Chatsworth, one of England's most celebrated houses, has added to its collection of masterpieces by making 'Everyman' the centrepiece of its most important art installation since the creation of the Sculpture Gallery in 1832.
The walls of the North Sketch Gallery have been completely covered with 659 textured, handmade ceramic panels in 'The North Sketch Sequence' by the artist Jacob van der Beugel. Raised ceramic blocks represent the DNA strand of 'Everyman' in the central portrait, which is flanked by the personal DNA profiles of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, their son Lord Burlington and his wife, Lady Burlington.
Chatsworth reopens to the public on the 16 March and on entering the gallery (20 metres long, 4m high, 3m wide) visitors see the DNA profiles stretching, floor to ceiling, along one wall while they themselves are reflected back into the installation by the ceramic, framed mirror panels on the opposite wall. With mitochondrial DNA passed through the maternal line the installation plays with ideas around ancestry and inheritance as past, present and future members of the family are linked to the wider pool of humanity in an unusual and creative take on the traditional portrait.
DNA samples were taken from members of the Devonshire family and the results were translated onto ceramic panels, while aspects of each individual's personality are captured on glazed pieces in their DNA sequence (see 'notes to editors'). The Duke chose his favourite walk around the Chatsworth Garden; the Duchess chose her favourite piece of music, John Rutter's 'A Gaelic Blessing'; Lord Burlington surrounded himself with his wife, three children and two sisters; Lady Burlington chose stitching patterns she did as a girl with her grandmother.
The culmination of nearly four years work, each of the ochre-coloured panels is unique, and has been hand assembled and mounted by Jacob van der Beugel. 'The North Sketch Sequence' will fit only in the North Sketch Gallery and is a groundbreaking fusion of art and architecture at Grade I listed Chatsworth, home to the Devonshire family for more than 400 years.
Installation began in November 2013 when the North Sketch Gallery was closed to visitors. Van der Beugel, his engineer and a team of craftsmen have worked for four months to complete the work.
All of the ceramic panels, measuring approximately 500mm x 350mm, have been handmade by van der Beugel himself, and because of their large size he 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 engineer a unique fixing method.
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 undertake this major artistic and technical challenge.
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.
Notes to editors:
1. Jacob van der Beugel on the DNA portraits:
"In the Everyman portrait areas are highlighted by mirrors where the viewer/visitor becomes part of the portrait. Highlighting the importance of visitors to Chatsworth, it is of significance that it is the central portrait, symbolic of our common humanity and of a more democratic age. The Everyman portrait was created from composite dna sequences and is therefore 'everyone', anonymous and idealised.
"The Duke's portrait includes a bird's eye view of a walk he does when he is at home at Chatsworth. It is a circular walk that starts at the house before returning through the same door. Only at certain angles and light conditions can the glazed path be seen in the installation. This is deliberate. I wanted elements of his persona to be elusive and ethereal, implying that a persona is in flux and hard to determine. This concept applies to all of the portraits. I enjoyed the metaphor for wandering or navigating through your own DNA landscape; I feel this has all sorts of interesting conceptual connotations.
"The Duchess's piece of music is John Rutter's 'A Gaelic Blessing'. The glazed pieces are a visual abstraction of the first two lines of the piece. They are "Deep peace of the running wave to you/ Deep peace of the flowing air to you". Again the glazed pieces are elusive and will only read as one under certain conditions. The idea is that the music beats and pulses through her DNA, becoming part of her physical fabric.
"Lord Burlington wanted his family represented and his siblings. Therefore, he, his wife and their three children are captured on one panel, as glazed inserts (the children as three slightly different coloured inserts in one slot, none favoured over another, they are sandwiched between Lord and Lady Burlington). Surrounding this panel Lady Jasmine and Lady Celina, his sisters, are also represented.
"Lady Burlington wanted to represent the traditional stitching patterns of baby blankets. She has fond memories of sewing these with her Grandmother. This has been represented by using glazed inserts around the edges of her portrait. The idea of weaving or threading a path through one's DNA is symbolic of forging one's own destiny and intended as a beautiful metaphor for self-determination."
2. 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. 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.
3. Chatsworth in Wartime: 4 April - 23 December
This exhibition marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. It uncovers the human cost of offensives such as Gallipoli and what life was like on the Chatsworth Estate during two world wars.
4. Art at Chatsworth
Over the past 15 years the Chatsworth House Trust and the Devonshire family have continued to purchase and commission contemporary sculpture for public display. Works by Dame Elisabeth Frink, Angela Conner, Barry Flanagan, David Nash, Gary Breeze, Laura Ellen Bacon and Allen Jones can be found throughout the garden and park.
5. The Chatsworth House Trust
An independent charity (no 511149) set up by the 11th Duke of Devonshire in 1981 to ensure the long-term survival of Chatsworth for the benefit of the public. All admission and event income from visitors, together with a percentage of income from shops and restaurants, goes directly to this Trust, and can only be spent on the upkeep and improvement of the house, collections, garden, farmyard and park.
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