How do you transport New Yorkers to the heady spaces of a 16th-century palatial home in the heart of the English countryside? This was the unenviable task presented to set designer and creative director when enlisted him to create the exhibition open now through September 18 in some of the auction house’s recently renovated galleries on the East Side of Manhattan.
Situated in Derbyshire, England, Chatsworth House has been home to 16 generations of the Cavendish family, including the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. It has also served as a canvas for their varied and enthusiastic love of collecting, a bounty that is encapsulated in the Devonshire Collection (which, along with the house’s gardens and maintenance, is preserved by the Chatsworth House Trust).
Korins, whose previous work includes the Broadway sets of Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, took a theatrical approach to displaying and enlivening the 40- objects and artworks on loan, among them Rembrandt Van Rijn’s Portrait of an Old Man and two exquisite paintings by Canaletto. Korins was fortunate enough to spend a few days at Chatsworth as guests of the duke and duchess (the duke is the deputy chairman of Sotheby’s), and in his wanderings through the estate, he had what he describes as an “aha” moment.
“My thought was, if you were able to spend quiet, contemplative time in the physical spaces, you might not just be struck by the Picasso or the Da Vinci drawing. You might be struck by the layering of what each member brought over time,” Korins explains. “I’ve tried to not curate this art in white walls because it doesn’t exist in white walls. What we’ve done is try and take the details and textures and the wall surfaces, all that rich life, and blow it up way, way larger so you get a sense of the DNA of the home.”
The Devonshire tiara, for example, is displayed in a glass case resting on a nearly ceiling-height replica of the clawed foot of the coronation chair. A pair of Regency armchairs from the library are shown with a regal, richly textured backdrop, a blown-up image of the carpet in the actual room. A towering contemporary Chinese-style vase by the British artist Felicity Aylieff is framed by an oversized carved rendition of molding. And a trio of paintings by Rembrandt, Valentine de Boulogne, and Sir Anthony van Dyck is hung against an embossed leather wallpaper. The overall effect is as if you have been hit with a Harry Potter spell that has shrunk you to miniature size, allowing you to explore these priceless masterpieces undetected and with abandon.