STAFF at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock have invited China’s best-known contemporary artist to visit the stately home after hosting one of his exhibitions.

The most extensive UK exhibition to date by Ai Weiwei was hosted at the palace by the Blenheim Art Foundation, as its inaugural show.

The exhibition was due to run last year from October 1 until December but was extended until April 26 due to demand from visitors, and thousands of people saw some of Weiwei’s most famous artworks.

The controversial artist was unable to visit the exhibition himself as he was barred from leaving China by their government, who seized his passport in April 2011.

Last week Weiwei’s passport was returned by the authorities and staff at the Blenheim Art Foundation have invited him to visit, if he decides to travel to the Royal Academy in London, which is preparing for a major show of his work in September.

Antonia Jolles, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said: “If Weiwei does come to London later this year it would be lovely to have him visit Blenheim for the day to see where his work was exhibited.”

Artworks on display at the palace included Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold (2010), Weiwei’s reinterpretation of the bronze zodiac head statues that once surrounded the fountain-clock at Emperor Yuanming Yuan’s Beijing imperial retreat, and He Xie (2010), featuring 2,300 small porcelain crabs in the Red Drawing Room.