Sotheby’s brings the grandiose pomp with Treasures from Chatsworth

Living Large

A 12-foot-tall lion's leg in the middle of a darkened gallery

When confronted with how to stage a show with art and design objects from 16 generations of nobility, Sotheby’s decided to turn to creative director and set designer David Korins. The resultant Treasures from Chatsworth show puts art held by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire on display alongside macro-scaled details from their sprawling 35,000-acre estate.

A giant gold frame surrounded by scaffold lighting
The first thing visitors see is an enormous gold frame, while a video on loop inside runs through the history of the Cavendish family. The beginning of the exhibition is marked not by art, but by the people of Chatsworth House. (Courtesy Sotheby's)

The exhibition, free and open to the public through September 18, 2019, makes ample use of OMA’s new additions to Sotheby’s York Avenue home in Manhattan. The two new grand galleries on the building’s third floor have been transformed to allow for monumental installations that, ironically, spotlight intimate items from the Chatsworth collection.

After Korins was invited to design the exhibition, he traveled to the Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England, to draw inspiration from how the pieces were staged in their natural habitat. In doing so, he was drawn to the quieter moments scattered throughout the house; the ornate frames, sections of carpet, embossed and hand-painted leather wallpaper, and carved stone moldings.

A set of yellow and blue armchairs against blue fabric
A pair of regency armchairs are set against a supersized carpet swatch. (Courtesy Sotheby's)

A red figure wearing jewels atop a wood stand
The Devonshire Parure on display, an 88-gem tiara commissioned in 1856 and worn during marriages and other important ceremonies. (Courtesy Sotheby's)

All of those tidbits from the Chatsworth House, still an active home for the Cavendish family, can be found at Treasures from Chatsworth as supportive framing for 500 years of art from the Chatsworth collection. The new freely mingles with the old.

While a portrait from Rembrandt or line drawing from Leonardo da Vinci may hang in a protected alcove, just around the corner sits a massive “portraiture” of the Cavendish family—the painting may seem like a simple collection of birds, but scanning a Sotheby’s-provided iPad over the piece reveals a virtual reality portrait gallery. Additionally, QR codes on many of the wall plaques, when scanned, reveal a 360-degree, VR recreation of an associated room in the Chatsworth House.

A marble woman atop a plinth with a bright green background
The Veiled Vestal by sculptor Raffaele Monti, commissioned in 1846, is reportedly a fan favorite at Chatsworth House. (Courtesy Sotheby's)

A portrait collection set inside of a giant frame
Korins sought to recreate the embossed leather wallpaper found at Chatsworth House. (Courtesy Sotheby's

A wooden bench with a curved, flared arm
Art and design objects are featured alongside furniture used every day at the house. Seen here is a bench from Irish furniture designer Joseph Walsh. (Jonathan Hilburg)

Korins had to balance both the demands of recreating the spirit of Chatsworth House with the construction underway at Sotheby’s; the OMA-designed expansion was well underway during the show’s planning. Ultimately, Treasures from Chatsworth takes ample advantage of the long sightlines, intimate viewing rooms, and two double-height spaces afforded by the renovation, oversizing the setting without overwhelming the viewer.