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Chatsworth House Arrives at BMA

/ Collections - Recent Acquisitions

Chatsworth House and Park, ca. 1725, Pieter Tillemans
Chatsworth House and Park, ca. 1725, Pieter Tillemans, Flemish (1684-1734), oil on canvas, Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; purchase with funds provided by the Sklenar Family—Herb, Ellie, Susan and Tisha; and the Art Fund, Inc. AFI4.2013

by Jeannine O’Grody, PhD, Deputy Director, Chief Curator, and Curator of European Art

Thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Herb Sklenar and their family, the Museum purchased a major example of 18th-century English landscape painting. This glorious view of Chatsworth, one of the stately “treasure houses” of Britain, was painted in about 1725 by Pieter Tillemans (1684-1734), a Flemish artist who played an important role in spreading the visual language of landscape painting—already flourishing on the European continent—to the English school. Tillemans was born in Antwerp, emigrated to England in 1708, and became one of the pioneers of landscape painting in Britain. 

Chatsworth, built in the 16th century by the Cavendish family, has remained home to the Dukes of Devonshire through today. It contains a priceless collection of paintings, furniture, Old Master drawings, neoclassical sculptures, and books. The house and gardens have been remodeled over the centuries, but this canvas immortalizes this era with a remarkably accurate topographical record. The painting combines the estate with a frieze of 17 horses in the foreground. In the 18th century the second duke was famous as a breeder and owner of race horses, and these represent the cream of the Chatsworth stud. Tillemans captured the unique qualities of several of the horses with an extraordinary naturalism, which has allowed historians to identify some of the legendary racers. 

In the spirit of discovery, we invite you to look closely at our new painting and to become absorbed in the astonishing amount of deftlyrendered details such as the mill with its waterwheel in the foreground, a groom feeding a horse, the grand gardens with fountains and classical sculptures, the various structures on the estate, and perhaps the duke himself on horseback. In contrast, the artist also captured the panoramic view of more than 1,000 acres, counterbalancing the open spaces of sky with the undulating landscape. This iconic work, critical to the development of English landscape painting, was passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family until purchased by the BMA. It is on display in the English Gallery.