A couple of weeks ago I was traveling Northeast from London to a magnificent early Georgian (or shall we say Neo-Classical?) mansion house outside of Derby, Kedleston Hall. Some of you might know it and some of you may have come across it accidentally in the beautiful film “The Duchess”. The garden scenes were filmed at Kedleston Hall in 2008 and the film was starring, among others, Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes. Regardless of these film stars’ undoubted glamour, which for some might be reason enough to make a visit, the reason for my visit was its architecture. For its perfect early example of “the English garden” as it is known to us today. Seemingly free flowing landscape meets wild nature and tended flowerbeds in a way never seen before. But of course, it was planned in every detail.
The manor house we see today was commissioned in 1759 by Sir Nathaniel Curzon (who later became 1st Lord Scarsdale). The Curzon family had lived in the area since at least the late 13th Century, and lived in many different houses over the times. However, when Nathaniel Curzon inherited Kedleston in 1758 he wanted change. As so many young aristocrats, he was only 32 years old at the time, he seems to have been fascinated by the then contemporary Neo-classical movement which had started to spread across Europe after the first full scale archeological excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in late 1730s and 1740s. In December 1758 Nathaniel Curzon met a 30 year old, very keen and enthusiastic architect who had just arrived from his Grand Tour of Italy: Robert Adam. Nathaniel Curzon decided to demolish the previous Queen Anne-style house and gave Robert Adam a clean slate to work on. The previous formal French-style garden, designed by Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738), was torn up and gave way for the more natural looking English landscape garden we see today.
Apart from the most exquisite Neo-classical interiors, Adam designed follies, bridges, temples, serpentine lakes and had statues placed out in the garden where they had never been seen before. The exterior of Kedleston Hall was designed by James Paine (1717-1789) and Matthew Brettingham (1699-1769). The design is clearly Palladian, and it is said to be loosely based on Villa Mocenigo, which was never built. The two wings of Kedleston Hall are much grander than Palladio’s design for Villa Mocenigo. The main body of the two buildings are more or less identical though, and the slightly curved connections between the main body of the house and the wings are clearly based on Palladio’s design.
After having wandered the grounds for some time I felt as if I had been transferred back to the late 1700s. It was early on a clear, crisp, late-spring day and hardly anyone was there. Just how I like it. Just me, my thoughts and the arts. The beautiful nature and the open planned garden embraced my whole being and it was as if time had stopped. When you’re out travelling major cities a lot it is sometimes nice to come out to the countryside and see how the old world connects with the arts. Like at Kedleston: a family, the Curzons, got some land in the 13th century. Then, in the 16th century, an Italian architect started to design villas in a particular way which inspired a whole style named after him, and, this particular style then came into fashion again in the 18th century and an heir to the landed gentry family from the 13th century let his stately home be inspired by the 16th century Italian and Kedleston got its shape as we see it today. In the early 21st century I can walk undisturbed and just drink in the ideas and aesthetic impressions of hundreds upon hundreds of years.
Isn’t that incredible so say.