Virtuosic

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Part of the ceiling decoration of 86 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. As mentioned some weeks ago (see Highly Stylised, January 31st last), work on the house began in 1765, the architect responsible considered to be Robert West who also worked as a stuccadore. It therefore used to be thought that he was responsible for the plasterwork here, but diverse craftsmen are now deemed to have had a hand. Whoever created this convocation of swooping eagles certainly deserves recognition and praise since they are an example of virtuosic skill.

Temps Perdu

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In November 1927 Aileen Sibell Mary Guinness married the Hon Brinsley Sheridan Bushe Plunket and as a wedding present was given by her father Luttrellstown Castle, County Dublin. Situated on the outskirts of the capital, the house stood in the centre of a much-admired park: Hermann, Prince von Pückler-Muskau visited Luttrellstown while in Ireland in 1828 and wrote, ‘The entrance to the demesne is indeed the most delightful of its kind that can be imagined. Scenery, by nature most beautiful, is improved by art to the highest degree of its capability, and, without destroying its free and wild character, a variety and richness of vegetation is produced which enchants the eye…’ By this date Luttrellstown had passed out of the hands of its original owners, the Luttrells the first of whom Sir Geoffrey de Luterel had been granted the estate by King John around 1210. The original castle was built here some two centuries later and descended from one generation to the next until the late 17th century when it passed out of the ownership of Simon Luttrell, a Roman Catholic supporter of James II who, having supported the King, then emigrated to France and was killed while commanding an Irish regiment at the Battle of Lindon in 1693. His younger brother Colonel Henry Luttrell appeared likewise to support the Jacobite cause but during the Siege of Limerick was discovered to be intriguing with the Williamite forces. The new regime permitted him to keep the family estates but his treachery was not forgotten and in 1717 he was shot dead in Dublin while being carried in his sedan chair from a coffee house: despite a reward of £1,000 being offered, his assassin was never discovered. (During the 1798 Rising, his grave was broken open and the skull smashed). Thereafter the Luttrells failed to enjoy public esteem, although Henry’s younger son Simon Luttrell eventually became first Earl of Carhampton. His son Henry, second earl, was a notorious rake who, as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Ireland made so many enemies that a plot to assassinate him was discovered in 1797. In May 1811 the Dublin Post erroneously reported his death and Lord Carhampton demanded a retraction: this was published until the headline ‘Public Disappointment.’ By then, universally reviled, the Luttrells had left the country, selling the Luttrellstown estate in 1800.

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Luttrellstown’s next owner was Luke White of whom Lady Hardwicke, wife of the Viceroy, wrote in 1803, ‘He was the servant of an auctioneer of books (some say he first cried newspapers about the streets). As he rose in his finances, he sold a few pamphlets on his own account…His talent for figures soon made him his master’s clerk, and he afterwards was taken into a lottery office, where his calculations soon procured him a partnership. Good luck attended him in every speculation, and he knew how to profit by it, but with the fairest fame. He continued his trade in books on the great scale, and was equally successful in all the train of money transactions…’ So successful indeed that he could afford to lend the government £1 million during the 1798 Rebellion and then two years later buy Luttrellstown, ‘to the great offence of all the aristocrats in Ireland,’ according to Lady Hardwicke. In an effort to dispel memories of the previous owners, White renamed the estate Woodlands but his great-grandson on inheriting the place in 1888 reverted to the original Luttrellstown. By this date the family had joined the ranks of the aristocracy, Luke White’s son having been created first Lord Annaly in 1863. Famously Queen Victoria twice visited Luttrellstown, passing through in 1844 while en route to the Duke of Leinster at Carton, County Kildare and then drinking tea by a waterfall in the grounds in 1900. In commemoration, the third Lord Annaly erected in the grounds an obelisk made from Wicklow granite. Following his death in 1922 the next generation decided to live in England and so the Luttrellstown estate was offered for sale.

