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Chatsworth

Esteemed UK Dealer Adrian Sassoon’s Personal Insights into Chatsworth’s “Adventurous” Collection

By Adrian Sassoon
As one of the United Kingdom’s leading dealers in Contemporary art and antique French porcelain, Adrian Sassoon has had the privilege of working with the world’s top collectors. Given his longstanding relationship with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Sassoon has witnessed Chatsworth’s collection become exceptionally diverse and daring – but he gives the forward-thinking couple all the credit. Below, Sassoon walks down memory lane while highlighting several of the artists that his gallery represents whose art features in the Inspired by Chatsworth selling exhibition (28 June–13 September, New York). –Stephanie Sporn

T he Duke has a very acute sense of where to find things that interest him, and I think that goes way beyond the art world into architecture, horticulture, agriculture and, and, and...I feel that both he and the Duchess are fascinated by accomplished people and their skills. So, as a dealer in the field of Contemporary ceramics, glass and metalwork, of course the Duke came across my colleagues and I as we deal in the work of so many outstanding artists. I think his first purchases from us were of silver by the Japanese-born artist, Hiroshi Suzuki and some pieces of celadon porcelain by Edmund de Waal. However, as one now finds is normal with the Duke, he was ahead of us in that he was adding to his collection of Suzuki’s work rather than making his first purchase! Likewise, we had some pieces of de Waal’s work that the Duke selected and amalgamated into the large number they had already commissioned from the artist for an installation at Chatsworth.

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(LEFT) THE GREAT STAIRCASE, THE PAINTED HALL, SHOWING THE DEVONSHIRE AYLIEFF, CHINESE LADDERS. © THE DEVONSHIRE COLLECTIONS, CHATSWORTH (CENTER) FELICITY AYLIEFF, BLUE & WHITE MONUMENTAL VASE. ASKING PRICE: $52,000. (RIGHT) FELICITY AYLIEFF, BLUE MOUNTAINS - LIDDED VASE. ASKING PRICE: $52,000.

Since the Duke and Duchess have collected the work of many of our artists, people assume that I have something to do with most of the contemporary pieces at Chatsworth. This is certainly not the case. Since 2011 we have presented all of the monumental ceramics made by Felicity Aylieff (wonderful blue and white painted porcelain vases are displayed in Sotheby’s Inspired by Chatsworth: A Selling Exhibition). But if you look carefully at the various towering vases at Chatsworth they date from earlier years. The Duke was ahead of us again. During 2018 their tall 3.5-meter high blue and white vase, Chinese Ladders, (similar to the example in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Art) was centrally placed on the first landing of the Great Staircase; the focal point of the Painted Hall.

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In 2010 we were able to help the Duke and Duchess create a Contemporary glass-topped coffee table for one of their main drawing rooms at Chatsworth, where not only is the room large but the 18th-century sofa in that room must be something that a modern furniture store would call “an eight-seater.” Nowadays the Duke claims he doesn’t “understand glass” when the Duchess spots a piece she likes. However, he certainly spotted that we were showing glass tabletops cast from huge leaves from the botanic gardens in Cornwall’s Eden Project by Colin Reid. Intrigued, an invitation for Reid to visit Chatsworth followed, leading to the commissioning of a 4.5-foot table with a top cast from a massive banana leaf. This was not just any old massive banana leaf, but one from the Chatsworth conservatories. The species of tree used was called Musa Cavendishii and is key to the history of the varieties of bananas that we consume today.

"I think the Duke and Duchess are amongst the most public figures who have had the same adventurous instincts together with the space and energy to exercise this same sentiment for the past twenty or so years."

It was from 2007 that I spent much more time with the Duke as he and I simultaneously became Trustees of the Wallace Collection – the National museum in London of possibly the most outstanding and extensive private family collection (rather than a royal one) ever given away to form a museum of historic works of art. I have told the Duke more recently that through observing him in action for the subsequent eight years, he taught me a lot about the role of a trustee and that I really admire his combination of high expectations and total fairness.

