Duke of Devonshire: Ancestral DNA Explored In New Art Exhibition

A groundbreaking fusion of art and architecture explores the DNA of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and their heirs. In the exhibition their DNA will become part of the fabric of the building at their ancestral family home, Chatsworth.  

An entire ceramic room is being created using textured, handmade ceramic panels. Fixed to the walls of the North Sketch gallery (approximately 20m long x3m wide x4m high) in an installation by the artist Jacob van der Beugel, each of the 659 warm, ochre coloured panels is unique and can fit only in one place.

Using samples from the Duke and Duchess, their son Lord Burlington and his wife Lady Burlington the panels are embedded with a depiction of the Devonshire family’s DNA. Aspects of each individual’s personality are captured on raised ceramic blocks representing their personal DNA strand in an unusual and creative take on the traditional portrait. With mitochondrial DNA moving through the maternal line the installation also plays with ideas around ancestry and inheritance as past and future members of the family are linked to the wider pool of humanity.

The ceramic panels each measure approximately 500mm x 350mm and they will cover all four walls of the North Sketch gallery. On the north wall ceramic framed mirror panels will reflect both the DNA sequence and natural light from the courtyard on the south side.

Installation begins on the 18th November 2013 when the North Sketch gallery will be closed to visitors. Van der Beugel, his engineer and a team of craftsmen will work for four months to complete the installation in time for Chatsworth’s reopening to visitors on the 16th March 2014.

Van der Beugel came up with the concept for an entire ceramic space embedded with the Devonshire family’s DNA after several discussions with the family. Excited and impressed by his vision and technical brilliance the Duke and Duchess and the Chatsworth House Trust commissioned him to create the most important art installation at Chatsworth since the creation of the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s Sculpture Gallery in 1832.

As one of England’s most celebrated houses this installation at Chatsworth presents a major artistic and technical challenge.

All of the ceramic panels have been handmade by van der Beugel himself and because of their large size he has invented a new process to prevent them ‘curling’ while drying. As no comparable installation has been attempted before he has also had to build bespoke tools and fixing plates.

Still only 35 years old Jacob van der Beugel was a pupil of the ceramicist Edmund de Waal and a bold choice for a commission of this importance. A thorough search by ceramics curator and consultant Joanna Bird narrowed to a six-strong shortlist to present to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and the Chatsworth House Trust.

The original project was for two floor to ceiling ‘chimney pieces’ in the North Sketch gallery but asked what he would really like to do van der Beugel went away and developed concepts for a complete ‘ceramic room’ and ‘The North Sketch Sequence’ was conceived. Following consultation with the architects Inskip & Jenkins, final plans were drawn up for approval by both the Duke and Duchess and English Heritage.

The North Sketch gallery was itself created by Peter Inskip during the ‘Masterplan’ programme of major renovations undertaken over the past few years. Developed from a sequence of small bedrooms and service rooms dating to the early 19th century the gallery transformed the route visitors take through the house.

Another upcoming exhibition at Chatsworth of note is Michael Craig-Martin at Chatsworth: 16 March – 29 June 2014
Michael Craig-Martin will be the featured artist at Chatsworth in a rare exhibition devoted entirely to his recent work as a sculptor opening in March 2014. The exhibition will comprise twelve large-scale sculptures, six of which will be unveiled for the first time, placed in the historic gardens and landscape at Chatsworth.  Each work is an immense line drawing in space fabricated in steel and painted in a vibrant hue.  Commonplace objects – an umbrella, a high heel shoe, a wheelbarrow – are dramatically enlarged and positioned to actively engage with their landscape setting.

Over the past 15 years the Chatsworth House Trust and the Devonshire family have continued to purchase and commission contemporary sculpture for public display. In 2011 the award-winning artist Laura Ellen Bacon from Darley Dale in Derbyshire created a North Sketch work titled ‘Forms of Growth’ made from Somerset willow and works by Dame Elisabeth Frink, Angela Conner, Barry Flanagan, David Nash, Gary Breeze and Allen Jones can be found throughout the garden and park.

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