The iconic artworks that were created for Absolut Vodka by such artists as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring back in the ‘80s are more well-known, but the fascinating story of the legendary wine estate, Chateau Mouton Rothschild — and its association with some of the giants of 20th-Century art — long preceded that famous advertising campaign.
Conceived by the Baron Philippe de Rothschild (great-grandson of the founder of the French winery) as a way of commemorating both victory in WWII and the vintage of 1945, which is now considered the greatest of the century, the idea of engaging celebrated painters to grace Mouton Rothschild’s bottles with their work became a yearly tradition.
From 1945 onwards, contemporary artists were commissioned to create original pieces to be featured on the label. The reward for each was ten cases of wine, whose value was expected to grow over time. (That’s an understatement. A 12-bottle case of the Mouton Rothschild 1945 fetched a record $207,400 — or more than $17,000 a bottle — in 2010.)
The undertaking came to include such legends of the art world as Pablo Picasso (his contribution to the 1973 vintage is at top), Joan Miró (above left), and Francis Bacon (above). Warhol and Haring eventually added some wine alongside the vodka as well, with Lucian Freud and Jeff Koons joining the long list of luminaries into the 2000s.
The project has experienced some amusing controversy along the way. In 1993, a drawing by the French artist (and nymphet aficionado) Balthus was deemed too racy for use in the U.S., and the bottles were sold in America with a blank space where the image should have appeared. Both versions, shown above, are now highly sought after by collectors.
The Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who carried on this creative side of her father’s legacy until her death in August of last year, once commented: “Is it art? Is it wine? What it is really is art put on bottles of wine, which happened to be art themselves.”
And what ambrosial canvasses they were.