Exhibition themes and highlight works

Picturing Childhood: A New Perspective at Chatsworth (16 March - 6 October) is structured around three themes – ‘Representations’, ‘Experiences’,  and ‘Memories’ – within which the works are displayed broadly chronologically.

The opening section ‘Representations of Childhood’ demonstrates significant developments in the depiction of childhood in art over roughly 100 years during the Tudor and Stuart periods.

The artworks displayed from the Grotto to the State Bed Chamber include Italian Renaissance, Netherlandish, Flemish, English and German works. The featured artists often lean heavily on symbolic objects to add layers of meaning to a composition or adopt painterly techniques to infuse personality and individuality into the young subjects of their works.

Highlights include Margaret Russell, Countess of Carlisle with a Young Girl by Sir Anthony van Dyck (c.1636-1639) and (below) The Artist's Daughter Magdalena de Vos by Cornelis de Vos (c.1623-4).

The Georgian period is the focus of ‘Experiences of Childhood’, which begins with two portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds including Portrait of Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire with her daughter Lady Georgiana Cavendish, later Countess of Carlisle (1784), seen below.

An unusual composition for Reynolds, it captures a moment of spontaneous and joyful reaction between mother and child, likely inspired by his reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theories of childhood and natural education.


Another key work in this section is Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork, and His Wife Lady Dorothy Boyle with Three Children, by Jean-Baptiste van Loo (below), which features a portrait of a child of colour, thought to be 'James Cambridge'.

The painting forms the basis of new research being undertaken by Dr Edward Town of Yale Center for British Art. Learn more about our approach to colonialism research.

There are some breaks in chronology to allow for the inclusion of works that have particular light sensitivity or space requirements, such as Lucian Freud’s Baby on a green sofa (1961) which is on display in the North West Sketch lobby. Freud was a close family friend of the Devonshires and painted several portraits for the family, as well as this portrait which is of his own daughter.

The last section ‘Memories of Childhood’ is inspired by the library and archives at Chatsworth and explores nostalgia, memory and play.

Photographs of children at Chatsworth – mainly amateur – taken between 1890 and 1930 feature in a flick-through photo album. The exhibition closes with The Whitsun Walk Through Lees (below), a painted memory of childhood made for her granddaughter by Helen Bradley, a prominent visual chronicler of Edwardian life and social history. 

Picturing Childhood also features a new display in the Old Masters Drawing Cabinet, including the rarely seen masterpiece Woman Reading with a Child by Raphael (1512-13) shown alongside work by artists who influenced or were taught by him such as Fra Bartolommeo and Giulio Romano.

Playful installations

Taking inspiration from playful histories at Chatsworth, the exhibition offers thought-provoking, multi-sensory experiences to engage audiences of all ages.

From the outset, experiential design developed with Sheffield-based studio Eleven encourages visitors to hopscotch their way to the entrance before being greeted by Peter Newman’s Skystation in the Inner Court, prompting new ways of looking and physical interaction in Chatsworth’s historic spaces. 

Abigail Reynolds’ Hawk explores the Painted Hall through the wide angle and sharp focus of a hawk’s eye view, and artist and food historian Tasha Marks’ research in the archives at Chatsworth is behind the creation of Aromas of Dinners Past in the Great Dining Room. Inspired by menus from the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s archive, Marks’ commission served up in Victorian silver cloches evokes the aromas of the kind of Victorian meal that the 13-year-old Princess Victoria might have been served in the Great Dining Room at her first formal dinner at Chatsworth in 1832.

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