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Always known by his middle name, Arthur Ernest Guinness was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. While his elder and younger brothers Rupert and Walter entered politics, Ernest, who took a degree in engineering at Cambridge, trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at the family business in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. Ten years earlier he had married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell; her mother was the granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, making Cloe a direct descendant of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille. The Guinnesses had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910), in adulthood collectively known as the Golden Guinness Girls. Their Irish names reflect the fact that they spent the greater part of their time in Ireland, even though Ernest had a house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (today the Irish Embassy) as well as an estate house at Holmbury, Surrey. But the family’s main residence was Glenmaroon on the edge of Dublin’s Phoenix Park; from here Ernest would walk to his office at Guinness’ every day. Around the time of his death in 1949, Ernest’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket described Glenmaroon as ‘A fascinating but hideous house. Fascinating, because each time we go there, there is some new electrical device or mechanical gadget that makes an organ play, panels in the wall open or something unusual happens.’ Glenmaroon’s features including one of the fist indoor swimming pools in Ireland but also – a reflection of Ernest’s mechanical interests – a coal scuttle with a small button which, when pushed, caused an automatic pipe organ to rise up and begin playing Cherry Ripe, a popular song of the period. A competitive yachtsman, Ernest was among the first young men of his generation to acquire a motor car, and later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence. He came to own four aeroplanes, and would often fly one of these to his estate at Ashford Castle, County Galway. Under these circumstances and after such an upbringing, it is easy to see why, when his eldest daughter married in 1927, he felt obliged to present her with Luttrellstown Castle.

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Aileen Guinness was related to her husband: his grandmother Anne Guinness had been a sister of her grandfather, the first Earl of Iveagh. (Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, heir to the third Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who would marry the next Guinness sister Maureen in 1930 was thus not only related to his wife but also a cousin of his brother-in-law Brinsley Plunket since the latter’s mother had been a sister of the first Marquess). The groom was always known as Brinny and his older brother Terence Conyngham Plunket, sixth Lord Plunket, as Teddy. The latter was a talented artist – his portrait of Brinny can be seen above – who chronicled his social life through amusing cartoons. In 1922 Teddy had married Dorothé Mabel Lewis, illegitimate daughter of another Irish peer, the 7th Marquess of Londonderry; her mother had been American actress Fannie Ward who appeared in Cecil B. DeMille’s racy 1915 silent film The Cheat. Dorothé first married Captain Jack Barnato (a nephew of the mining Randlord Barney Barnato) but he had died of pneumonia within months of the wedding. She and Teddy Plunket were intimate friends of the Duke of York (later George VI) and his wife Elizabeth; the latter was godmother to the couple’s second son Robin in 1925 while the Duke was godfather to their third child Shaun six years later. Both Teddy and Dorothé would be killed in a plane crash in California in February 1938. As a younger son, Brinny had no estate and little money but his wife’s father was able to provide both. Racehorses and cars were Brinny Plunket’s chief interests and as a result, during the early years of her first marriage Aileen came to own a number of thoroughbreds, including Millennium which she regularly led into the winner’s enclosure. One contemporary later recalled bumping into Brinny, who drove a Delage sports car painted in his racing colours of black and gold, and being persuaded to come to dinner at Luttrellstown that night. Once seated at table, ‘my neighbour turned to me, “I understand you are not interested in horses. Then what are you interested in?” – a difficult question to answer in a company whose sole interest was horses.’

