Sparkly couture dresses and a massive tortoise are perhaps not the kind of things one usually associates with art exhibitions, but Waddesdon Manor is known for its innovative and unique approach.
The items are part of a new exhibition fusing fashion, digital art and animal specimens called Creatures and Creations in The Stables until late October. Inspired by the wildlife collections at the Natural History Museum in Tring, the patterns on the artwork and dresses on show are taken from birds, the giant tortoise and butterflies.
There is an obvious link, of course, between Waddesdon and the museum, both being Rothschild properties. Walter Rothschild, nephew of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild who built Waddesdon, dedicated his life to the natural sciences and his private collection of specimens formed the foundation of his museum in Tring, which opened to the public in 1892.
The exhibition at The Stables focuses on 14 Rothschild specimens. Greek artist Platon H has designed digital collages exhibited on light boxes that respond to the beautiful abstract patterns in the wings, feathers and carapaces of birds and insects. And fashion designer Mary Katrantzou has transformed nature into three spectacular dresses.
Gregory Amore, senior designer with Mary Katrantzou, informed me that up to 25 people worked on creating each dress after Mary visited the museum in Tring to study the collections. Designs were drawn, fabrics printed, then there came pattern cutting, machinery and embroidery. The dresses can’t be laundered, they can be ‘spot cleaned’ and have linings which can be detached. Although made for size eight mannequins, if your bank balance stretches to couture dresses they can be altered for almost any size.
All the contemporary exhibits are for sale, but price is on application only.
The shop within the exhibition is selling china plates costing over £80, so it’s fair to say the potential audience for these art sales will come from a privileged few.
On loan from the museum in Tring, several Rothschild specimens are displayed alongside the two artists’ contemporary interpretations.
Outside the exhibition is a large tortoise in the stable yard especially for ‘selfies’ which children – and grown ups – can enjoy sitting on to have pictures taken.
Inside the manor is a rather more typical art exhibition, Power and Portraiture, painting at the court of Elizabeth I.
This is centred on two portraits attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, the most famous miniaturist in Britain, but here the works displayed are two full size oil paintings showing Elizabeth I and Sir Amias Paulet, her resident ambassador to France.
As a contrast with the first Elizabeth, our own queen is also represented in the exhibition, with the display of Lucien Freud’s portrait, painted to celebrate her 80th birthday, as well as a massive picture created from buttons.
This is The Pearly Queen of Shoreditch by Ann Carrington, a huge depiction created from the familiar postage stamp image of the queen.
In fact, this was displayed in the Manor restaurant for a long time, but creates a much more immediate impression here.
Both exhibitions run at Waddesdon on the opening days of Wednesdays to Sundays until October 29.
Full details of all opening times, exhibitions and ticket prices online at www.waddesdon.org.uk