Petworth in West Sussex is an hour and a quarter by car from Mayfair in West London. Once you leave the highways, you drive on little roads through a quintessentially British landscape. It’s as if Constable paintings have come alive.
In coronavirus times, I have re-discovered the joys of driving a car. I put on my playlists at full volume and transform the car into a disco on wheels. And with a 14-day quarantine ahead of me—required by my recent return to the U.K.—Petworth was the place to go, not least because I was preparing an exhibition of works by the Israeli designer Ron Arad for Newlands House, Khalid Al Tajir and Nicola Jones’s new cultural center.
Once I arrived in Petworth, I was given the keys to Ryde House—a fully equipped Georgian house with its own small garden—located next to the Angel Inn, the village’s main pub. I slept incredibly well in the very comfortable bed that I had chosen in one of the rooms of the house, which I happened to have to myself. As I rode out my quarantine, my meals were brought to me by the pub next door on a tray that was placed outside the main door. It felt as if I had the plague.
After several days of total isolation, I cautiously ventured out of Ryde House. I went on gorgeous hikes through the bucolic landscape. Petworth House’s splendid park, designed by Capability Brown, was filled with deer that made my walks pastoral dreams. On a previous occasion, I had visited the art collection in the house, which was built in the late 17th century for the sixth Duke of Somerset. It is home to paintings by Titian, Claude Lorrain, and Van Dyck, but the work that struck me most is the stunning A Vision of the Last Judgment, by William Blake.
Driving to Petworth, in Sussex, it’s as if Constable paintings have come alive.
Every day I would go to Newlands House to oversee the unpacking of pieces by Arad, loaned by private collectors all over Europe. I then installed the exhibition and was delighted to see how well Arad’s works—which have a resolutely 21st-century feel—fitted the 18th-century architecture. No matter how well you know the work of an artist, to experience it in new surroundings makes you see it in a novel way.
After the big Arad exhibitions that have been held at the V&A in London, MoMA in New York, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Petworth show is like a mini retrospective that allows the viewer to experience an intimate interaction with the artist’s extraordinary creations, in an enchanting historic setting. Only six visitors at a time are allowed in the building, which means you have it all to yourself.
After the success of the Helmut Newton exhibition held here, Newlands House is the template for the ultimate cultural experience in coronavirus times. I gradually discovered so many things to do in and around Petworth that I was feeling a tad melancholic when my trip came to an end and it was time for me to go home to Monte Carlo.
Simon de Pury is a Swiss art collector and the author of The Auctioneer: Adventures in the Art Trade