Chatsworth House dogs

Henry, the Chatsworth Goldendoodle talks to The Duchess of Devonshire about the 2019 exhibition, The Dog: A Celebration at Chatsworth and the enduring love between the generations of Cavendish’s and their four-legged friends. 

Included in the top ten most magnificent houses in Treasure Houses of England, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire is one of the finest examples of an English stately home, with a rich history of almost five hundred years. Home to the Cavendish family for 16 generations, Chatsworth remains a family home, a working farm and a living landscape, hosting a number of public events, activities and exhibitions throughout the year and is leased to a registered charity, The Chatsworth House Trust, which is dedicated to the preservation of the house, its parkland and the art collections, which span 4000 years. Chatsworth is also home to the Devonshire Collection, which is one of the largest and most significant private collections in Britain. The Cavendish family are passionate collectors of art and sculpture and the Duchess conceived the wonderful idea of an exhibition showcasing 400 years of dogs at Chatsworth, with the help of arts curator and author Tessa Wild. 

'Laying Down the Law' by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1892 - 1873)

The Dog: A Celebration at Chatsworth 23 March - 6 October 2019:

The Cavendish’s personal relationships with their dogs are featured in photographs, paintings and letters ranging from Duchess Georgiana in the 18th century to Duchess Deborah in the 20th and Duchess Amanda in the 21st. Across the garden, parkland and wider estate, the #Chatswoof season will feature lots of opportunities to get involved from talks and tours; dog walks and dog agility as well as major events such as the Chatsworth Country Fair.

Star works from Constable, Stubbs, Gainsborough and Landseer sit alongside contemporary pieces by Lucian Freud, Jeff Koons, Antony Gormley and Elisabeth Frink to complete a wonderful celebration of dogs in art. In the garden, the Duke and Duchess have commissioned the artist Ben Long to create an eight-foot-high scaffolding sculpture of a dog. Using the most ubiquitous of materials, this site-specific piece has a monumental scale and grace not normally associated with its construction material and is a vivid addition to the landscape.

The Duke and Duchess with Max, at Chatsworth

The exhibition sounds amazing! So many wonderful painters and artists of all kinds, how many pieces are in the collection as is it over the entire house?

It’s in my DNA, I have lived with and loved dogs all my life; they are an integral part of my life. I’m thrilled to have curated the exhibition with Tessa Wild and Alex Hodby. The Dog, A Celebration atChatsworthhighlights the connections between the families, dogs and stories that have occupied Chatsworth since the seventeenth century. We have also opened our doors to objects from public and private collections that resonate with the works that we have brought together from the Chatsworth Collection. Visitors will encounter dogs from mythology and legend, gods and giants – in letters, jewellery, sculpture, ceramics, books, tapestries, drawings and on painted ceilings.

The exhibition is also a celebration of dog breeds and the working lives of dogs – lives that are visible and intertwined with the working of a country estate. I am very keen that we share our passion and enthusiasm for dogs with visitors, and explore the many wonderful recollections passed down through history from one dog lover to another.  

There are over 200 individual works in the exhibition and many more carved into the fabric of the house or depicted in paintings - you need to have a very keen eye to spot some of them.

Rocket 6 -1 by Nicola Hicks (1987)

Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?

One of my highlights in the exhibition is a group of five dogs by Nicola Hicks, a sculptor that we’ve been interested in for a long time. They have been displayed in the garden at Chatsworth for several years, every time we move them to a different area, we rearrange them. It’s fun because it makes a different story each time we move them! They do have personalities, you can see that, and when you rearrange them in the different order, they interact with each other. However, this is the first time that we’ve brought them into the house, and I think they look wonderful in their new setting.

As part of the exhibition, we have commissioned the artist Ben Long, to create an eight-metre high scaffolding sculpture of a dog in the garden and it is a vivid and thrilling addition to the landscape. 

Do you have a favourite story of dog bravery/loyalty over these 400 years of dog history?

For me, one of the most poignant objects in the exhibition is a Red Cross Collar, worn by a Medical dog in the First World War.  These heroic dogs were trained to locate wounded and dead soldiers and often worked at night in between the trenches of the opposing sides.

What is your favourite breed for gentleness / loyalty / family dog?

The dogs I grew up with as a child, notably Alsatians, Corgis, Labradors, terriers and Pekingese, have shaped my life and prompted my long-standing interest in dog training.  My first successful attempt at training was when I was about ten.  I made a harness for Coco, our Corgi, and taught him to pull a small sledge carrying hay through the snow to the ponies in the paddock. Riding proudly on top of the hay was Sun Yen our Pekingese.  My mother must have been impressed that I had managed to persuade both the Peke and the Corgi to collaborate and arranged for me to spend time with John Holmes, an animal trainer.  He in turn mentioned my ability to the children’s programme Blue Peter and I was duly filmed in action with the dogs and the sledge. Luckily they obeyed my commands!

Currently, I have two rescue dogs; terrier crosses Max & Treacle and two young working Labradors Drum & Blue by my daughter’s field trial champion Astrix and out of a bitch belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, both dogs have won the International Retriever Championships and so… we’ll see.

Portrait of the Duchess's dogs Max and Suzie by Jemma Phipps

What would you consider ‘spoiling’ a dog?

I’m training my dogs for obedience, so they always come back to me when I call them; enthusiastically praising them when they do. I don’t use treats, although of course you can, especially if they are particularly difficult and won’t come back. Training should always be fun for the dog so that they want to come to you; they’re enjoying themselves, they’re having fun. Most importantly, you, as the owner, need to be top dog and the leader of the pack, they must respect you.

What advice would you give to people wanting to get a dog?

Be certain that you can give the dog enough time every single day.

I am always conscious of the pleasure that so many other people get from walking their dogs when I see them in the garden and park. This exhibition reflects all that dogs mean to me and I hope fellow dog lovers. It celebrates the many and varied images of these singular, intelligent creatures who share in our lives and continue to captivate us with their faithful companionship and endearing characters. 

Portrait of Tawney, the 6th Duke's spaniel 1819, Peter Wenceslaus

What do you think about people letting their dogs sleep in their beds – do you think dogs should be separate and in their own beds, or does it really matter?

It is up to the individual, my working dogs sleep in a kennel and my terriers have their own bed in the house. During a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, we spotted an elaborate dog bed made by Claude I Sené for Marie Antoinette. On our return to Chatsworth we enlisted the skills of the incredibly talented team we have here to recreate it for the exhibition. Our joiners have made the structure and the textiles team has upholstered it in the most beautiful velvet; we are so excited to share it with our visitors.

Visit the exhibition The Dog: A Celebration at Chatsworth from 23rd March – 6th October 2019. Follow the exhibition on Facebook and Twitter using the tag Chatsworth House and hashtag Chatswoof

Interestingly, the current 12th Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish shares his Great-Grandfather and founder of The Lady Magazine, Thomas Gibson-Bowles, with the current owner and publisher of The Lady, Ben Budworth.