Chatsworth Again

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If you read my October posts on Chatsworth, you will know that our wander through the grossly sumptuous interiors made us very, very grumpy – with ourselves for one thing – for pandering to this piece of (very successful) private heritage enterprise and paying £50 (including guide book) for the doubtful privilege of doing so.

And then there’s the history that riles. However you look at it, this great family pile is founded on all that continues to be wrong with English society: the dubious acquisition of great wealth, status and power, and the fact that we STILL bow before the titled, rich and famous as if rampant social climbing and an unearned and unjustified position of superiority is worthy of our respect. Furthermore we then confuse the act of procreation by such people with the passing on of hereditary titles, as if the first justifies the second. It does not. It need be considered no more real than a mass belief in fairies. Yet we  have embedded it in our institutions – the monarchy and the House of Lords being its most obvious expressions.

The first, admittedly, has been reduced to soap opera status (although the royal family still holds on to a vast amount of wealth and property so long as it does not rock any political boats), but the Lords, by contrast, exercise considerable authority over the passing of our laws. And while there are very good reasons to have an upper house to provide check and scrutiny of the doings of the House of Commons, the fact is the Lords are unelected – bishops and peers whose titles are the only membership credentials required to get in there to lobby and pass judgement on matters of national and international importance.

And we the English people, through habit and unquestioning apathy continue to be complicit in a system where wealth, class and newspaper magnates shape and control the society we live in, and often against our best interests. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes writ large – in all its intricately self-serving, pernicious nastiness. So why do we still buy into it? Or are we too distracted by our cell phones to pay attention?

But back to Chatsworth. Now I’m left wondering if it would be more acceptable if it were owned by the National Trust. Probably. Although I have to say that in recent conversations with friends and relatives who, like us, are Trust members, we increasingly agree that the stately homes themselves leave us cold, their current presentation often afflicted by bad cases of Downton Abbey-itis that make too much of surviving family members who (by accident of inheritance) may still live in them. Instead, it is more the National Trust’s thoughtful management of landscape and countryside, and the pioneering of green technologies that wins our hearts and minds.

Meanwhile at Chatsworth the Cavendish family take pains to make themselves politically acceptable by presenting themselves as great patrons of the arts, and particularly of contemporary art. They do this to the extent of mining their own mitochondrial DNA in order to commission artwork that fixes it in a public display in the North Sketch Gallery. Many of you commented on this bizarre piece of self-regard-made-art in Back to Chatsworth and a bad case of over-gilding?

But of course, all this leaves me with a terrible dilemma. You see I have the photos, and Chatsworth is nothing if not photogenic, and especially in the October sunshine. And so now I’ve had a little rant, here are the pictures, the selection inspired by Paula’s word prompts at Lost in Translation. (See the list below).

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P.S. But in case you’re thinking Chatsworth is an isolated example in the history of England’s aristocracy, and how its members acquired riches, power, titles and unwarranted social and political influence, then architectural historian, Dan Cruikshank’s BBC series The Country House Revealed  gives further examples. We came upon it last night on YouTube, and it reminded me how angry I’d felt at Chatsworth. Anyway, Cruikshank tells a grim, if fascinating story in episode 1 at South Wraxall in Wiltshire, though be warned, his whiffling, whispering mannerisms may prove a little irritating to some. On the other hand, the revelations in the content make it worth putting up with the eccentric delivery.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dywRbbDsqnY

 

Related posts:

To Chatsworth and how Mary Ann went to the ball

Back to Chatsworth and a bad case of over-gilding?

 

Thursday’s Special: Pick a word in November : palatial, cerulean, spurting, radiating and comic.

Back To Chatsworth And A Bad Case Of Over-gilding?

I promised some interior views of Chatsworth. So here they are – not easily taken I might add, what with much penumbral gloom and spot lights where the camera least wanted them. But you will get the idea.

Much of what you will see was the work of the 4th-Earl-made-1st-Duke by the imported protestant regime changees, William and Mary, at the end of the 17th century. The earl certainly forked out for his dukedom. First among his creations to welcome the new monarchs is the Painted Hall. It replaced the original Elizabethan Great Hall, its walls adorned with scenes from the life of Julius Caesar. (Painted by Louis Laguerre who had the Sun King Louis XIV for a godparent.)  It seems the intention was to flatter William III, although it is suggested the included scene of Caesar’s murder was a hint for him not to overstep the mark.

