Wednesday 30 September 2015

Valley with a Past

It was a magical late summers day, gliders soared high overhead, the tree canopy was just beginning to show its first flush of autumn gold. A perfect day to wander in the dappled sunlight, breathe in the sweet air, and enjoy.
Setting off down the track, picnic to hand, into a spot just visible from our own hilltop eerie
A valley which was settled thousands of years ago. Neolithic flint-knappings, and a late Bronze Age storage pit used to keep foodstuffs safe and cool have been found. Evidence also of Bronze Age roundhouses, and later during the Roman period it was occupied by a provincial governor, thought to be General Vespasian, who built himself a large villa. The villa had one of the finest mosaics ever discovered north of the Alps - the Orpheus Pavement found and excavated by Samuel Lysons in 1793.
This peaceful wooded valley reveals the remains of a Georgian landscape created between the 17th and 19th centuries influenced by leading landscape designers 'Capability' Brown and Humphry Repton
The peace and quiet occasionally broken
by lowing cattle, bleating sheep, and the plaintive mew from a Buzzard in the treetops
large old specimen trees still stand proud in a neglected landscape that is gradually being reclaimed
Hidden at the end of this valley lies an enigma
An unfinished masterpiece - a splendid Victorian Gothic building
In 1846 William Leigh asked the pre-eminent Victorian architect A.W.N. Pugin to survey an existing property in the valley, presumably with a view to his improving the house for William and his family. However, Pugin condemned the existing building saying "...a more hopeless case of repairs I never saw." He recommended starting anew and sent Leigh an estimate of £7118 and a design for a new house.  Progress on the mansion was slow as often the workforce was withdrawn to do other work on the estate and funding was piecemeal. William Leigh was a perfectionist who actively supervised all the work. His personality may well have contributed to the slow pace and his religious fervour had a significant impact on the style of the house. His health declined and the mansion remained unfinished on Leigh's death.
Today the unfinished mansion is held by a Trust who are slowly rescuing the property from potentially catastrophic decay. The Trust is a pioneer to the Living Classroom model of heritage skills training, becoming the first site in the UK to provide hands-on training to student stonemasons vital for the survival and heritage of our limestone buildings.
It's a good recipe
The students learn new skills
and the building is gradually rescued from decay

Sunday 27 September 2015

Chatsworth Garden

Although nearing the end of September these wildflowers were still making a colourful show
The lst Duke's charming Greenhouse was built in 1697 to grow citrus trees. It is one of the most important C17th greenhouses surviving in England. Today it houses part of Chatsworth's Camellia collection, a few citrus trees and other tender plants
The Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories thriving happily in one of the other estate greenhouses
Ipomoea - 'Ocean Blue'
Henry Moore OM, CH - Three piece reclining figure: Draped
Every year Chatsworth hosts a large sculpture exhibition
The current one is entitled Beyond Limits: The Landscape of British Sculpture 1950-2015
The Long Walk, topped by a memorial urn to Blanche, wife of the 7th Duke
In a vale lying alongside but below the Long Walk is the Emperor Fountain - anticipating a visit from Tsar Nicholas l of Russia, the 6th Duke decided to construct the world's highest fountain, and set Joseph Paxton to work building it in 1843
Mr Paxton was Head Gardener to the 6th Duke, but he is far better known for his design and building of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park where the Great Exhibition was held in 1851
Coloured lithograph of Queen Victoria opening the Great Exhibition
Paxton's unique building and design expertise in the use of cast-iron and glass was honed in the gardens at Chatsworth where in 1837 he built this revolutionary glass house which sadly was demolished in 1920
Paxton also designed a glass Lily House at Chatsworth - this illustration shows his daughter Annie standing on the leaf of a giant Victoria amazonica at Chatsworth - Paxton's design for the Crystal Palace took its cue from the organic structure of this plant 

beyond the Emperor fountain are uninterrupted views stretching across and beyond the River Derwent 
Classical statuary and the roofline at Chatsworth House appear dwarfed by a large scale sculptural construction by Conrad Shawcross RA called 'The Dappled Light of the Sun'
A sculptural piece by Stephen Cox RA - Dreadnought: Problems of History - The search for the hidden stone.
Personally I would have preferred to see the water cascade without the sculpture sitting in it, albeit only a temporary exhibit
A colourful show of wild flowers highlighting what is known as 'The Conservative Wall' - a series of greenhouses built in front of the garden wall. The building behind the wall is the imposing Stable Block
As the afternoon shadows lengthen - a last look over my shoulder, 
before heading back into the Derbyshire countryside

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Palace of the Peak

If the weather was fine and father did not have a golfing fixture, mother would pack the picnic hamper, strap it to the back of the family car, and off we would go for a day out in the Derbyshire dales.
A Morris Ten resembling my fathers vehicle and painted in the same coachwork colours of black and British Racing Green. Our car was already old by todays standards when father purchased it to replace a smaller Morris car. I recall its dark green shiny ribbed leather seats, a front window that could open forwards on hot days, and funny orange 'trafficators' which popped out from either side when we turned left or right. 

