The Grand Tour - exploring the region’s heritage and art in a series of exhibitions

The Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth House

The Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth House - Credit: Archant

The ‘East Midlands Grand Tour’ brings together the venues of Chatsworth, Derby Museums, Nottingham Contemporary and the Harley Gallery at Welbeck

Pablo Bronstein in the Painted Hall at Chatsworth House Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Pablo Bronstein in the Painted Hall at Chatsworth House Photo: Hugo Glendinning - Credit: Archant

For most of us, the Grand Tour probably conjures up images of upper-class young men wandering across Europe broadening their education through the study of European culture, heritage and art. We may think of the Romantic period which involved some of the giants of English literature living, loving and dying in the Mediterranean countries that so attracted them.

So, apart from the fact that the Romantic poet Byron lived part of his life just over the border in Nottinghamshire, what’s an article about a Grand Tour doing in Derbyshire Life in 2015?

The answer lies in a new initiative promoted by the tourist organisations of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire creating a latter-day ‘East Midlands Grand Tour’. Bringing together the four great artistic venues of Chatsworth, Derby museums, Nottingham Contemporary and the Harley Gallery at Welbeck, the aim is to ‘create a contemporary reinterpretation of the grand tour.’

Those of us who live in the region know of the variety and richness of culture it has to offer but even the most loyal couldn’t pretend that we are first on the tourist map. So, the idea is that this piece of cultural tourism, by putting together contemporary and classical art in these four venues, will help to attract both domestic and international visitors to the region.

Admiring the State Bedroom at Chatsworth House

Admiring the State Bedroom at Chatsworth House - Credit: Archant

Launched in autumn 2014 by the Duke of Devonshire and Sir Peter Bazalgette (now chair of Arts Council England after his development of the ‘Big Brother’ franchise) the East Midlands Grand Tour will have two separate seasons, first in July-September 2015 and then in March-June 2016.

This summer will see contemporary artist, Pablo Bronstein, working with both Chatsworth and Nottingham Contemporary. For the former, Bronstein has been asked to produce a series of new works in different media inspired by the classical collection in that house. At the same time, he will curate an exhibition in all four galleries at Nottingham Contemporary mixing his own works with a range of historical items he has personally chosen from Chatsworth.

Pablo Bronstein is an interesting character, with his work being in many of the major contemporary galleries in the world, including the Saatchi Gallery in London. Born in 1977 and having studied in London, he is the youngest contributor to the tour although of course, he is considerably older than those who originally undertook the original Grand Tour as they tended to be individuals travelling directly after Oxford or Cambridge.

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Meanwhile, Derby City Gallery will focus on one of the city’s most illustrious sons with ‘Wright Revealed.’ Although not as famous as his immediate contemporaries, Turner and Constable, not only does Joseph Wright’s work appear in the same room as those two in the National Gallery in London but, of course, it provides the centrepiece of the Derby collection. For the Tour, Derby will restore a Joseph Wright painting given to it in the 1960s and visitors will be able watch the process of conservation and restoration as it develops.

Nottingham Contemporary

Nottingham Contemporary - Credit: Archant

Across in the nearby Harley Gallery on the Welbeck Estate near Worksop, Rem Koolhaas (an internationally famous Dutch architect) will curate an exhibition of film and photography including images inspired by the famous underground tunnels and buildings at Welbeck. The exhibition will ‘look at the fundamentals that make up buildings.’ It will feature work from acclaimed international photographers Hans Werlemann and Walter Niedermayr. Welbeck’s fascination partly lies in the romance of its underground structures built by the eccentric fifth Duke so the results of what they inspire in this exhibition will be particularly interesting to see.

Welbeck will feature again in spring 2016 when a large extension to the existing Harley Gallery completes. The existing gallery is already an award-winning venue but will shortly open a multi-million pound extension. Not only will the gallery show a changing exhibition of work from the Portland Collection (much of which has never been seen before) but Peter Blake (often called the ‘Godfather of British Pop Art’) will direct a display of miniatures from the collection which will be accompanied by collages from his World Tour series. It is sure to be an interesting collection, given much of Peter Blake’s fame comes from his designs, including record covers for ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ and the 1982 ‘Band Aid’ Christmas record.

Nottingham and Derby will again renew their collaboration in 2016. Continuing the ‘Grand Tour’ theme, Derby will focus on Joseph Wright, this time on his visits to Italy. That exhibition will stand alongside the work of another contemporary British artist, Simon Starling, whose reputation in the arts world will make this a ‘must see.’

At the same time, Nottingham Contemporary will present a major exhibition of Starling’s work who, like Joseph Wright, was fascinated by the links between nature, industry and culture.

Nottingham Contemporary

Nottingham Contemporary - Credit: Archant

Simon Starling will be making a welcome return to his alma mater – he studied at what was then Nottingham Polytechnic before continuing his education in Glasgow. He achieved real fame (or perhaps notoriety) in 2005, winning the Turner Prize with a controversial work involving the dismantling of a shed, making a boat out of it, sailing it down the River Rhine and then re-erecting it!

The histories of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire share many common threads, including that started by Bess of Hardwick, whose dynasties have survived to this day. The sons of the great houses of the region travelled the Grand Tour bringing back many artistic pieces which remain in the Chatsworth and Portland Collections and which will be available for all to see this year and next. And of course, the cities of Derby and Nottingham have many fascinating and enduring links with those families, too.

The 2015/16 Grand Tour aims to build on all those links to show our visitors not only the depth and quality of the heritage on offer but also the richness and variety of the cultural experiences we enjoy.

Harley Gallery, Welbeck

Harley Gallery, Welbeck - Credit: Archant

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The Joseph Wright Gallery at Derby Museum & Art Gallery Photo: Richard Tailby

The Joseph Wright Gallery at Derby Museum & Art Gallery Photo: Richard Tailby - Credit: Archant