The Burghley sculpture garden

Back when I was a lad, if you wanted to see sculptures you had to go to an art gallery, or maybe a museum. True, if your interest extended no further than humanoid figures you could reasonably expect to see statues of former monarchs, politicians and sundry other ne’er-do-wells in civic spaces scattered throughout the urban landscape. But if your tastes ran to something less formulaic and more creative you were pretty much confined to museums, galleries and similar indoor areas.

And then, thankfully, some bright spark came up with the idea of sculpture gardens.

Vertical Face II

A sculpture garden, and its big brother the sculpture park, is an outdoor space dedicated to the presentation of durable, three dimensional works of art in landscaped surroundings. In galleries and museums sculpture is contained, hemmed in by walls and ceilings, often difficult to fully appreciate.

In sculpture gardens and parks however, sculpture sits comfortably within a spacious, natural environment, with room to breathe. And the sculptures and the landscape in which they sit enhance one another: the gardens and parks frame the sculptures, while the sculptures become visual anchors within their surroundings.

Held

Sculpture parks can now be found throughout the length and breadth of the UK, and visiting one can be an uplifting experience. Last week I wrote about our visit to Burghley House, a grand mansion dating from the late 16th century. In total contrast to the baroque excesses of the house itself, one of the joys of the parkland at Burghley is an excellent sculpture garden featuring a variety of contemporary and modern pieces.

Burghley’s sculpture garden dates back only a couple of decades, but is situated in an area of the grounds originally fashioned by the famed late 18th century landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown. It combines a scattering of works on permanent display with an annual themed exhibition. The theme when we visited in 2021 (carried over from 2020, due to Covid) was ‘House‘, originally conceived to honour the 500th anniversary of the birth in 1520 of Burghley House’s founder William Cecil. 

Cornu Cecilium

One of the most striking pieces on permanent display in the sculpture garden is Vertical Face II by English sculptor Rick Kirby. Works by Kirby are on display in various parts of the UK, and if Vertical Face II is typical I can see just why: it’s a haunting, enigmatic creation.

Equally serious – or, to be blunt, downright spooky – is Held by Anne Gillespie. The body of a man, folded into a foetal position and entombed in a rock wall, is not an easy piece to view, and is laden with hidden meaning. But what, exactly? I know what it means to me, but your interpretation may be totally different. And in the end that doesn’t really matter, the point is that we are required to exercise our brains and think about it…which, after all, is surely one of the purposes of art?

Trojan Horse

But art, and sculpture, doesn’t always have to be deep and meaningful: it can also, quite simply, be fun. The colourful sculpture of a snail, Cornu Cecilium by Pete Rogers, plainly fits into that category. However there is more to this piece than initially meets the eye. Commissioned for Burghley’s 2021 themed exhibition House, the shape of the snail’s shell echoes the grand octagonal towers of Burghley House.

I was also taken with the Trojan Horse. Fashioned from logs and standing several metres high it’s a quaintly rustic piece, and seems to be completely at ease in the lightly wooded landscape in which is stands.

Teddy bears’ picnic

Talking of wooded landscapes, if you go down to Burghley’s woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise: a family of whimsical bears enjoying a picnic, including mama bear in a faded blue dress. Again, there’s no great depth of meaning here, but it’s fun, isn’t it.

Also at home in the wooded landscape are the snowdrops of Everlasting Spring, another Pete Rogers creation. Snowdrops are “here and gone again” in the blink of an eye every spring, but thanks to Rogers they last all year long in Burghley’s sculpture garden.

Everlasting Spring

Italian artist Michele Ciribifera’s Elicoide BG is definitely eye-catching. Elicoide translates from the Italian as “spiral” or “helical”, and this gleaming metallic piece stands out boldly in the verdant landscape of grass and trees. Maybe there is a hidden meaning here? Or is it simply intended to please the eye? Personally I’m inclined not to overthink it: the latter explanation works just fine for me.

And finally, in this whistle-stop tour of a few of the sculptures we saw at Burghley last year, is City Cuts by sculptor Paul Cox. Inspired by the 2007/08 world financial crisis, a handsaw is seen slicing into a swanky city skyscraper. This one is rather poignant for me. At the time of that economic meltdown I was working as a senior public service manager, and found myself forced to make massive cuts to stay within my greatly reduced budget. I was compelled to wield not just a saw, but an axe too.

Elicoide BG

Several of my staff, including friends whom I respected and admired deeply, sadly lost their jobs in the dark days and months that followed. Seeing this stark piece at Burghley certainly gave me cause to think about my own very small, local role in dealing with the impact of the global financial crisis all those years ago. It was not a particularly happy part of my life, but life’s not meant to be easy all the time, is it?

City Cuts

Thankfully those days are over, and because I’m retired I don’t have to worry about how to navigate my service through the new financial crisis brought about by Covid. So, while my unfortunate successor wrestles with that impenetrable problem, I have time on my hands to visit some more wonderful sculpture gardens, like the one at Burghley. Don’t they say that good things will eventually come to he (or she) that waits?

