C hatsworth House, the historic residence of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, has an ever-deepening connection with the arts. It is home to one of the finest collections of painting, sculpture and furniture in the United Kingdom, and this past weekend its grounds were host to the fourth edition of Art Out Loud, an annual festival of talks by artists, architects, writers and figures from across the arts. The event, according to the Duke, "provides an exciting forum for the discussion of art and design today".
Among the curtain-raising talks was a conversation between Turner Prize-winner Lubaina Himid, who last year made history by becoming the first female black artist – as well as the oldest – to win the Turner Prize, and Tate Modern curator Zoe Whitley. The pair discussed their careers and the political potential of art and curating. This set the tone for a talk by London-based artist Idris Khan, who delved into the intricacies of his practice, which involves merging photographic techniques with painting and sculpture to explore topics such as literature, history, religion.
In the Lions Step tent on Saturday, David Dawson, close friend and assistant to the late Lucian Freud, was in discussion with art critic and author Martin Gayford. They had both sat for the British artist during his prolific, nearly seven-decade-long career and have contributed to Lucian Freud, a new two-volume book that is the most comprehensive publication on the artist to date. Together they painted an intimate portrait of Freud and daily life in his studio. “The individualism of everything was paramount to Lucian’s vision of truth-telling… he really believed in the atmosphere that you created in a room,” said Dawson.
At the Seahorse Fountain tent, collector and interior designer Axel Vervoordt – who recently collaborated on Kanye West’s estate in Hidden Hills, California – spoke about his interest in mixing old and new, his love for Lucio Fontana, and his fresh concept of minimalism based on “things that are human, and that have a great positive energy”.
The singular character of Chatsworth House and its programming owes a lot, of course, to the Duke and Duchess themselves, and in March they celebrated completing a 10-year conservation and restoration project of the house – the largest in its history. The couple held a conversation with the architect, Peter Inskip, and director Anna Farthing, in which they talked about the developments and some of the discoveries they made.
These included a stone slab carved with the initials of William Cavendish, the First Duke of Devonshire, and messages cut into the walls by employees over the years. “Some of them were quite unkind about their managers,” said the Duchess. In another architecture-focused talk, RIBA Stirling Prize-winner Amanda Levete had her audience transfixed as she spoke in great detail about two of her major projects, the Museum of Art, Architecture & Technology in Lisbon and the V&A in London, and the challenge of “renegotiating the relationship between the street and the museum”.
Dan Cruickshank, the veteran BBC presenter and art historian, presented a stirring overview of the situation in Palmyra and his hopes for its recovery, following separate visits he made there in 2008 and 2018. The ancient city was badly damaged by ISIS in the period, but Cruikshank explained that many of the artefacts are still recoverable if action is taken. “There is no shortage of money and expertise, if the community of the world decides,” he said. Across the lawn, Liverpool-born punk artist Linder Sterling discussed her journey from photography into collage and performance, as well as her time spent this year as Chatsworth’s first ever artist-in-residence. “When it finally closed after Christmas you could almost hear the house sighing, and then I could wander through at all times of day,” she said. “It was really quite magical.”
This personal relationship many of these speakers feel towards their surroundings was on show again on Sunday, as Chatsworth’s head curator Kate Brindley led a conversation with ceramicists Felicity Aylieff and Natasha Daintry. Both artists have work on show at Chatsworth and have a spent a lot of time getting to know the house and its gardens. “What really stood out for me,” said Daintry, “was the stark contrast between extreme refinement and culture on the one hand – the buildings, the objects, the paintings – and the rugged landscape… the wriggling, blossoming, irrepressible sense of nature.”
Taken together, the myriad ideas, views and hopes put forward at Art Out Loud are representative of the wealth of knowledge Chatsworth House can attract. They allow us, as the Duke explained, “to explore how contemporary art breathes new life into our understanding of the past”.