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Opening Today at Sotheby’s New York: TREASURES FROM CHATSWORTH

One of the jewels of the famed Devonshire Collection is Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan, which also marks one of the greatest drawings of the artist’s legendary career. Created by da Vinci in Florence or Milan circa 1506 – while he was working on the Mona Lisa – Leda and the Swan is a mythological preparatory drawing in pen, ink and wash. The work represents one of Da Vinci’s earliest designs for a composition of Leda, wife of the King of Sparta, and Jupiter, who has taken the form of a swan to seduce her. Hatching from the eggs at Leda's feet are their offspring: the twins, Helen (later Helen of Troy) and Clytemnestra, and Castor and Pollux.

Leda and the Swan is even more remarkable for its history, having almost been lost in the chaos of World War II. The work was requested for loan to an exhibition of Da Vinci’s work in Milan in 1939. Knowing that war was imminent, the 10th Duke of Devonshire was reluctant to do so, but was convinced knowing that King George VI was sending requested works from the royal collection. The work was not able to leave Italy after the exhibition, and survived World War II in storage at the Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome. When returned to Chatsworth following the war, it bore the white marking now seen in the center of the drawing.


This masterly painting of an old man by Rembrandt van Rijn is signed and dated 1651 – a period during which the artist painted rarely and received few portrait commissions.

Formerly one of three Rembrandt paintings in the Devonshire Collection, the work was seen in the collection of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, as early as 1728, marking it as one of the earliest Rembrandt paintings ever acquired by an English collector.

It is not certain whether this work is a commissioned portrait. Alternatively, it may show an old male model, dressed in a rich exotic costume, sitting for a ‘tronie’ – a popular Dutch genre painting of the time. Such works gave the artist the opportunity to show off their technique: here, with directional lighting, Rembrandt shows his mastery through lighting in depicting character and old age, with his broad brushstrokes bringing to life the texture and weight of the man’s rich costume.


In 1856, William, 6th Duke of Devonshire, commissioned a seven-piece set of jewelry known as the Devonshire Parure, incorporating 88 carved gems from the large gem collection at Chatsworth that was assembled primarily by the 2nd and 4th Dukes of Devonshire.

The commission was a response to the Duke’s nephew’s attendance at the coronation of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, as a representative of Queen Victoria. Having previously attended the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I, the Duke could be certain that Maria, Countess Granville, would need a large and remarkable suite of jewels to furnish her wardrobe for the many functions she would attend and host.

Today the engraved gem collection at Chatsworth represents the largest such collection in private hands. Whilst prominent collections such as those of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1586-1646) and George Spencer, Fourth Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817) are now in the British Museum or dispersed through other collections both public and private, the Devonshire gems remain in the family which collected them.


A highlight of the Treasures from Chatsworth exhibition will be two works reflecting the long association between the leading 20th century artist Lucian Freud and the 11th Duke and Duchess, whose portraits he was commissioned to paint. The strikingly-informal nature of the works speaks to the close association between sitter and artist: many of Freud’s works in the Devonshire Collection were completed while he stayed as their guest at Chatsworth.

These two informal portraits show Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire (1920–2004), father of the current duke of Devonshire, and his Duchess, Deborah (née Mitford) (1920–2014). They form part of a group of oil paintings of the 11th Duke’s family that were painted over a period of approximately 20 years. As Freud used to explain: “I work from the people that interest me… I use them to invent my pictures with”.

Of the two portraits, Woman in White, the portrait of Duchess Deborah, was the first to be painted, in 1958-60. It marked a transitional point in Freud’s career, when he started to paint in a broader, looser style. He painted the portrait of the Duke a decade later, in 1971-72. It is also unconventional and disquieting. In it he appears to be unwilling to submit to the intense scrutiny of the artist, with his head is lowered and his eyes – ‘the mirror of the soul’ – hidden.


The Peeress robe was worn by Duchess Deborah when she attended the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. The Duchess writes in her book, Wait for Me, about the worry of what she was going to wear to the coronation and about finding a crimson peeress's robe in tin trunks at Chatsworth, “with velvet of exceptional quality, so soft your fingers hardly know they are touching it”.

  • 29.07.2019 - 28.08.2019
    Ausstellung »
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus »

    From 28 June through 18 September
    In Sotheby’s Newly-Expanded Galleries at 72nd St & York Avenue

    Docent Tours Available Daily Mondays through Saturdays
    At 11AM and 3PM

    Exhibition Designed by Creative Director David Korins,
    Whose Award-Winning Work Includes the Set Designs for
    Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen

    Exhibition Highlights Include:
    Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan,
    An Exceptional Drawing Not on View in the United States
    For 15+ Years

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