Chatsworth Portraits Through the Ages: Exhibition Opens in London

Chatsworth Portraits Through the Ages: Exhibition Opens in London

To coincide with the National Portrait Gallery reopening, we sat down with newly appointed Director of Chatsworth House Trust, Jane Marriott, to discuss plans for her tenure, and the loan exhibition of portraits from the Devonshire Collection, on display at Sotheby's in London.
To coincide with the National Portrait Gallery reopening, we sat down with newly appointed Director of Chatsworth House Trust, Jane Marriott, to discuss plans for her tenure, and the loan exhibition of portraits from the Devonshire Collection, on display at Sotheby's in London.

T imed to coincide with the relaunch of the National Portrait Gallery in London, Sotheby’s will inaugurate a dedicated Portraits evening auction as part of the week of marquee sales. Alongside these sales, the very spirit of this campaign is encapsulated by an exhibition of works on loan from the Devonshire Collection which will be on display in the Sotheby’s London New Bond Street Galleries from 30th June, as the NPG opens its doors and the art world turns its attention anew to this most captivating of genres.

This enduring fascination in portraiture is perfectly demonstrated by the inclusion of Rembrandt’s Portrait of an old man, which has been in the family since the early 18th Century, and is certainly the jewel in the crown of this important collection. As explained by Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings specialist, Edouardo Roberti: “The sitter is depicted in fanciful costume, probably a studio prop, and shows us why the artist is rightly celebrated as one of the most innovative and accomplished of artists, so memorably describing the mood and expression of his sitters; Rembrandt’s fascination with surface and texture more generally is equally well captured in the Chatsworth portrait, the details and contours of the costume contrasting with the clarity of the physiognomy”.

Lucian Freud, Head of a woman (Lady Elizabeth Cavendish (1926-2018)).

Alongside this work, three portraits by Lucian Freud will sit in dialogue with old masters and contemporary pieces alike, describes Tom Eddison, Senior Director of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s: “In every sense these three portraits adhere to Freud’s modus operandi that everything is autobiographical; they not only recall Freud’s relationship with the Chatsworth, but also encapsulate the intensity of purpose, observation and technical virtuosity that has marked him as the master of his generation.”

Jane Marriott at Chatsworth.

Mariko Finch: There is a commitment from Chatsworth to make real social impact of the Trust’s activities, how do you see the collection evolving over time to encompass these goals? 

Jane Marriott: Today many people still do not know that Chatsworth; the collections, house, gardens and parkland are all cared for by a charity which was established over 40 years ago. We do this in order to welcome and share Chatsworth with over 600,000 visitors a year, and more people digitally, or through our growing loans programme, across the world.

It is equally important to recognise that what you see in the house is primarily a family collection assembled over 500 years by 16 generations of the same family. The Devonshire family, often led by the Duke and Duchess at the time, has shaped this fascinating collection and continues to do so, to the benefit of the charity which enables it to be shared with the world. We therefore care for the collection in order to share it. We truly believe that by studying the past, we can create new perspectives on present & future, equally we protect and share the garden and landscape to provide a solace and way to reconnect with nature, whilst advancing research and promoting global access.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757 1806) with her infant daughter Lady Georgiana Cavendish (1783 1858), later Countess of Carlisle.

At the heart of this, and what I believe will continue to shape the contemporary collection, is a commitment to support and commission artists as they tackle the urgent issues of our time from the climate crisis, to embracing greater diversity and fostering inclusion, and addressing issues which the climate crisis presents. Artists have the ability to make us look at things anew, to stir up emotions, and to engender an empathy and greater understanding of the subject they are tackling.

The Devonshire Collection, therefore, does not exist in grand isolation, but rather reflects the context in which it sits. It is our job at the Trust is to ensure that it is shared widely through access projects, research, partnerships, loans and exhibitions, whilst embracing the diversity and future possibilities of one of the most significant and ever-evolving family collections.

You say that Chatsworth plays an important role in the local community as a thriving cultural and educational destination. In your experience, what is the biggest challenge when trying to broaden the reach and impact of a cultural organisation such as Chatsworth?

We must never become complacent in demonstrating the relevance of these great country houses and collections in Britain. Chatsworth is in a unique position, situated in the heart of England with one of the largest private family collections open to everyone and I believe that, now more than ever, these houses can provide new perspectives, that they give us the chance to step out of the daily pressures of our lives and reflect on what is happening, both personally and in the world – to escape and to recharge.

"We have developed programmes to support free travel for schools, to provide free resources digitally and to send our collection to exhibitions and places around the world."

In developing our strategy for People, the Place and our Planet, we use the programme of exhibitions, events, learning activities and talks to increase access and foster inclusion. This is not just on site, but through sharing our resources worldwide. Visitors from around the world and on our doorstep are all welcome, but for those who may find it hard to come, we have developed programmes to support free travel for schools, to provide free resources digitally and to send our collection to exhibitions and places around the world. However, the biggest challenge is funding this. We generate invaluable income from our supporters, members and visitors each year and this enables us to care for, run, and open the house and grounds at Chatsworth. But this is not enough to support all of our conservation and research needs. Neither is it sufficient to do everything we want to do, in promoting greater engagement and ambitions for our learning programmes. Ongoing support is something we are always striving to achieve and we are always mindful of demonstrating the positive impact that this support enables.

