Throughout the Twentieth Century the game of chess has been an inspiration, if not an obsession, for artists. “The Art of Chess,” an exhibition at the Gilbert Collection, Somerset House through September 28, features 19 chess sets dating from the beginning of the Twentieth Century to the present day.
Each set illustrates a move in the apocryphal last game played by Napoleon with General Bertrand on St Helena in 1820. In the starting position is the world’s only known set designed by Carl Fabergé, specially made circa 1905 for Tsar Nicolas II’s commander-in-chief of the Russo-Japanese War, General Alexei Kouropatkin.
Visitors can then follow the game through the porcelain designs of the Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory in Russia in the 1920s – the “Propaganda” chess set with Capitalists versus Communists – to Marcel Duchamp’s Buenos Aires chess set of 1919 and the geometric designs of the Bauhaus set by Josef Hartwig. There is also a set created by leading Fluxist artist Yoko Ono, as well as five especially commissioned new designs by Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Paul McCarthy and Maurizio Cattelan, the latter being laid out as the final move – checkmate.
“The Art of Chess” is accompanied by a catalog with an introductory essay by Dr Ernst Strouhal, University of Applied Arts, Vienna. Dr Strouhal has written several articles and books on chess and the arts including Duchamps Spiel, which explored the relationship of the aesthetics of the avant-garde and chess, particularly focusing on the chess career of Marcel Duchamp.
The Gilbert Collection of decorative arts has entrances on Victoria Embankment and Strand. For information, 020 7420 9400 or www.gilbert-collection.org.uk.