England's Grand Tour Revival

Photo by blinking idiot via flickr

Claire Wrathall, The Daily Telegraph, July 15, 2015

Inspired by the original "grand tours" of Europe, landmarks in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are collaborating to show off their most beautiful treasures. 

Towards the end of the 17th century, it became fashionable for young aristocrats to embark on a “grand tour”, a progression through France and perhaps Switzerland to Italy and beyond. And so the idea of luxury travel was born. Many of the works of art and antiquities that fill England’s stately homes are a legacy of this tradition, for then as now, grand tourists had a tendency to shop.

Several of, for instance, the present Duke of Devonshire’s ancestors made such journeys, most famously the great Palladian architect Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington (whose daughter married the future fourth duke), so it’s hardly surprising that Chatsworth is filled with works of art collected on their travels: Delft tulip vases from Amsterdam, a colossal ancient Roman marble foot from the statue of a goddess, now lost but believed to have been 11m tall; a pair of ornate gilded chests by André-Charles Boulle, cabinet-maker to Louis XVI…

These are among more than 60 splendid works of art from Chatsworth currently on display at Nottingham Contemporary art gallery (check out the giant solid silver “pilgrim flasks” which bear Lord Burlington’s coat of arms and were much too heavy to travel with and far too flash for pilgrims), as part of an initiative combining four museums and stately homes – Chatsworth and Welbeck Abbey among them – in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The collaboration aims to establish what is being marketed, somewhat improbably, as a Grand Tour through those counties in order to draw visitors thither this summer.

The Nottingham show has been curated by the young Buenos Aires-born British artist Pablo Bronstein, who may have been born in 1977, but whose sensibility is appropriately 18th century: the four galleries of treasures are also hung with Bronstein’s exquisitely wrought drawings. More of them are also on show in Chatsworth’s New Gallery.

Meanwhile at the Harley Gallery on the Duke of Portland’s Welbeck Estate, there’s an exhibition of Rem Koolhaas’s work incorporating a film and photographs taken in the network of tunnels that run under the estate. They were built, along with an underground ballroom, by the eccentric and pathologically shy fifth duke, in the hope that they would minimise the risk of encountering other people.

Finally the Derby Museum is showing a recently rediscovered work by Joseph Wright of Derby, the most important artist to document the English Scientific Revolution; a large collection of his work is already held at the institution. After admiring the work, it would be worth venturing into the valley of the river Derwent, where the 18th- and 19th-century textile mills constitute a Unesco World Heritage Site.

In terms of where to stay, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have a hotel ( The Cavendish at Baslow ), three inns with comfortable rooms and 14 beautifully decorated cottages on the Chatsworth estate. Among the most extraordinary are the Hunting Tower, built in 1582 for Bess of Hardwick; the lakeside Swiss Cottage thought to have been designed by Joseph Paxton as an “eyecatcher”; and, most surprising of all, an infinitely romantic black-weatherboarded, high-gabled dacha dubbed Russian Cottage, built in the 1850s by the sixth duke, who had been ambassador to Moscow and befriended the tsar. A cosmopolitan, indeed luxurious Grand Tour of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, staying on aristocratic country estates, is not, it turns out, such a far-fetched notion after all.

Three-night summer weekend breaks at Russian Cottage, which sleeps four, start at £1,531 (Swiss Cottage, sleeps six, starts at £1,837.)


This article was written by Claire Wrathall from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.