Sit back, relax and make yourself comfortable at the plush new exhibition in Derbyshire’s Chatsworth House.
Scattered around the breathtaking stately home is an array of contemporary furniture, from a grass-covered chair fashioned out of a wheelbarrow to the most expensive contemporary seat in the world.
In the majestic Painted Hall, visitors are greeted by a host of colourful chairs resembling giant spinning tops.
In a setting as grand as this, one feels that touching and sitting on the exhibits should be completely out of bounds. And those spinning top chairs look ever so inviting.
Luckily, with the exception of a couple of delicate masterpieces, guests are welcome to take a seat on any of the pieces in the Make Yourself Comfortable exhibition, which opens to the public on Saturday, when Chatsworth opens its doors for the new season.
The exhibition is a combination of items from the private collection of the Duke and Duchess showcased alongside furniture by internationally acclaimed and innovative designers.
For the record, the spinning top chairs are a delight.
Hannah Obee, exhibitions and special projects curator at Chatsworth, says: “Don’t worry, you won’t fall out. If you do, you’ll be the first person who has!
“Give it a go – we want people to enjoy themselves here.“
As the ‘Spun’ chair by Thomas Heatherwick rotates on its single point, your head is tilted back and you can take in the impressive painted ceiling and walls around you. This painted masterpiece was commissioned by the first Duke of Devonshire more than 300 years ago.
Here, as in many other parts of the house, you get the impression that old and new are coming together; in the Painted Hall, the old painting is being viewed from a very new angle.
But one of the aims of the exhibition is to emphasise the fact that even the ceiling was a modern and contemporary piece of art once.
Contemporary art, design and collecting have always been intrinsic to Chatsworth and the Cavendish family which has lived here for hundreds of years.
Successive generations have commissioned and displayed work by leading artists and up-and-coming makers since the 17th century, and the 21st century is no exception.
The 12th Duke of Devonshire, Stoker Cavendish, says: “My parents were the first to make Chatsworth a family home since the sixth Duke. They brought new things home and we have continued with that.
“What’s important is you can see what was new 200 or 250 years ago. It doesn’t look new now but it was when it was made and when it was bought.
“We always need more pieces for people to see and we like to go to new people.”
The Duchess, Amanda Cavendish, adds: “We have taken it quite a long way.
“Our son and daughter-in-law are interested as well so one day we can hand over to them. We also have grandchildren who are longing to see the pieces in the exhibition.”
One piece which is sure to be a hit with children is the Canvas Sofa and Armchair in the South Sketch Gallery, produced by Innermost.
Created from synthetic material on a timber frame, these seats give the appearance of paintings on a canvas.
Hannah Obee says: “With the exhibition it’s about something like this that you can buy for a few hundred pounds, right up to the Marc Newson piece in the State Bedchamber.”
Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge is the most expensive contemporary seat in the world. It caused a sensation in 2009 when one of the edition of ten was sold at auction for £1.1m. The piece’s iconic status grew even further when Madonna was filmed reclining on it in her music video, ‘Rain’.
The seat on display at Chatsworth is from the artist’s personal collection and it sits at the foot of the State Bed, which was the most important and expensive piece of contemporary furniture at Chatsworth at the time of the first Duke. Again, contemporary pieces from past and present are coming together.
Hannah says: “When you study it, Chatsworth has had generations of contemporary collecting. The fact that everything has been here for so long means that it all looks very traditional.
“At the time they were just as fresh and exciting.”
-Make Yourself Comfortable at Chatsworth runs from Saturday until October 23.
WHY COMFORT COUNTS
Make Yourself Comfortable showcases specially commissioned pieces including Raw Edges’ Endgrain seating, which has temporarily become part of the Sculpture Gallery, and Counterpart by Tom Price, which is situated in the chapel and has become part of Chatsworth’s collection.
In addition, Chatsworth has commissioned three students and some alumni from Sheffield Hallam University to create exclusive pieces for the exhibition.
The Duke says: “We are very keen on young artists sand designers because it’s very hard for them to get a foot on the ladder.
“If one can do as much as one can to help them, that’s what we would like to do. Some 200,000 people will see their work this summer and that’s good exposure.”