Chatsworth House & Kedleston House, Derbyshire Open House

Chatsworth and Kedleston launch a new season with Oscar winning costumes from The Duchess

At Chatsworth the new season was launched with a wonderful preview evening. It was obvious from the first glimpse of the House after crossing the bridge into the Park that great changes are afoot. A �14 million four/five year masterplan to restore the 300-year-old stonework and upgrade services such as wiring and telephones has involved the erection of a network of scaffolding, together with a fair bit of plastic, at the front of the House. It almost looks as though a new modern sculpture has arrived.Work on such a scale was last undertaken 50 years ago and the benefits, which include a �500,000 lift to improve access for the elderly and less able, will begin to be felt next year. However, work in the Sketch Galleries area - which can be observed through a handy window in the boarding - has meant that for this year only there is an unlooked-for bonus for visitors.At the far end of the State Rooms, two rooms not previously on the public route have been opened. The first room, the Red Room West, has a collection of family portraits and photographs. The second room is known as the Sabine Room. Previously a bedroom - reportedly the late Duke had nightmares when he slept there as a 10-year-old - the furniture has been removed to allow the full force to be felt of the extraordinary paintings covering the walls and ceiling. Commissioned by the first Duke of Devonshire, it was painted in 1707 by Sir James Thornhill, who also painted the cupola of St Paul's Cathedral. 'The Rape of the Sabine Women' is not everyone's choice - certainly not as relaxing bedtime viewing - but the effect is startling. The room certainly has an 'atmosphere' and the chance to examine closely such an amazing work of art is one not to be missed.Art enthusiasts are sure to fall in love with the results of another major project, the renovation of the Sculpture Gallery. After three years' research by fine arts curator Charles Noble, the gallery has been returned to how it looked in around 1857. Originally created by the sixth Duke of Devonshire it's a testament to his love of then-contemporary neo-classical sculptures. Previously covered by tapestries, the walls have been stripped back to the stone providing a perfect backdrop for the elegant and imposing marble sculptures. It is amazingly atmospheric in daylight, but apparently the sixth Duke would show fortunate visitors round by candlelight.To move back to the start of the public tour, film and media enthusiasts are able to gaze their fill at the display of BAFTA and Oscar-winning costumes from The Duchess, the film about Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes. A large screen above the costumes playing scenes from the film allows you to compare 'real' with on-screen effect, while costume designer Michael O'Connor's designs and material swatches give added insight into the process of designing award-winning historical costumes. The exhibition also evokes the real Georgiana with portraits, a selection of her letters - including one written in her blood to her six-year-old son - furniture and artwork commissioned by her.The film theme continues with photographs and memorabilia relating to other films and television programmes that have used Chatsworth as a backdrop. These include Pride and Prejudice and The Wolfman starring Anthony Hopkins - a gothic horror film due to be released later this year which involved some startling changes to the House and grounds! Admirers of contemporary art will enjoy the new exhibition of work by Lewis Noble in the Carriage House and Cavendish Rooms. Entitled 'Chatsworth Reflected', the 30 paintings are the result of a year spent on the Estate.Other new developments to look out for include: the Pantry in the Stables, a 'taster' for the immensely popular farmshop at Pilsley so visitors don't have to rush off before closing time to buy some choice local produce; the new planting programme that's been undertaken in the gardens; a new sculpture by David Nash due to arrive at the end of April; nine days of floral celebration in the House; the return of Sotheby's with the Beyond Limits exhibition in the autumn; and a host of events beginning with an Easter Eggstravaganza of treasure hunts and afternoon tea.After all the talk of what is new, the Duke of Devonshire concluded his welcome speech at the season's preview with the words, 'Most of all, one thing that will be the same will be the welcome. We will be delighted to see our visitors. We will be delighted to go the extra mile with their particular requests. We will be delighted to give them a wonderful experience.'

Chatsworth is open daily from 11am until December.Kedleston Hall proved so popular with the makers of The Duchess that they filmed in almost every room, as well as the gardens. The National Trust has taken this a step further, not only adding to the exhibition launched last year showing a behind-the-scenes look at how the interiors were transformed for filming, but also by placing costumes in the rooms where they were filmed.A total of 18 costumes have been carefully transported to the Hall by Christine McSweeney of London costumiers Cosprop. On arrival the costumes were arranged and steamed so they hung properly, as Christine explained: 'It can be quite a task - the structure under some of the dresses is an amazing feat of engineering. I don't know how people actually managed to wear such dresses every day.' She continued, 'I think The Duchess costumes are really special. Everybody wanted to be Georgiana - she was the original celebrity It Girl and everyone wanted her glamorous and stylish outfits. Now, everybody wants to wear these outfits.'The gowns on display include a stunning blue hand-painted gown with padded bustle, an elegant pink and cream robe worn by Keira as Georgiana when she was 'lying-in' and three girls' costumes worn by the actresses playing Georgiana's three young daughters. There are also two dresses worn by Georgiana and her friend and rival for her husband's affections, Lady Elizabeth Foster, in the scene shot by the lake at Kedleston. These last two, day dresses in a pink/brown stripe, are very similar and according to accounts from the time, Elizabeth used to find out what fashionable Georgiana was wearing each day and try to imitate her. Property manager Victoria Flanagan is already delighted with the response to the exhibition.Visitors to Kedleston can also admire the work taking place to restore the State Apartment. Newly woven blue damask has been put in place on the walls, contrasting with the original faded silk on the State Bed. The Trophy Corridor has also been returned to its original Edwardian colour scheme. The National Trust will be staging a packed events programme this year, including 'Have a Go Housekeeping' events to commemorate 200 years since the death of Mrs Garnett, the Hall's 18th century housekeeper.

Kedleston Hall is open until 1st November, Saturday to Wednesday and Good Friday 12 noon to 5pm.

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