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.