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Waddesdon’s unsung star revealed in new show

Alice de Rothschild, the lesser-known sibling who owned the Bucks chateau, is having her moment in the spotlight thanks to new exhibition Alice's Wonderlands (about time too given it's the centenary of her death)

credit: Waddesdon Image Library

Alice has rarely got the attention that her brother, Ferdinand, was given after building the vast French Renaissance-style chateau in the middle of the Bucks countryside. But a new exhibition casts light on the role she had in shaping the house and gardens and on her sparkling personality.

I hot-footed it along to the press preview, and it turns out there’s a lot to learn about the unorthodox and gifted woman who has previously been in the shadows and done her best to erase her own legacy.

Alice was clearly a bright and influential woman (think Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey) who guided her brother and ultimately took over the reins, overseeing everything from the art hung in the house to the fertiliser used in the gardens.

As well as being trilingual (English, German and French), Alice was a talented horse rider, garden designer, knowledgeable farmer and fair employer, overseeing the building of better accommodation for the 400 estate workers (but also having a strict code of conduct known as ‘Miss Alice’s Rules’)

At Alice’s request all of her personal papers were burnt after she died, but the exhibition’s curators managed to get their hands on 150 undamaged art dealers’ receipts, only found in 2016, to show what was bought during her 24 years in charge of the manor. They’ve also done some digging around in the archives and put together a fascinating show. For me, highlights of the new exhibition include:

Alice’s Sitting Room; credit: Waddesdon Image Library

Alice’s Sitting Room – recreated as Alice had it, using newly discovered colour photos and detective work to retrieve various items scattered around the house and now brought back together

Art collection – curated pictures, miniatures and ceramics bought by Alice including details of the art dealers she worked with

The Family Room – Alice’s personal letters, photos and keepsakes

Alice’s collection of arms & armour – its unusual for a woman to collect such things (normally a male preserve) but Alice did things differently!

Exhibition in The Stables – visualisation of the Alice’s legacy and key domaines (gardener, farmer, employer, curator)

Want to check it out? Alice’s Wonderlands is at Waddesdon until 30 Oct

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