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Anthony Caro sculptures go on display at Chatsworth House

Commonly regarded as Britain's greatest living sculptor, Caro has put 15 of his enormous steel works on show at stately home

Sir Anthony Caro once famously said that he preferred his sculptures to be viewed in an enclosed space. Yet on Wednesday, Caro, commonly regarded as Britain's greatest living sculptor, put 15 works on show in blazing sunshine in the spectacular grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.

At the opening of the exhibition, Caro said there was "a strictness" about the setting that had made him reconsider his view. "I'm trying to stand up against the Romantic, pastoral thing. What I really mean is that one should really look at the work and not see it as part of the garden or something, and that's happened here because there's enough space to do it."

The enormous steel sculptures at Chatsworth, which was built between 1687 and 1702, rest on the grass around the 287-metre-long Canal Pond – Caro made art history in the early 1960s by abandoning the plinth. The exhibition includes two of Caro's early, brightly painted sculptures, but much of the work dates from the 1970s, when the artist was experimenting with rusted metal. The most imposing work is Goodwood Steps, which is 6.5 metres high and 33.5 metres across, almost blocking the view of the house.

"I don't think [ … the sculptures are] a challenge to the house but they're more like architectural things than pastoral things," said Caro. "The big one works with the house and I'm surprised it does."

Speaking at the launch, the Tate director, Sir Nicholas Serota, said that the work had "never looked better" than juxtaposed with Chatsworth's baroque splendour. He added that Caro was "in a certain sense a living legend … he took sculpture to a totally new place."

Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, who lives at Chatsworth, said that it was "a dream come true that this great artist should spread his work around our pond". Though Chatsworth has exhibited contemporary sculpture in its grounds for the past six years, and has a collection including pieces by Richard Long and Lucian Freud, this is the first show by a single artist.

The works were all loaned by Caro, who said they had been retrieved from a barn in Yorkshire where they were "covered in goo – this is the first time I've seen them pristine for years". He said that Goodwood Steps, which was originally commissioned for the Henry Moore Studio in Halifax, had to be fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle after the marks instructing how to do it had been lost.

"There was two foot of snow when they were installing it – hard to think of that today," said the duke. "The sculptures without any plinths, just growing out of the grass, look wonderful. We've had to cut the grass with nail scissors round it because obviously we can't use the strimmer but we'll deal with that."

Though admission to the house and grounds costs £20 per adult, the duke said he thought this was "very good value". The house has recently undergone an extensive restoration programme, including the re-gilding in gold leaf of 42 large windows.

Though the duke said he expected visitors to come from all over the world to see both the exhibition and Chatsworth House itself, he added that he enjoyed looking at the sculptures on his own – "at least once a day". © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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