Take ‘The Grand Tour’ in the Midlands this Year

Peter Morrell follows in aristocratic footsteps to see the classical treasures of Europe and more modern British works

The Harley Gallery

The Harley Gallery

Artist Rose English talks about her work with passion

Artist Rose English talks with passion about her work

Elements of costume from Quadrille by Rose English

Elements of costume from Quadrille by Rose English

Sir Peter Blake with two of his Butterfly Man Collages

Sir Peter Blake with two of his Butterfly Man Collages

The Original Tan Gallops at Welbeck

The Original Tan Gallops at Welbeck

The New Gallery for the Portland Collection

The New Gallery for the Portland Collection

Exquisite Silverware in the Portland Collection

Exquisite Silverware in the Portland Collection

Stables on the Welbeck Estate

Stables on the Welbeck Estate

The Treasures of Chatsworth

The Treasures of Chatsworth

Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth 2

Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth

The Lure of Italy Gallery

The Lure of Italy Gallery

Detail of Joseph Wright's Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno by moonlight

Detail of Joseph Wright's Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno by moonlight

Simon Starling talks about his work

Simon Starling talks about his work

Nanjing Particles

Simon Starling's Nanjing Particles

From the early 17th century young men and women of the aristocracy embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe. They were in search of art, culture and the very roots of Western civilisation. Their travels could last from months to years and they were usually accompanied by an entourage of erudite tutors, cooks, doctors and even artists who acted as recorders of their exotic journeys.

Many of these young people had almost limitless wealth and were voracious collectors of artworks, sculptures and antiquities. These were shipped back during the tour and the now priceless treasures still enhance many of Britain’s art galleries and stately homes.

For the second year ‘The Grand Tour UK’ has been devised across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire featuring the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery, Chatsworth House, Derby Museums and The Harley Gallery at Welbeck. They have joined forces to give you the opportunity take your own cultural adventure as a modern day Grand Tourist.

The Harley Gallery

My journey started on the Welbeck Estate at the Harley Gallery, here two contemporary artists, Rose English and Sir Peter Blake have got exhibitions that mirror aspects of the Grand Tour. Rose is showing costumes and a video of Quadrille. This was a performance by dancers wearing horses hooves and tails emulating dressage moves. This horse themed work reflects the strong equine connection with the estate, whose owner William Cavendish brought back elements of dressage from Europe in the 17th century.

The second exhibition showed the works of collage maker extraordinaire, pop artist Sir Peter Blake. He is best know as the designer of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album sleeve but there is much more to his work than this alone. My favourite was his ‘Butterfly Man’ series showing an enigmatic blue figure in world famous locations surrounded by butterflies. Now aged 83 Sir Peter is just as energetic and imaginative as in his youth and the exhibition gave an intriguing insight into his career.

The icing on the cake at Welbeck was the Portland Collection amassed by the Cavendish-Bentinck family over a period of 400 years. Open this year is a purpose built gallery to exhibit the art works, silverware and furniture. The building uses the walls of the ‘Tan Gallops’ originally a quarter mile long indoor horse training track. The collection is stunning, I particularly liked the silverware and the lovely portraits by Van Dyck.

A walk around the sprawling estate revealed huge stable blocks and farm buildings, now housing small entrepreneurial companies including the School of Artisan Food.

Chatsworth

It was then on to the ‘Palace of the Peak’, the incomparable Chatsworth House. This key location on the program is staging ‘A Grand Tour of the Devonshire Collection’ celebrating experiences of the Grand Tour through the eyes of the Devonshire families’ own continental travellers. I took the tour and was delighted to see two works by Canaletto and the sheer flawless beauty of Domenichino’s ‘Madonna delle Rose’ almost movse viewer to tears.

There is private correspondence and fascinating ledgers showing expenditure, with one detailing the 800 plus shipments of artefacts sent back to England. Sketches by Inigo Jones and Rome in Ruins, a series of drawings by Flemish painter Sebastian Vrancx are other works previously unseen at Chatsworth. The current Duke has been a generous supporter of The Grand Tour UK and helped to make it a real cultural odyssey for visitors.

