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Chatsworth



Ben

M I D W E E K   E X C U R S I O N

Charlie and I have been at Chatsworth today. Neither of us had been, and believe me, nothing can prepare you for the sight of that fabled house as you approach, down the drive passing through a sweeping landscape: completely breathtaking.

We were there to see the exhibition that opens on Saturday – House Style: five centuries of Devonshire fashion.  The brainchild of Laura Burlington, she has worked for six years with Hamish Bowles and Patrick Kinmonth to create an extraordinary immersion into the family and story of this house, told through a remarkable collection of clothes – coronation gowns, christening gowns, funeral clothes, wedding dresses, Elizabethan costume, Victorian fancy dress – and of course the remarkable contemporary collection of the Duke of Devonshire’s niece, Stella Tennant.

Of all the exhibits I was most drawn, in a strange way, to the photographs and artefacts; everything catalogued in Patrick Kinmonth’s flowing handwriting (as if we were looking at an old country house museum – not at a show that would be happily at home at the Met or the V&A. A brilliant touch).

All around us, the architecture blended in to the extraordinary display. 

Elizabethan silver, of Bess of Hardwick, who began the dynasty:

Georgian ephemera:

Including a huge and beautiful stack of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s bills (many of which, we were told, remained unpaid at her death).

The 6th Duke’s scrapbook:

Jack Kennedy’s sister, Kit, who was married to Billy Cavendish. He was killed in action in France on 9th September 1944; a few months later, she died in a plane crash.

The last duke’s converse all star – kept whitened by his valet. On a gold charger.

Debo by Norman Parkinson:

and her shirts. Heaven:

And shoes….

A sailor suit:

Stella:

Hockney:

The procession for the last duke’s funeral:

And for the 9th Duke:

Jasper Conran we see you:

Incredible displays, reminiscent of the McQueen show:

Absolutely perfect country house loo. Gloss paint rules.

Upstairs, a ghostly palimpsest evokes the 1897 Devonshire House Ball,

Victorian fancy dress in the next room:

Astounding displays inspired by Elizabethan costume in the next room:

Everyone’s favourite fashion item was the last Duke’s collection of motto sweaters. Sell these in the gift shop! 18th century elegance:

Inigo Jones theatricals, imagined by Patrick:

Galliano, worn by Stella for Vogue:

Display cabinets of minerals are more Charlie’s and my usual fare:

Of course we loved the tweed drawing room:

A few people suggested I (well, at least Charlie) needed this sweater:

A hat by Jasper:

A beautiful, calm portrait of the current Duchess. Complete poise and stillness.

Oh, just a few family pictures:

Chic chic:

In the dining room:

And at last we leave this extraordinary house and exhibition, and walk out into the chilly Derbyshire rain, Paxton’s Conservative Wall like a cool refreshing ice drink after a full meal. We had a hilarious lunch in the stables, and turned around to London later in the afternoon, and took the merry train back from Chesterfield to St. Pancras (a mere two hours, which flew by) and this evening, everything feels a little like a dream.  But I thought you might enjoy this taster.

This exhibition, a fantastic firework, opens on Saturday and runs until October.  I would suggest not visiting this year if you want to see empty, architectural rooms of a great Baroque pile, but that we can save for another time.

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