Croquet at the Casino

Casino Croquet

Following last Monday’s post about the casino at Marino (Casino Royale, March 25th) a regular reader sent me the image above. This shows the Irish Croquet Championships in 1874 which evidently took place in the grounds of Marino just a few years before the place was sold by the Caulfeild family.
Many people regard croquet as the archetypal English game but in fact its origins lie in mid-19th century Ireland: in August 1858 The Field published a piece on The Rules of the Oatlands Club by ‘Corncrake’ the pseudonym of George Annesley Pollock who lived at Oatlands, County Meath. Here and in other local houses he and his friends often played croquet. The oldest extant croquet club is in Cobh (formerly Queenstown), County Cork. The Rushbrooke Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club was founded in 1870, initially just for playing croquet, tennis being added ten years later.
With thanks to Rose Anne White for the image.

Casino Royale

Marino Casino by William Ashford 1776

In 1760 James Caulfeild, Viscount Charlemont (he would be created first Earl of Charlemont three years later) wrote in his memoirs, ‘I quickly perceived and being thoroughly sensible it was my indispensable duty to live in Ireland, determined by some means or other to attach myself to my native country: and principally with this view I began those improvements at Marino which have proved so expensive to me.’ Wonderfully situated on rising ground looking south across Dublin Bay and towards the Wicklow Mountains, Marino was Lord Charlemont’s pocket estate just a couple of miles east of Ireland’s capital. At its heart were some 50 acres acquired by his stepfather Thomas Adderley on which the latter built a residence originally called Donnycarney House. This he presented in 1755 to Charlemont on the young man’s return from a Grand Tour lasting no less than nine years during which period, together with time spent in the customary European destinations, he had taken an extended voyage to Greece, Turkey and Egypt.
However, unquestionably the most important country visited by Charlemont was Italy and the painting above, painted in 1773 by Thomas Roberts, Ireland’s finest landscape artist of the 18th century, portrays the kind of arcadian Italianate view first proposed over 100 years before by Claude Lorrain and Poussin, complete with shepherd and flock of sheep. The picture furthermore gives expression to Charlemont’s ambition to improve not only the Marino estate but also the country of which it was part. This is embodied by the building at the heart, if not the actual centre, of the painting: a small temple or casino.

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While in Rome during the course of his Grand Tour, Lord Charlemont came to know a number of artists such as Pompeo Batoni, whose wonderful portrait of him can now be found in the Yale Center for British Art. He also associated with Giovanni Piransi, the first four-volume edition of whose Antichitá Romane (1756) was dedicated to his Irish friend, ‘Regni Hiberniae Patricio’ although the two men subsequently quarrelled. But the link to Piranesi demonstrates Charlemont’s interest in architecture from an early age, also evidenced by his commissioning a design for a garden temple from Luigi Vanvitelli, today best-known for the enormous Bourbon palace of Caserta. Vanvitelli’s proposal for an Irish building was rejected on the grounds of expense, but another architect with whom Charlemont first became acquainted while in Rome produced a more satisfactory, if ultimately no less costly, scheme. This was Sir William Chambers, responsible not just for the casino in the grounds of Marino but also Charlemont’s superb townhouse in central Dublin (today the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art). Despite designing both these buildings and Trinity College’s Chapel and Examination Hall it should be noted that Chambers never came to Ireland.
Work on the casino at Marino was not completed until the mid-1770s perhaps in part because its owner placed many other demands on his income and was therefore constantly short of funds. But even before completion the building’s exceptional merits were recognised, as can be testified by the number of artists who produced paintings in which it features. Aside from Thomas Roberts, there was James Malton whose watercolour dated 1795 is shown above, together with an engraving by Thomas Milton after Francis Wheatley which was produced twelve years before. Jonathan Fisher, James Coy and George Mullins were among those who also exhibited work depicting the casino during the same period. It is difficult to think of any other building, certainly one of the casino’s relatively modest proportions, that attracted as much notice in 18th century Ireland.

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The sublime perfection of the casino at Marino – contained within a elaborately carved Portland stone exterior the Greek Cross plan measures just 40 by 40 feet yet contains 16 rooms spread over three floors, many of them with splendid plasterwork and inlaid floors – has been often described and analysed, and I do not intend to do either here. Less appreciated is the fact that this was just one of a number of ornamental buildings once found on Charlemont’s estate which he gradually extended to three times its original acreage. size. The main residence was Marino House seen above; the early 20th century photograph shows the principal facade behind which were two long wings creating a kind of rear courtyard; the rooms here included an important library and a gallery to accommodate some of the owner’s extensive book, picture and sculpture collection.
We know that Charlemont employed Matthew Peters to help with the design of the parkland at Marino. Born in Belfast, before settling in Dublin in the early 1740s he had worked as a gardener for his uncle who was employed by Lord Cobham at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. Given the influence exerted by Stowe’s park for many years hence, Peters’ presence there as a young man strikes me as highly important in the layout of Marino. In the evolution of garden design during the 18th century from French-style formality to the supposedly natural but carefully planned ‘English garden’ championed by Capability Brown (who also worked at Stowe), a slightly earlier alternative to the former was proposed. Best described as picturesque it is represented today by the likes of Stourhead in Wiltshire and Painshill, Surrey; can it be mere coincidence that the man responsible for the latter’s creation, the Hon Charles Hamilton, was born in Dublin the son of an Irish peer? At Stourhead and Painshill – both of which evolved around the same time as Marino – the park is treated as a series of rooms, each with its own character and focal point. Visiting them is like moving around a gallery holding different but complementary paintings and, I would propose, the same was once also true of Marino with the casino as the finest but by no means the only item meriting visitors’ attention.

