Chatsworth, Arcadia, Now

The US edition of Chatsworth, Arcadia, Now, published by Rizzoli, arrived here in Suffolk last week. I slightly prefer the cover to that of the UK edition (published by Penguin), not because it has my name on it (although that is of course a factor), but because it shows one of my favourite views of Chatsworth, from the south, with the rolling hills and woodlands behind.

The ‘Seven Scenes’ mentioned in the subtitle are episodes that begin in the present, and go back, as if down the corridors of time, into the deep history of the house and its great holdings of art. They mirror my own discovery of the collection, and the feeling you get in such houses of time and experience distilled and preserved.

It was fantastic, and at times mind-boggling, to stay in a house about which I was writing. At one moment I set up a little office in the famous Sabine Room when the house was closed for the season, and also had the chance to work in the great library – otherwise unused – until I was obliged to flee to escape a terrible blizzard.

What struck me above all, visiting the house regularly over a period of a few years, was how much had changed each time since the last visit. Unlike other great houses open to the public, Chatsworth never feels like a museum, where everything is set in stone. You half expect on arrival to see a new wing having gone up, or an old one pulled down. You will always find new and unexpected works of art, and never leave with the feeling that you have reached the end of what it has to offer.

My book, I hope, captures this restless spirit of change, but also (and I imagine American readers might prefer this aspect), describes the timeless impression of such a great house and collection, set in an idyllic landscape, which always struck me as a sort of contemporary Arcadia.

1 thought on “Chatsworth, Arcadia, Now

  1. Simon Seligman (@oybat)

    I have really enjoyed the book (UK edition) and your evocation of the 7 ages. I worked at Chatsworth from 1991-2010, so saw the golden end of the Debo/Andrew age, and the astonishing start of the Amanda/Stoker age, and I am lucky enough to still lecture about it and its collections and landscape on the Arts Society circuit. I’ve been a keen supporter of their radical re-think of Chatsworth while also enjoying watching them fall under its spell, and I personally think the most successful commissions are those where the artists have themselves engaged with the place, taken stock of what this vast canvas offers them, and then responded to it, setting up a dialogue between the centuries. For me the book, in terms of image choice and art direction, has an eternal restlessness to it, which feels like both a very accurate reflection of Stoker’s own restless pace, and hunger for the next ‘thing’, but also speaks of a reluctance to settle, and let us, the viewer, just take something in or focus on a single thing, in case we might be bored, the very worst sin in the current Chatsworth! But in your blog above, you capture what I think is the absolute essence of what makes the place so uniquely fascinating, and the last 70 years of stewardship so impressive, which is that the next 100 years are as exciting a prospect as the last 450 years. It is an historic place unafraid of the future. Thank you for capturing all that in book form.


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