Classical Greek or Roman statues may be more common in the gardens of the stately homes of Britain. But in the grounds of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, yesterday, the Duke of Devonshire unveiled a striking more-than-life-size sculpture by Damien Hirst of St Bartholomew, the saint who was skinned alive.
It is one of 25 monumental works by international artists that have been brought together by the auction house Sotheby's. The collection has been valued in excess of £15m.
Every work in the exhibition, which runs until 27 October, is for sale. Prices start at $100,000 (£54,000) rising to more than $6m for a Henry Moore Reclining Figure dating from 1982 and originally bought from the artist shortly after its creation.
While some of the works are by artists, such as Salvador Dali and the French pop artist Jean Dubuffet, who are no longer alive, several of the pieces are by living artists who were specially asked to contribute.
Among them was Hirst who took his inspiration from woodcuts and etchings he remembered from when he was young to create the erect figure of the saint who stands with his skin draped loosely over one arm and a pair of scissors and a scalpel in his hands.
"As St Bartholomew was a martyr who was skinned alive, he was often used by artists and doctors to show the anatomy of the human body and this is also what I've done," he said.
"He holds his own skin over his arm and he holds a scalpel and a pair of scissors in his hands so that his exposure and pain are seemingly self-inflicted. It's beautiful yet tragic, and like St Sebastian his face shows no pain. I added the scissors because I thought Edward Scissorhands [the film character] was in a similarly tragic yet difficult position. It has a feel of a rape of the innocents about it."
Other artists who created new works for the selling exhibition include Antony Gormley, whose piece, Domain LIII, is on the roof of the house, and Dale Chihuly, the American glass artist.
Alexander Platon, a deputy director of Sotheby's, said Chihuly's studio initially pointed out he had a long waiting list for work but readily agreed once they had looked up Chatsworth on the internet. Mr Platon said it was a great setting to display monumental sculpture. "We couldn't find a better place in England really," he said.
The idea stemmed from outdoor exhibitions they had mounted in Florida. "From our experience, there's no better way to show monumental sculpture than in an outdoor exhibition," he said. "We wanted to find a really magical landscape that had some history to it to have exhibitions in Europe."
This view had been confirmed in the summer when another Henry Moore piece was so large it could not fit into the auction house's London premises, necessitating complicated manoeuvres for viewing.
The Duke of Devonshire said he had readily agreed to the Sotheby's approach to host the show. "It's a subject I'm interested in learning more about and I know the Sotheby's people quite well and thought they would do it properly, which they have."
Installing two-dozen large and valuable sculptures had been an "interesting logistical management exercise" but the result was thrilling. "It's much more exciting than I thought it would be and I thought it would be exciting. I like the variety. I like the introduction of pieces into places I would never have thought of putting them."
Other artists with works in the exhibition, all of which are for sale, include Keith Haring, Joan Miro, James Turrell and Anish Kapoor.
All with the exception of a Duane Hanson, which is inside the house, can be viewed for the price of the £6 entrance fee to the garden alone.Reuse content