
“The thing about Liliane is just that she was an extraordinary friend,” she said. “She was interested in you. She would remember little details about you. She made you feel so special all the time.”