What is the thing that excites you most about working with this collection?

What excites me the most, is the sheer breadth, quality and still relatively unknown quality of the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth. I want to celebrate the differences between a collection created by one family over 500 years, which is really rather unique and different to our many wonderful, but perhaps less personally driven, museum collections. It is rare to find a collection reflecting the cultural fashions and personal tastes of 16 generations of family still largely intact.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of an old man, 1651. Chatsworth House Trust.

This collection of portraits spanning the ages demonstrates a very well-rounded collection. Is it important for the family to share these sometimes very personal works with new audiences?

This family has been collecting works and commissioning great artists and makers for over five centuries, and continues to do so. Not just art, but inspiring interiors and architecture to plants and commissioning great landscape architects of the time such as Joseph Paxton. We are all influenced by our surroundings and in this case, this means a rather wonderful journey through Old Master Drawings, ancient antiquities, to sumptuous jewellery, minerals, scientific instruments and many rare first edition books. Plus landscapes and portraiture including the great Rembrandts, Reynolds and Landseer works to 20th century masterpieces by Lucian Freud and David Hockney to classical and Italian sculpture by Canova amongst others. The stories these works tell and the way in which they were commissioned and collected is fascinating and one which we hope will inspire many generations to come.

Lucian Freud, Portrait of a man (Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire (1920-2004)). Chatsworth Trust.

Heritage and legacy seem just as important as looking to the future and a deep consideration of sustainability, access and inclusivity. Would it be fair to say that’s quite radical approach for an institution like Chatsworth?

Like many families, who are part of generations of family that care for great houses and collections in this country, they are aware of the immense responsibility to ensure these places do more than survive, and to ensure they flourish. Many recognise that they are custodians of incredible collections and at Chatsworth this is no different. In 1981 the family took the bold and thoughtful decision to ensure Chatsworth would always be for public benefit and established the Chatsworth House Trust, to be governed by a Board of Trustees, the majority of whom will always be non-family members. They continue to live at Chatsworth and to invest in the Collection and the wider private estate. Together, we all share the same values of supporting our local communities; supporting greater access and engagement with everything Chatsworth has to offer, through inspiring programmes; and to having a positive impact on the planet.

"The stories these works tell and the way in which they were commissioned and collected is fascinating and one which we hope will inspire many generations to come."

How important are cultural partnerships to Chatsworth?

Cultural partnerships are essential to promote greater access to Chatsworth’s collections and to its in-house expertise. We regularly partner with other institutions around the world from galleries and museums, to schools, colleges and universities. We also particularly appreciate innovation from our corporate sponsors who demonstrate their commitment to our ambitions and often share the same values. Sotheby’s is a great example of this. Their funding not only enables us to continue to pay for the ambitious art programme at Chatsworth, but they have generously shared their platform with us in London and online, in order to widen our audience reach and celebrate the reopening of one of our great national institutions, the National Portrait Gallery.

Lucian Freud, Woman in a white shirt (Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire 1920-1914). Chatsworth House Trust.

Do you have a personal favourite work in the exhibition?

Throughout history artists have tried to capture the inner psyche of their sitter through the physical manifestation of them in their work and the three Freud family paintings are an exceptional example of this. We know that Freud was very interested in other people and as part of this show we are delighted to be hosting an in-conversation with Lucian’s daughter, the designer Bella Freud and the NPG Director, and Trustee of Chatsworth House Trust, Dr Nicolas Cullinan. I am also delighted, thanks to Sotheby’s support, that we will be able to share this much more widely online.

Michael Craig Martin, Portrait of the Countess of Burlington, 2010. Chatsworth House Trust.

Having worked at Tate, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Hepworth Wakefield, you may also not be surprised to learn of my passion for 20th century and contemporary works and the exploration of different media. In particular I am drawn to Michael Craig Martin’s digital portrait of Lady Burlington. This image is based on a studio photograph which was taken by the artist of Lady Burlington at his studio in Kings Cross. The portrait consists of custom made hardware using a 52" monitor mounted vertically to hang on the wall like a framed painting. The software for the work uses a black line portrait of the sitter by Michael Craig-Martin, which is divided into nine different areas of colour: skin, hair, lips, teeth, eyebrows, shirt, etc. Each colour appears for between five and 15 seconds. As there is no loop in this work, there is no repetition. The computer portrait is 'live' and programmed to randomly make all decisions concerning colour choice and duration. As there are millions of combinations possible, there is virtually no possibility that anyone will ever see again the exact combination visible at any given moment.

Therefore, whether you like modern or renaissance art, the show gives visitors a small, but powerful insight into the wonderful, personal and exceptional quality of the Devonshire Collection which you can explore at Chatsworth, online, or in loan exhibitions around the world.

Portraits from Chatsworth – A Loan Exhibition is on view at Sotheby’s London until 4th July. Admission to the exhibition is free and open to the public.

The London Sales

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