As we drove up hill and down dale my siblings and I would sing.  We would bounce up and down in unison across the back seat whenever a steep incline was reached in an effort to encourage the old car up the hills. 
Trundling along the roads I would notice the lodge gates and long driveways to the many fine Derbyshire country houses, but none equalled the spectacular view of Chatsworth House nestling in its unrivalled Derwent Valley location. During my childhood Chatsworth was not open to the public, but whenever I return for a trip down memory lane those tantalising first glimpses are rekindled.
Welcome to the Palace of the Peak
Sir Wm Cavendish and his wife Elizabeth, better known to us today as Bess of Hardwick, bought the land where Chatsworth stands in 1549 for £600. Despite what was then an isolated moorland location, they started to build a new house, however, almost nothing of that original Elizabethan building remains. The Chatsworth House we see today was built in the architectural English Baroque/Italianate style which was completed in 1696. The current owner is the 12th Duke of Devonshire.
The Painted Hall with its impressive stairway which
sits beneath a ceiling painted by the French artist Louis Laguerre between 1692-94 for the 1st Duke of Devonshire. He began working at Chatsworth as assistant to Antonio Verrio, the Italian artist, who painted Chatsworth's ceilings above the Great Stairs and in the Great Chamber.
The Dukes have always been great patrons of the arts which continues today. In the chapel beneath a further ceiling painted by Laguerre sits the grand altar made out of Derbyshire Alabaster.
Standing resplendent in gold at eight-foot high is Damien Hirst's Saint Bartholomew entitled 'Exquisite Pain' -  This is part of a temporary sculpture exhibition taking place in and around Chatsworth until mid October
This staircase was a design revelation to visitors in the 1690s, its cantilevered steps appearing to hang in the air. 
Staircase ceiling painted by Antonio Verrio
An elaborate display in the Great Chamber showing off some Delft and silver gilt ware along with a fine pair of Delft tulip vases - Tulip vases are the legacy of 'Tulip Mania' which swept through Holland and into Europe during the 1630s

Antonio Verrio painted the ceiling in the Great Chamber. It depicts the Return of the Golden Age, representing the new reign of William and Mary, and shows the Virtues  conquering the Vices of ancient mythology. Whilst at Chatsworth Verio argued with the lst Duke's housekeeper, Mrs Hackett, so much so that he included her in the ceiling as one of the Vices
Mrs Hackett forever floating on the Great Chamber ceiling painted as one of the three Fates, Atropos, cutting the thread of life with her much 'abhorred shears'.
Trompe l'oeil (deceives the eye) painting of a violin in the State Music Room painted by Jan van der Vaart in the 1700s. The painting is on a real door, and the knob on which the violin seems to hang is also real, both of which help the illusion 
Portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough
I am showing this piece of furniture by William Kent because I mentioned him in a recent post about Rousham. Devonshire House, the family home in London was destroyed by fire in 1733 and the 3rd Duke commissioned William Kent to design a new house, both inside and out, as well as new furniture, much of which is still in the collection at Chatsworth today.
A myriad of colours reflected in one of the crystal chandeliers at Chatsworth
The Acheson Sisters - John Singer Sargent
This painting was commissioned by Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire, wife of the 8th Duke, and grandmother to the girls; the three sisters were frequent visitors at Chatsworth. Sargent visited Chatsworth to discuss the commission during the winter of 1901-02. 
Veiled Vesta - sculptured by Raffaella Monti, 1848
The Chatsworth Tazza
One of the largest objects made from one piece of Derbyshire fluorspar 'Blue John'
Reaching the end of the house visit, the 6th Duke's Sculpture Gallery awaits. He had it built to display his very large collection of classically inspired sculptures, including several by Antonio Canova
Two Crouching Lions by Francesco Benaglia (after Canova) guarding the exit leading to the gardens - one has decided to take a nap!
Next visit - the gardens
Bravo Chatsworth - no restrictions are placed on photographers - you can even use flash if you wish