The Derwent Valley

Reluctantly leaving Chatsworth I headed down the picturesque Derwent Valley, this is a story for another day but it was here on the banks of the river that Sir Richard Arkwright pioneered the industrialisation of spinning and weaving.

Derby

Arriving in Derby after a long but very satisfying first day I found a city undergoing a cultural renaissance. For example the Royal Crown Derby Museum, an exuberant celebration of fine porcelain is well worth a visit. Home for the night was the Cathedral Quarter Hotel, once the Victorian Police Station, it’s overnight accommodation is now a lot more stylish and comfortable. There are a plethora of craft beer breweries and restaurants in the immediate vicinity and at ‘The Wonky Table’ I enjoyed a meal made from local produce including a genuine Bakewell Pudding from the nearby town of the same name.

Derby Museums

Next morning the third Grand Tour UK venue was steps away from the hotel. Derby Museums’ are staging an exhibition, ‘Joseph Wright and the Lure of Italy’, showing the Grand Tour of the 18th and 19th centuries through the experiences of Derbyshire voyagers, including Wright himself. Treasures from some of the county’s greatest houses have been lent for this special show, including works by 18th century master Pompeo Batoni, to sit alongside Derby Museums’ own rich collection. Some of these items will be on public show for the first time.

Part of Wright’s lure was Mount Vesuvius, he painted it more than 30 times and in the exhibition we are treated to a view of it in full eruption. He was a master of light and this was illustrated by his delicately painted Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno by moonlight. Before leaving I couldn’t resist a peek at Wright’s portrait of Arkwright painted about two years before the latter’s death. Here is Sir Richard, corpulent, confident and successful, like many of Wright’s works he had caught the real essence of the individual.

Nottingham Contemporary

My final destination was Nottingham Contemporary where Turner Prize winner Simon Starling is exhibiting a number of his works including Nanjing Particles. One of the most relevant works juxtaposes Joseph Wright’s painting The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus against a specially commissioned piece that Starling has designed. He firstly extracted magnesium from the waters of the Dead Sea and had the metal made into a lightweight canoe. His next task is to paddle it across the Dead Sea from Israel to Jordan. This project has a number of touch points with the Grand Tour, many of the travellers visited the Levant and Simon’s expedition has a real element of danger attached to it as did the 17th century journeys.

Although The Grand Tour UK has its focus on the lives of aristocrats and the treasures they collected they were accompanied by artists, thinkers and even horticulturists. These people also brought back ideas which helped to enrich English life. Within a century of the first Grand Tours the Age of Enlightenment dawned, how much of that thinking was drawn from European and Near Eastern culture? We hear of both philosopher Thomas Hobbes and garden designer Joseph Paxton going on Grand Tours with the Devonshires, their travels must have changed their world view as this modern day tour will affect your own.

My Grand Tour was over and it had been a stimulating cultural experience. It had been a privilege to see so many art works that were being exhibited for the first time, to get an insight into then personal lives of the travellers and to appreciate just how much benefit England had accrued from these adventurous young people.

The Grand Tour UK

The Grand Tour is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and is part of the Cultural Destinations program partnership with VisitEngland. This unique programme encourages visitors to discover the wealth of architectural and artistic riches in the region.

For opening dates and times and further information go to
www.thegrandtour.uk.com
Twitter: @thegrandtouruk

Useful Links

Nottingham Contemporary – www.nottinghamcontemporary.org
Chatsworth – www.chatsworth.org
Derby Museums – www.derbymuseums.org
The Harley Gallery – www.harleygallery.co.uk
Arts Council England – www.artscouncil.org.uk
Experience Nottinghamshire – www.experiencenottinghamshire.com
Visit Peak District and Derbyshire - www.visitpeakdistrict.com
VisitEngland – www.visitengland.com

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