23 comments

  1. tanjabrittonwriter · March 2

    I’m also glad you have time on your hands to explore all that Derbyshire has to offer, as I and other fellow bloggers become the beneficiaries of your explorations after you go to the trouble of presenting them to us with your well-chosen and eloquent words and Mrs. P’s wonderful photos.
    Looking at “Held” in my present tumultuous state of mind, I can’t help but think that the sculpture represents humanity in a perpetually petrified position. We simply can’t grow and live up to our intended potential. 😒

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      Thank you for your kind words Tanja, they mean a lot πŸ™‚. The piece you mention brings to my mind the quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that says β€œMan is born free but everywhere is in chains.” Substitute the words “is entombed” for Rousseau’s “is in chains” and I think we have an incisive interpretation of Held. It also reminds me of the struggle we all face to follow Jung’s exhortation to “Become what you have always been.” Heavy stuff, eh?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Laurie Graves · March 2

    All right. This gets a Maine “Wowsah”! What an exhibit, ranging from thought provoking to fun. My favorite, I think, is the haunting “Held.” So striking! Many thanks for taking us along to the sculpture park. If lived closer…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Tobin · March 2

    The National Botanic Gardens in Dublin hosts an annual sculpture exhibition which we attend each year. There will always be pieces which I adore but I find I am put off, even annoyed, at the inclusion of some works which are of the very lowest quality. This aspect always irritates me and spoils my enjoyment of the event to some degree. I love the vertical face you show above!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      Yes, I know what you mean, the exhibits are variable and some don’t work for me at all (I haven’t featured these in my post, obviously). But on balance, I find the inspiring far outnumber the disappointing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Outdoor sculpture is a wonderful thing. I like the sculptures you photographed. The people who selected these works for Burghley did a good job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      Yes, they organisers chose well. It was an inspiring afternoon, wandering amongst so many wonderful works of art.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. shazza · March 2

    I do love a sculpture trail or garden or park. I haven’t been to many yet. My favourite of the ones you showed there must be the snowdrops. So simple yet striking.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · March 3

      It’s surprising just how many there are these days, definitely a growing trend. And yes, the snowdrops are very striking, a good portrayal of what Nature does so well.

      Like

  6. Pingback: Friday Favorites: March 4 | Notes From the Hinterland
  7. Carol Ann Siciliano · March 4

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post, which I visited thanks to Laurie in her blog, Notes from the Hinterland. I was transfixed by the sculpture you captured in word and image. Like Laurie (and you?), I found “Held” to be particularly powerful, especially when viewed together with Vertical Face II. You inspire me to use my own (new) retirement to search out places near me; Washington DC has some splendid ones. And, like you, I’ll record the delights in my blog too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 5

      Hi Carol Ann
      It’s so good to meet you! I’m pleased you enjoyed this post – Burghley’s sculpture garden was a delight, and the two pieces you mention were particularly memorable, haunting even. At the risk of boring you, you might also be interested in two posts I wrote nearly 18 months ago about a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park; you can find them here: https://64reflections.home.blog/2020/11/18/welcome-to-yorkshire-sculpture-park/ and here: https://64reflections.home.blog/2020/11/25/beyond-amazing-joana-vasconcelos-at-yorkshire-sculpture-park/
      Covid and Putin permitting we have some more visits to sculpture parks / garden planned for 2022, so watch this space. Meanwhile, I’ll pop across to your own blog and see what you’ve been up to in DC! Have a great day, my new blogging buddy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol Ann Siciliano · March 5

        Hi, blogging buddy! I’ve been spending a very enjoyable hour in your world. I’m so glad to meet you and to see lovely England through your eyes. I look forward to chatting with you and sharing worlds with you again soon!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · March 6

        Yes, let’s keep this dialogue going. I’m very fond of the US (have visited all 50 states although never, for some reason, DC) and look forward to revisiting it through your eyes! Between us, I think we have a lot to talk about and share through our respective blogs.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Ann Mackay · March 6

    I think that sculpture looks at its best outside, where it can interact with the landscape. There’s a good variety of sculptures here, from the more serious to the light-hearted. You won’t be surprised that ‘Everlasting Spring’ really appealed to me… πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  9. magarisa · March 7

    I love the idea of a sculpture garden. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · March 7

      Delighted to learn that you enjoyed it. Watch out for more sculpture garden posts later this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ju-Lyn · March 11

    I’ve encountered this sculpture space virtually some time ago – so glad to have another glimpse, this time through your eyes. I enjoy sculpture best in open spaces … I love how each interacts with its environment. I also enjoyed very much reading your response to the pieces you featured.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 12

      Hi Ju-Lyn. Thank you for your kind words. Sculpture parks and gardens have so much to offer the visitor, and are a great way to appreciate 3-D artworks. We are hoping to visit some more later this year, and I shall definitely feature the best in this blog.

      Like

      • Ju-Lyn · March 20

        Looking forward to the fruits of your return visits!

        Liked by 1 person

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