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So at Marino, Charlemont’s park once held an extensive series of buildings of widely divergent character. We have become so accustomed to the casino as the embodiment of neo-classicism it can come as a shock to discover that not far away on the same estate was a tall Gothic tower known as ‘Rosamund’s Bower.’ Dating from 1762, it stood at the end of a serpentine lake populated by ducks and swans. The tower’s front imitated a ‘highly ornamental screen, adorned with tracery and niches…a crocketed pinnacle conveying the idea of a spire’ while the interior, lit by stained glass windows ‘has been fitted up to imitate a nave, and side aisles of a cathedral.’ Two views of Rosamund’s Bower are shown above. It has been suggested that this structure was designed by Johann Heinrich Muntz, a Swiss-born painter and architect who was encouraged by Horace Walpole to move to England where he worked with Sir William Chambers. Marino House itself contained an ‘Egyptian Room’, so called because of its decoration, while elsewhere in the grounds could be found rustic hermitages, a root house and a moss house, together with such resting points as a covered gothic seat which, in a surviving drawing looks like a much-pinnacled bus shelter. A handful of drawings of the other structures at Marino were made by Thomas Roberts’ younger brother, confusingly called Thomas Sautelle Roberts. Two of them can be seen below and offer us a suggestion of how the grounds of Marino must have looked in the late 18th century.

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The greater part of Marino as originally laid out no longer exists, and with it has gone the context in which the casino was intended to be seen and understood. Like so many Irishmen before and since Lord Charlemont spent beyond his means and left his heir heavily in debt. The family never recovered and even by 1835 the Dublin Penny Journal could remark that the estate’s grounds, to which Charlemont had always admitted the public – and in which he was mugged on a number of occasions – had ‘now lost its attraction – it has long been neglected’ while Rosamund’s Bower was ‘in ruins and a stranger seldom visits it.’ Furthermore the estate’s proximity to an expanding city made it vulnerable to encroachment. In the early 1880s the Caulfeilds sold the land to the Christian Brothers who initially occupied Marino House but eventually moved to other buildings put up in the grounds. In the 1920s Dublin Corporation acquired some 90 acres of the former estate and build almost 1,300 houses for local families; it was at this time that Marino House was demolished with almost nothing other than a couple of chimneypieces salvaged. The casino might likewise have been lost but thankfully its importance was recognised: in 1930 the building was taken into state care, the first post-1700 structure to be designated a National Monument. Now standing on just a few acres and surrounded on all sides by buildings of later date and lesser merit, today the casino is looked after by the Office of Public Works and open to the public.

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The Casino at Marino is currently hosting an exhibition, The Absent Architect, until the end of April. For more information, see http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/dublin/casinomarino/

The Bells, the Bells…

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No longer in use but still in place: the old servants’ bell box at Fort William, County Waterford. Note that when this was put up the house enjoyed the luxury of no less than three bathrooms between eight bedrooms. Trust me, that’s more than some large Irish houses possess even today.
I shall be writing more about Fort William in a few weeks’ time.

Maximum Impact, Minimal Means

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The limestone gate lodge of Townley Hall, County Louth, believed to have been designed around 1819 by the main house’s architecturally informed owner Blayney Townley Balfour and his wife Lady Florence Cole. Taking the form of a dimunitive Greek temple, it makes a striking impression not least thanks to the pedimented and Doric columned portico. Although now empty, it continues to be well preserved and to demonstrate the possibility of achieving a lot with a little.

The Bellamont Busts

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Since first writing of Bellamont Forest (La Belle au Bois Dormant, January 21st), I have heard from a number of readers concerned about a set of 18th century marble busts formerly in the house. Although none can be verified with absolute certainty, various tales exist concerning the origin of these busts. It is said, for example, that they represent different members of the Coote family responsible for building Bellamont. It has also been proposed that they were brought back from mainland Europe after a Grand Tour and installed in niches in the entrance hall and first-floor landing specifically created to accommodate them.
What can be confirmed is that the busts were already in the house more than two centuries ago. Sir Charles Coote, an illegitimate son of the last Earl of Bellamont, produced a Statistical Survey of Cavan in 1802 in which he wrote of the house, ‘The entrance from the portico is a lofty hall, thirty feet by thirty, which is ornamented with statuary in regular niches…’ Likewise in 1835 Lieutenant P. Taylor’s statistical report on the parish of Drumgoon includes a description of Bellamont with the observation, ‘The portico enters into a lofty hall 30 feet square, tastefully ornamented with statuary…’ I am grateful to Kevin Mulligan for bringing these two references to my attention.