From visiting our exhibitions and fairs, the Duke and Duchess have purchased porcelain garnitures – sets of varied vases made to be displayed together in a rhythm – by our artists Andrew Wicks and Kirsten Coelho. Indeed they visited Andrew’s studio in Bath to see how he approaches and makes his porcelain sculptures. I do not think they have paid a visit to Kirsten Coelho in her studio in Adelaide, South Australia yet!

One part of my career has always been dealing with 18th-century works of art; porcelain in particular. Perhaps my biggest contribution to the field of Contemporary objects has been to consider them in the same way as antiques and to integrate them into historic collections without worrying or being self-conscious. Contemporary objects can be viewed as the sculptures in a room, to be displayed in pairs or sets, made of the finest and often most traditional materials such as porcelain, silver and glass. I think the Duke and Duchess are amongst the most public figures who have had the same adventurous instincts together with the space and energy to exercise this same sentiment for the past twenty or so years. At Chatsworth the family’s spaces and the guest rooms have beautifully arranged historic works of art and Contemporary objects are arranged throughout in clusters as unique focal points. My eyes are always on stalks when there!

Adrian Sassoon on Pippin Drysdale:

I was thrilled to learn that there was a set of twenty porcelain sculptures by Australian artist Pippin Drysdale from the Chatsworth collection being included in the Treasures from Chatsworth exhibition. When we show Drysdale’s work at our fairs in New York it meets with such a great response, so we have included two sets of her “Marbles” (in fact made of porcelain) in the Inspired by Chatsworth selling exhibition.

(LEFT) PIPPIN DRYSDALE FROM THE DEVONSHIRE COLLECTION. © THE DEVONSHIRE COLLECTIONS, CHATSWORTH (UPPER RIGHT) PIPPIN DRYSDALE, STORMCLOUDS. ASKING PRICE: $82,000. (LOWER RIGHT) PIPPIN DRYSDALE, CONSTELLATION VII. ASKING PRICE: $50,000.

I love her work, and all those that meet Pippin are seduced by her wonderful nature and enthusiasm for life. She works in Western Australia and for me, living in London, with massive pride that I am a quarter Australian myself; Australia could not be much further away. I treasure my visits to the Kimberley region of that state, to the remarkable unique landscapes one sees there, which are reflected in her work. Pippin has a long, successful career and these are pieces that are full of new ideas, colors and lusters etc. I so admire an artist who does not rest on her laurels but continually pushes through new ideas. I believe the Duke shares my admiration for her endless creativity, as he has purchased Pippin’s work consistently for about 20 years.

Adrian Sassoon on Kate Malone:

My passion for historical works of art is often born out of my admiration for yesterday’s master craftsmen and their high levels of skill and refinement in their chosen material. This sense of admiration is something I share with the Contemporary artists whose works have been selected for the exhibition. British ceramic artist, Kate Malone for instance, often makes work inspired by what she calls the “Life Force.” This is the power of nature, in growth and of a sense of optimism for life in general. Having said that, Malone also has immense respect for her predecessor craftsmen and women – observing, borrowing and transforming details from everything from Sèvres French royal porcelain, to Chinese 18th-century export ware to traditional, functional English pottery from the 16th century.

The Duke first collected pieces by Malone that were created in response to a residency at an Arts & Crafts house called Blackwell in the Lake District. The very distinctive plasterwork of the late 19th century house inspired the organic flourishes and detailing on the pots he collected. Malone’s monumental pair of vases on display in the Inspired by Chatsworth exhibition are on a scale that would fit right into Chatsworth. The decoration is of pumpkins, gourds and pineapples; historically symbolic of wealth, optimism, generosity and joy.

The 80-plus works in Inspired by Chatsworth: A Selling exhibition (28 June–13 September, New York) are available for immediate private sale purchase.

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