Q: Waaaaay back in the '60s I thought I saw bottles of wine with labels designed by Picasso, Dali and other popular artists. Was I dreaming?
—Elizabeth Dewey, Crystal Lake, Ill.
A: No, you weren't dreaming. The artists' labels were (and are) found on bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, one of the best known red wines of France's Bordeaux region.
While Mouton Rothschild tapped Jean Carlu to design an Art Deco label for the 1924 vintage, the tradition of turning to a new artist every year began with the wine of 1945. That's when the chateau's owner, the late and legendary Baron Phillipe de Rothschild, emblazoned the label with a "V" for victory by Phillipe Jullian, the French illustrator. Works by other artists followed: Jean Cocteau (1947), Georges Braque (1955), Salvador Dali (1958), Marc Chagall (1970), Pablo Picasso (1973), Andy Warhol (1975), Keith Haring (1988), Francis Bacon (1990), Niki de Saint Phalle (1997), Lucian Freud (2006) and Xu Lie (2008).
Famously, the artists or their families are paid not in cash but in wine.
Not every Mouton Rothschild label celebrates an artist. For the 2000 vintage, the Millennium was saluted. The 1953 and 2003 bottles marked the 100th and 150th anniversaries respectively of the Rothschilds' ownership of Mouton. Britain's royal family has gotten into the label act twice. The 1977 vintage label commemorated a visit by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Her grandson, Prince Charles, was the featured label "artist" for the 2004 vintage, marking the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale between France and the United Kingdom. You can find all of the labels from 1945 to 2004 reproduced at a Web site, TheArtistLabels.com.
Of course, art appears on other wine labels as well. Indeed, the very design – the typography, the colors, the shape of the label itself – can all voice an artistic message. Sometimes, the art is as glorious as the wine inside the bottle. Other times, well, you can imagine. Take time next time you visit a wine store or supermarket wine aisle to check out all the labels. You can be sure at least one will catch your eye – as they're supposed to.
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