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The earliest known visual evidence of the busts’ presence in the house comes from a photograph album presented by Richard Coote to his neighbour Lady Dartrey in September 1870. Now in the possession of the National Library of Ireland, it includes a view of the entrance hall (then serving as a billiard room), which with that institution’s permission I reproduce above; one can assume the picture was taken at some date prior to 1870 (and incidentally, how fascinating to see the hall decorated in such high-Victorian style). A photograph in Volume V of the Irish Georgian Society’s Records (see top of this piece) which was published in 1913 and shows the busts in their niches appears to be a section of the earlier picture. Thereafter it would seem the busts remained within the house through changes of ownership – until last year.
Following the death of John Coote in January 2012, the busts were removed from Bellamont. After representations from the Irish Georgian Society, in September Cavan County Council issued notice to a number of parties requiring the busts’ return. To date this has not happened. I do not intend to become immersed in legal niceties, not least because the matter could yet go to litigation. On the other hand, the busts’ removal does raise a number of significant questions about what constitutes a permanent fixture within a historic building and what should be deemed a transitory decorative feature. In the case of the busts no violence was done to the house during their removal, for which nothing other than a step ladder was required. In other words, unlike say when a chimneypiece is taken out, the structure suffered no damage.
The Government’s 2011 Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines for Planning Authories proposes: ‘free-standing objects may be regarded as fixtures where they were placed in positions as part of an overall architectural design.’ It also states that ‘Works of art, such as paintings or pieces of sculpture, placed as objects in their own right within a building, are unlikely to be considered as fixtures unless it can be proved that they were placed in particular positions as part of an overall architectural design.’
It is worth noting first that these are only guidelines; the document’s opening page counsels that what follows ‘does not purport to be a legal interpretation of any of the Conventions, Acts, Regulations or procedures mentioned. The aim is to assist planners and others in understanding the guiding principles of conservation and restoration.’ In addition, the advice offered is that works of art can only be deemed fixtures provided there is proof ‘they were placed in particular positions as part of an overall architectural design.’ In the case of the Bellamont busts the lack of such conclusive documentary evidence is an obvious problem for anyone championing their return. We do not know the artist responsible, or the date of their creation. Were they commissioned or bought ‘off the shelf’? Can it be conclusively demonstrated the niches were designed to accommodate them?
The next photograph shows the entrance hall in the mid-1980s not long before Bellamont Forest was bought by John Coote; over the intervening century every aspect of the room’s decoration has changed except for the busts.

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I am unaware of any similar case to the Bellamont busts in this country at the moment or indeed in the past but it has to be said that recent precedents in Britain are not encouraging. In 1990, for example, Canova’s marble statue of The Three Graces, which had been commissioned by sixth Duke of Bedford in 1814 and installed in a purpose-built temple at Woburn, was removed after it had been judged not to constitute a part or fixture of the building. Only following four years of intense negotiation was the statue jointly bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Galleries of Scotland. More recently in 2007 Dumfries House and contents were offered for sale by the Marquess of Bute. Those contents included the only fully documented suites of furniture made by Thomas Chippendale. If anything could be deemed a fitting, albeit free-standing, it was surely these Chippendale pieces. Yet they would have been dispersed at auction (for which catalogues were printed by Christie’s) but for the intervention of the Prince of Wales who subsequently helped to establish a charitable trust preserving Dumfries and its furnishings.
Alas in Ireland we have no such well-connected champions of the country’s architectural heritage, nor have we shown much concern for preserving the historic contents of our houses. For this reason, the issue of the Bellamont busts is important and could set a precedent. But it is essential that sentiment does not cloud any discussion relating to their removal. Over centuries an inordinate number of works of art have been taken from their original or long-term settings and placed elsewhere, as a visit to any state gallery or museum will demonstrate. To insist that proprietors of historic buildings may not dispose of certain items which have remained in the same location beyond a certain period of time is to trespass dangerously on the rights of private ownership. It could also hinder rather than help the cause of heritage preservation by inspiring antagonism among the very people we are trying to encourage and support. Having seen the busts in place over many years, my ardent wish is that they will be restored to the niches they occupied for so long. But I am also sufficiently aware of the complexities of the case to appreciate this might not happen.

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The Irish Aesthete welcomes comment on this or any other topic covered here, provided it is expressed in temperate language.

Visitors Welcome

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Here is Russborough, County Wicklow, a house long close to my heart. Engraved from a drawing by John Preston Neale, this image appeared in the second series of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in the United Kingdom published in 1826. Russborough opens to the public for the season tomorrow so do think of paying a visit in the coming months, whether by horse or other means of transport.