After spending the past three months writing a 15,000 word dissertation on the representation of architecture in eighteenth-century literature, you would think that I’d be ready for a break from all that – but no, I’ve sent my work off to be bound and I’m filling the void left behind with my very own Grand Tour of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Not quite Venice or Rome, but there are plenty of cultural delights right here on my doorstep – and Chatsworth, Nottingham Contemporary, Derby Museums and The Harley Gallery have joined forces to prove just that.
During the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries a Grand Tour around Europe was a formative cultural experience for any young man who could afford it, and provided the perfect opportunity to further their education under the guidance of a tutor. Of course, the grand tourists could also revel in their new-found freedom and indulge their whims and fancies. The connoisseurs and antiquarians amongst them returned home with much more than VD – and as a consequence our country houses, museums and art galleries are packed with treasures acquired on the continent. Conceived as a means of boosting tourism in the area, this modern day ‘Grand Tour’ of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire aims to showcase such treasures alongside contemporary works of art they’ve inspired.
At Nottingham Contemporary (pictured above), Pablo Bronstein’s architectural drawings are on display amongst a curated selection of over 60 pieces from Chatsworth. This is in fact the largest UK loan from Chatsworth in 30 years. Displaced from their usual country house context you see a different side to the items – quite literally! With a centralised arrangement of furniture, akin to that of a hotel lobby, you see the unadorned backs of otherwise ornate chairs and cabinets. The wear and tear to William IV and Queen Adelaide’s thrones (claimed by the 6th Duke of Devonshire after the coronation – as is the right of the Lord Chamberlain) is also more noticeable in a well-lit gallery space, but so is their sheer size and the intricacy of the carved designs. Meanwhile, Bronstein’s playful reimagining of Rome’s ruined Via Appia lines the gallery walls. His work is heavily influenced by 18th century architectural drawings, such as the architectural fantasies, or capriccio, of Piranesi. Look closely and you see whimsical attention to detail and a willingness to play with proportions. More of his work can be seen in a parallel exhibition at Chatsworth.
The exhibitions run through into September, but the Grand Tour will return for a second season in the Spring of 2016.