Life in large spaces…family connections and tragedy

Two villas within walking distance of my apartment exemplify the lifestyle of people not averse to living on a grand scale. A connection binds the family members who envisioned this luxe life, and leads to a mansion in Paris and a tragic end.

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a rose-colored confection built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild after her separation from her much older, STD-ridden, banker and gambler husband Maurice Ephrussi. Beatrice was the daughter of banker and art collector Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. When Maurice ran up gambling debts of 12 million gold francs (equivalent to some 30 million euros today), Baron Alphonse took him to court and obtained a legal separation for his daughter. The following year Baron Alphonse died leaving Beatrice a vast fortune. She began construction of this beautiful villa with tiered themed gardens, which stands near Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat overlooking the Bay of Villefranche and the Bay of Beaulieu. She bequeathed the villa and collections to the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

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The nearby Villa Kérylos was built by archeologist Theodore Reinach and his wife Fanny Kann, who was the cousin of Maurice Ephrussi. Styled after ancient Greek noble houses, named Keryos for the kingfishers in mythology that were good omens, the villa contained exact copies of Grecian chairs and other furnishings modeled on those in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The villa and collections were bequeathed to the Institut de France. Theodore’s son, Leon, took charge of the archives. During the Nazi occupation, the villa was seized. The villa was preserved, but the archives were destroyed.

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Which brings me to the tragedy connected with these beautiful villas. After Theodore Reinach’s death, his son Leon lived in Neuilly sur Seine just outside of Paris with his wife Beatrice Camondo Reinach and their two children. Beatrice was the daughter of Moise de Camondo whose Sephardic Jewish family owned one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire, with branches established in France. Moise built a mansion in Paris near the Parc Monceau to house his collection of 18th century art and furniture.

photo courtesy of le Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris

photo courtesy of le Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris


His son, Nassim, was killed in action in WWI and later Moise donated the mansion and collections to Les Arts Décoratifs to establish the Musée Nassim de Camondo. Moise died in 1935. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, Leon and Beatrice were deported to Auschwitz along with their son and daughter, where they were all killed.

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