06 Apr Chatsworth: The Masterclass
I’m a Derbyshire lass, born and bred and I have a long standing admiration for and connection to Chatsworth House.
My father, a renowned conservation architect counted the late Duchess, Deborah Devonshire, amongst his client list and knew her for 40 years. As a child I was privileged to be chosen to present her with a bouquet of flowers at the opening of one of his award winning projects and I also attended a private party at Chatsworth when I was 5 years old. My parents couldn’t find a babysitter and in the spirit with which she was well known Deborah insisted that my parents brought my brother and I along to it.
On many a summer holiday in my youth we returned to Chatsworth to enjoy the stunning gardens but it isn’t since I attended the aforementioned party that I have been inside the house, not until last weekend that is, and it didn’t disappoint!
Here are just a few reasons why I think Chatsworth deserves to be our best loved Country House.
From the moment you enter you feel that the house has personality. Partly the result of alterations made by successive Dukes in history, trying to make their mark on an inherited house, the rooms all have a sense that there is more to them than meets the eye. The Elizabethan Panelling rescued from earlier iterations of the house with carved figureheads atop each panel has quite an impact and historic art collections are housed in atmospherically lit rooms throughout. The house has 126 rooms. Only 26 are open to the public. Of these the library, one of six library rooms in the house, is on view and illustrates how successfully the family have created peaceful, characterful rooms that are elegant and timeless. I could happily lose myself in there for a few days, occasionally calling for more tea from the butler.
The other thing that struck me on entering the house were the magnificent Ceilings. The fresco ceilings in two of the rooms would be completely at home alongside the Sistine chapel in Rome.
Chatsworth has many quirks and eccentricities that reflect the personalities of the Cavendish family who have presided there for 450 years. My favourite is the Trompe l’eoil violin and bow painted in 1723 by Jan van dear Vaart, hanging on the back of a door. Not only is it extremely realistic but it adds charm, humour and a thing of beauty to the interior.
And nothing adds character more than a chandelier like this. No doubt commissioned to suit, the stag chandelier is imposing and interesting.
The hand painted Chinoiserie walls in the bedrooms are stunning. The Royal bedroom feels,like it has been preserved in time but others have plenty of evidence of recent inhabitants. A modern day bath is housed in the wardrobe on one bedroom showing how recently it was converted to embrace 20th Century plumbing and the bedroom would be more than comfortable today.
Modern day Chatsworth has harnessed the power of contemporary art to update its interiors as well as attract a younger set of visitors. It has been housing art installations of this nature for many years but may favourite installation is a permanent one. Created in 2014 a groundbreaking fusion of art and architecture by Jacob van der Beugel, was commissioned for the North Sketch Gallery. The DNA of The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and their son and daughter-in-law, Lord and Lady Burlington, has been translated into 650 large ceramic panels. Protruding ceramic blocks, organised into four columns and representing the mitochondrial DNA of all four sitters. A fifth central portrait has been created that depicts ‘Everyman’. This contains miniature mirrors that reflect the faces of the viewing public, emphasising the importance of visitors to Chatsworth in a more democratic era.
The overall aesthetic effect however reminded me of a wonderfully contemporary take on Chinoiserie. Brighton Pavilion style. stunning and totally unique it places Chatsworth firmly at the top of our national houses, and not one that is simply a museum but one that evolves and lives on with the family who has enjoyed it, and invested in it, for so many years.
For those who are interested in the family and its recent past, there is currently an exhibition within the house that is well worth a visit. Debo – never a bore is a photographic exhibition capturing the famous friends and family that this Mitford sister held dear. Sadly my photo from the Derby evening telegraph did not quite make the cut but this stunning photo of Deborah Devonshire the Dowager Duchess quite rightly did.