'It means 'home' to me'

Wall of Light Red Day Leaving, 2005, Sean Scully. Bridgeman Images.

The Duke of Devonshire says:
‘I pass this painting several times a day, and it confronts me when I come back to Chatsworth, on my way upstairs. It means ‘home’ to me, as it reminds me of the new things surrounded by the old and the very old, a mixture I relish.’

The Duke of Devonshire succeeded his father in 2004. He and his wife moved to Chatsworth in 2006.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘Sean Scully, 63, was born in Dublin, brought up in England and is now an American citizen, currently living near Princeton. The Duke of Devonshire thinks of ‘home’ when he sees this picture, and I think of the late, great Alec Gregory-Hood, who, as director of the prestigious Rowan Gallery, gave the young Mr Scully his first commercial exhibitions. Gregory-Hood was unusual for a progressive art gallery owner, having been a hero of Arnhem and a colonel in the Grenadiers.

Once, when he was colonel, he took a friend to lunch at the Dorchester. He handed the doorman the car keys, but was rebuffed, much to his irritation. A week later, he reappeared at lunch in full fig and on horseback after Trooping the Colour, handed the doorman his horse and strode off to the grill. This may seem to stray from the point, but that is a merit of Abstract art. Abstraction lets the mind run free; art that tells a story channels the imagination.

Mr Scully’s first abstractions were densely overlapping, narrow, sharp-edged stripes. For all their colours, their machine-like precision made them cold. The US was a release. He applied fat bands of paint in warm, earthy tones, his physical presence accentuated by sensual brushstrokes—the opposite of what he had done before. This picture is typical. His broad-band style has been a great success, even featuring on a French postage stamp. Red and black bring Gregory- Hood to mind again. One of his fellow officers at Arnhem told me: ‘The hotter it got, the cooler he became.’

This article was first published in Country Life, June 10, 2009