Scaffolding sculpture by Ben Long at Chatsworth

Almost 200 doggie paintings, sculptures and ephemera are scattered about one of Britain’s grandest stately homes, and the exhibition is great fun.

The Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire, who have lived at Chatsworth in Derbyshire for centuries, have loved their dogs and have memorialized them in many ways. Amanda, the current and 12th Duchess, who conceived this exhibition, breeds and shows her dogs and of them says: “Understanding the personalities of different dogs is essential to successful training and thus success in competitions.” Not much love there, but a glass case full of hard-won trophies, nevertheless.

In the gardens, an eight-metre high specially commissioned Scottie, fabricated from scaffolding by Ben Long, graces the elegant fountain. As it is pouring with rain, we glimpse it from one of the gilded windows of the house, where room after room are filled with portraits of owners with their dogs, dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes, sculptures of dogs, ancient and modern, even a faux Roman mosaic. Most of the works come from the Cavendish’s own collections, although many more are on loan.


Two of Queen Victoria’s dogs

One such is a towering silver table setting featuring gilded dogs is on loan from H.M. The Queen, a well-known lover of dogs. The centrepiece was designed by Prince Albert and shows four of Queen Victoria’s family dogs. Also lent are pictures of The Queen and her dogs, and other Royals and their dogs, which grace the displays, along with Her Majesty’s jewelled Fabergé dogs.

Other stately homes, public and private collections have offered their best, including a lovely portrait of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, and their many dogs, from The Buccleuch Collection.


Dog killing a snake (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Having visited Chatsworth on many occasions, we are delighted to find something new to see, and The Dog: A Celebration, which continues until October 6, 2019, does not let us down. Take it slowly and cherish each exhibit, or you will find yourself swept along with hordes of tourists, who are probably finding the 197 items on display a bit overwhelming.

Leaving Chatsworth, we head a few miles away into Yorkshire, where Harewood House graces the landscape near Leeds. We’ve heard that their Biennial celebration features an inaugural exhibition of craft, although my excuse for visiting is to discover another of the locations where the television series Victoria was filmed.

They have taken their theme from a quote by Victorian designer William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters runs until September 1, 2019. If you are interested in knives, pottery, weaving or glass, then you should enjoy the displays by 26 makers of this and that.

Being much more interested in seeing the house itself for the first time, I found the modern craft works jarring in the stately surroundings. In many rooms, antiques seem to have been arbitrarily pushed back to make way for inconsequential crafts. In the gorgeous Long Gallery, the walls of portraits and Baroque mirrors were not enhanced by 16 metres of industrial racking running down the centre of the room from which hung samples of design and clothing. If I should be impressed that the artist has “curated an archive of her work,” I’m not.


In the State Bedroom a hand-printed silk bedspread features council flats and blokes with knives

In Princess Mary’s loo, notably used in the ‘Plumbing comes to Buckingham Palace’ episode of Victoria, an artist displays her works of blown and found glass inspired by her grandmother’s perfume bottles. They are at least suitable placed.

The public rooms occupy the entire main floor and about half of the extensive servants’ quarters below. Although David and Diane Lascelles, 8th Earl and Countess of Harewood, own and manage the property, they do not live there. David Lascelles is better known as the producer of the Inspector Morse television series, and the BAFTA he won is on display in one of the three libraries.

However, a docent reveals that apartments above the public rooms are reserved for family use and one family member (un-named) is in residence. I can hardly imagine how much fun it must be sharing one’s home with the likes of us and thousands of other tourists every day.

While dogs at Chatsworth are a hit, sadly I must vote crafts at Harewood a miss. Fortunately both houses are well worth a visit on their own merits, whether you are interested in dogs or crafts, or not.


Featured Image: A poodle carved in wood by Jeff Koons (1991) on the Great Staircase at Chatsworth

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