The grounds of Charles Barry’s great house at Cliveden, built in 1851-2 for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland and most famous as the home of Nancy Astor, with her famous dinner parties that everyone who was anyone attended, and who was the first woman MP to take a seat in the House of Parliament a century ago, are awash with sculpture, both antique and relatively modern, including the dramatic baroque ‘Fountain of Love’ from 1897 by the American sculptor Thomas Waldo Story, classical Roman sarcophagi, a 20th century copy of ‘The Rape of Prosperina’, Egyptian baboons which are over 2000 years old, plus the gardens themselves are sculptured with the design of the different formal gardens, sculpted yew trees and landscaped with the 17th-century Borghese Balustrade on the parterre which modern visitors don’t appreciate as they allow their young children to run across the top of the ancient stonework. One of the joys is wandering through the grounds and finding new views, new buildings, new sculptures and new discoveries, one of them being the old Boat House, in which Nancy Astor’s own boat, the Liddesdale Canoe, is being restored.
But wait, what is that strange metal structure near the Boat House, with the River Thames and river boats passing behind it? It is quite an exploration to find the Boat House, climbing down the different paths, and even more energetic to return upwards to the main gardens, but it is worth it, for here sits one of the best of the sculptures of the modern British artist Anthony Caro, and I have to say that for me this is the highlight of the exhibition of his work which subtlety permeates the woodlands and gardens, bringing a 21st twist to the historic sculpture collections.
Near the house itself is Caro’s ‘Purling’ from 1969, which sits in the gardens in the same way as the ancient sarcophagi. If I have one complaint about the current exhibition of Caro’s work, it is that I would have liked to have seen more in prominent positions, for example between Story’s fountain and the House and on the terrace of the House itself. Please, be bolder next year!
Most of the sculptures are placed in a grand parade down the grand Green Drive, where it is fascinating to compare the work of Caro with that of the shapes, silhouettes and colours if the natural landscape, but the downside for those of us who are less mobile is that it is a mile to walk down and a mile to walk back so, for the future, I would urge more in the main areas, though the current locations do have the advantage that I visited parts of the woodland at Cliveden that I never visited before. Without doubt the best in this location are the rusting steel sculptures which merge into the green and brown landscape and contrast with the gnarled old trees and upturned roots. It would be fascinating to think what Caro would think if he was alive today…
My phone app tells me that I walked for 12km today – so art, woods, and health do go together….