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The next glimpse is of The Chapel built between 1688 and 1693, and little changed since then apart from the addition of Damien Hirst’s creation of St Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain – upon which I pass no comment other than to say that the Devonshires continue to take pride in the commissioning of contemporary art for the house. On a general note though, the chapel struck me as a touch lacking in what one might expect of Protestant self-restraint.

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And now for a few hints of grandeur from the State Apartment with its drawing and withdrawing rooms and state bedchamber and closet – all laid on for the monarchs’ great good comfort, with the exception of the gilded leather wall covering (next photo) which was added much later by the 6th Duke during a redecorating spree. (Apologies for the spotlight flares).

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By now I’m overstuffed with the extravagance, and we’ve not even looked properly at the art piled up in every room or reached the Library:

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And then there’s still the Great Dining Room to see. It is being set out for a grand private banquet on the day of our visit. The guide book says that until 1939 and the outbreak of war, this room was used by the family whenever there were more than six to dine. A thirteen-year old Princess Victoria also enjoyed her first grown up dinner here. To ensure nothing went wrong, her host, the 6th Duke, ordered a fully cooked banquet dress rehearsal the day before.

As we gawp passingly at the 6th Duke’s silver (the surtout de table  commissioned from silversmiths Paul Storr and Robert Garrard) I am amused to see two women pressing the damask cloth’s long skirts over their respective ironing boards.

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But now for the case of gross over-gilding that caused me much mental frothing at the mouth. Way back in the Chapel Corridor that I haven’t shown you, and where artworks from 4 millennia are displayed, I happened on some notices attached to the windows. They referred to the £32 millions’ worth of renovations carried out at Chatsworth over the last decade.

This is what the current Duke, Peregrine known as Stoker’ has to say of one particular restoration venture – the breathtakingly expensive (demented?) gilding of exterior window frames:

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And this is what the gilder had to say:

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And here’s a segment of the finished product:

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And here’s what was running through my head: What are we doing here, encouraging these people, and paying £21 each, plus parking fee, for the doubtful privilege of witnessing this ludicrous waste of money when an artist’s impression of how the windows once looked would have done just as well?

So: we were more than a bit aggravated after the two-hour-trek wherein we only scratched the surface of the opulence on show, and were further forced to grit our teeth as we were allowed to view the family’s still much used cosy salon, a room where one whole wall was taken up depicting The Rape of the Sabine Women.

Yet it wasn’t all overbearing. There were some things in the ducal collection I did like – Lucien Freud’s portraits of the late duke and duchess, a Clarice Cliff coffee pot, some earthy ceramics, the name of whose maker I could not find, the Cornelis de Vos portrait of his daughter, a monster sized foot belonging to a 3,000 year old Greek goddess, Barry Flanagan’s Leaping Hare in the Inner Court, the silk wall covering in the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom and a fossil fern. And then there was the very nice man, rather surprisingly playing Eric Coates compositions in the Ante Library. He told us the composer was much undervalued:

But the undoubted prize for self-regarding humbug has to go – not to the artist Jacob van der Beugel for his extraordinary creation and execution, but to the Cavendish conception of the work in the North Sketch Gallery. The whole corridor is installed with 659 ochre ceramic panels that provide, in abstract form, portraits of the present duke and duchess and their son and his wife, Lord and Lady Burlington. The portraits’ composition derives from the mitochondrial DNA sequences taken in swabs from each of the four individuals.  A fifth portrait depicts Everyman, showing the DNA common to all of us. Meanwhile interspersed mirrors allow passing (in our case bemused) visitors to place themselves fleetingly amongst these family ‘portraits’. The whole is described as ‘the most significant single art installation at Chatsworth since the creation of the 6th Duke’s Sculpture Gallery in 1832.’

Or an ill conceived stab at faux inclusiveness?

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Phew. Enough already. Time to take a break and go out into the garden – more of which another time.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell