Picture: The label of 2007 Chateau Mouton Rothschild designed by Bernar Venet
Château Mouton-Rothschild in Puillac, Medoc, is the crown jewel of the world wide wine empire Baron Philippe Rothschild SA. Baron Philippe, who died in 1988, belongs to the London branch of the large Rothschild family, which has its roots in the ghetto of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in the 18th century in the home of Mayor Amschel Rothschild. He was a money changer, not allowed to purchase land outside the ghetto, but he sent his sons out into the world.
During the 19th century, his five sons and their families became a major force in the far reaching changes that swept through Europe. They became the bankers to monarchs and governments and and contributed to the industrial revolution through their investment in railways. They became one of the richest, if not the richest, familie(s) in the world.
Each year the esteemed French wine house chooses a master artist to create a label. This year's offering, the 2007 vintage, features an artist with less name recognition, Bernar Venet. His label features a sketch of a sculpture forming two graceful upward arcs. He is a French sculptor known for his curvy steel outdoor sculptures.
The custom of having an artist design each year the label of the Mouton Rothschild wine goes back to the year 1924, when Chateau Mouton Rothschild was ready to release its first vintage bottled at the Chateau itself.
Until then, wineries sent their wine in casks to wine merchants in the city of Bordeaux, who then undertook the responsibility of stocking the casks for the two-year aging process, before bottling the wines. Although labels had been in use since the middle of the 19th century, they served merely to provide basic information about the wine contained in the bottle--or what, at any rate, was supposed to be in the bottle.
Rothschild commissioned for the occasion the popular poster designer Jean Carlu to design a label. Carlu's cubist-inspired label shocked the wine community--Philippe Rothschild was to scrap the label design only two years later--but nonetheless succeeded in calling worldwide attention to the new era of Rothschild wines. In the years leading up to the World War II, the Rothschild chateau continued to experiment with its wine labels.
France's capitulation to the Nazi invaders and the installation of the collaborative Vichy government nearly spelled disaster to the Rothschild wine business. The chateau itself was occupied by the Nazis and made a German headquarters, while the Vichy government placed operations of the vineyard under its agricultural department's control. Philippe Rothschild and his family were captured--Rothschild's wife was killed in a Nazi death camp--but Philippe Rothschild managed to escape, finally joining up to fight with the Free French army under General Charles de Gaulle.
Returning to his chateau after the war, Rothschild decided to allow his first post-war vintage to celebrate the Allied victory. Rothschild asked friend Philippe Julian to design a new label for the 1945 vintage. Based on Churchill's famed V-sign, the label sparked a new era for Mouton Rothschild. As Philippine Rothschild told Wine Spectator, 'he wanted to let the world know that Mouton had survived the war.'
Rothschild, who had already been among the pioneers in recognizing the marketing potential of a wine's label, now decided that the label for each year's vintage was to feature an original piece of artwork--commissioned from Rothschild's circle of friends, only some of whom were artists. Yet all received the same payment: five cases from that year's vintage, plus five cases chosen from the Rothschild cellars.
In 1955, the Rothschild label took on a still more serious role. That year's label featured a design from famed painted Georges Braque. From then on, the Rothschild labels were to become a showcase for the world's top contemporary artists, featuring, among others, drawing and paintings from Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and later artists such as Keith Haring, Balthus, and others. Last year Château Mouton-Rothschild opted for artist Lucien Freud to have the honor of appearing on its famous label.
This year's artist Bernar Venet was born in Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban (Alpes de Hautes Provence, France) in 1941. He studied in Nice. His work explores many media, materials and forms of expression. From the early sixties, Venet's use of industrial drawings and mathematical diagrams in painting has been a major contribution to Conceptual Art. Venet has lived in New York for many years, and practices as an artist around the world.
For Venet, being an artist means not only painting or sculpting, but also to speculate--in art, science, philosophy, mathematics, geometry, and music. He is an internationally recognized painter, sculptor, and composer of concrete music (technologically manipulated sound), and his main interest in art is to raise questions, to push his work further and further, and to search for new approaches.
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