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IMG_0868 IMG_0863In the early years of their marriage, Aileen and Brinny Plunket hosted many house parties at Luttrellstown, occasions meticulously chronicled in her photograph albums. Sundry entertainments were laid on for them: a report in the Daily Express in December 1932 noted ‘The Luttrellstown party should be particularly gay. One of the features will be a servants’ ball, to which more than 250 butlers, cooks and housemaids have been bidden.’ Teddy and Dorothé were regulars, as was Aileen’s cousin Arthur Guinness, Viscount Elveden (heir to the second Earl of Iveagh), universally known as ‘Lump': he would be killed in action in 1945 at the age of thirty-two. His sister Honor, who in 1933 would marry Henry ‘Chips’ Channon visited, as did another of Brinny’s brothers Kiwa. Among non-family members who came to stay was the Hon Hamish St Clair-Erskine (briefly Nancy Mitford’s fiance), racing driver Sir Tim Birkin and Major Edward Metcalfe, always called ‘Fruity’, Equerry to the Duke of Windsor (and best man at his wedding to Wallis Simpson in 1937.) One of Aileen’s closest friens was the former lingerie model and chorus girl Sylvia Hawkes, then married to her first husband Anthony Ashley-Cooper, heir to the Earl of Shaftesbury. However, during the early 1930s she began an affair with Douglas Fairbanks Sr, who came to stay at Luttrellstown in November 1933: a report in the Dublin Evening Mail of the actor’s visit to a performance at the Abbey Theatre commented that although widely recognised, ‘there was no attempt to even approach the actor, and he smilingly moved through the crowd to his car, accompanied by his host and hostess…’ The following year he was cited as co-respondent in the Ashley-Coopers’ divorce. (Fairbanks went on to marry Sylvia. Following his death, she married in succession Lord Stanley of Alderley, Clark Gable and the Georgian Prince Dimitri Jorjadze). The Plunkets’ own marriage subsequently began to unravel. After having had three daughters, Neelia (which is Aileen spelt backwards), Doon and Marcia (who died at the age of three) Aileen began to seek alternative amusement to that provided by her husband. Her lovers in the pre-war years included impoverished Austrian playboy Baron Hubert von Pantz, who also had an affair with Coco Chanel (he would later marry Terry McConnell, a rich widow whose former father-in-law had founded Avon cosmetics, and create the ski resort Club Mittersill in New Hampshire). The couple finally divorced in 1940 and Brinny who had joined the RAF was killed in aerial combat over Sudan in November 1941. By this date Aileen had long settled in the United States where she remained until after the Second World War ended. Then she returned to Luttrellstown which in the early 1950s was extensively redecorated by Felix Harbord. But that story must wait for another occasion.

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That’s Amore

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A white marble statue of Amorino commissioned in Rome from Antonio Canova in 1789 by John La Touche. Scion of Ireland’s wealthiest banking family, La Touche was then on a year-long Grand Tour through Italy, during which he was taken to Canova’s studio by the Irish painter Hugh Douglas Hamilton. There he saw two versions of the same figure, one of which is now in Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Not long before leaving Rome and returning home, La Touche requested his own copy which was duly delivered to Dublin in the summer of 1792. It remained in the family’s possession until the last century but both artist and provenance were forgotten until the statue was rediscovered in the back garden of an English house in 1996. It was then bought by the Bank of Ireland, appropriately since John La Touche’s father David had been that institution’s first governor, and presented to the National Gallery of Ireland.
The Irish Aesthete wishes a happy Valentine’s Day to all readers.

Highly Stylised

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The point in rococo decoration where representation blurs into abstraction: a detail of the staircase decoration at 86 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. The house was begun in 1765 for Richard Chapel Whaley possibly to designs by Robert West, best known today as a stuccadore although he was also a master builder and merchant. The plasterwork in No.56 was formerly attributed to West but is now believed to have been executed by diverse unidentified craftsmen.

An Incomplete Project

Dublin print

A view from Carlisle (now O’Connell) Bridge looking south. This was one of twelve topographical images of the city executed in watercolour and pencil by Samuel Brocas and then engraved by his brother Henry between 1818 and 1829. The caption reads ‘Published July 1st, 1820, by J. Le Petit, Printseller,  20 Capel Street, and Bell and Wright, Duke Street, Bloomsbury, London.’ The print was to be part of an intended Book of Views of Ireland which never materialised, probably due to lack of sufficient support but it gives us a wonderful idea of how Dublin looked two centuries ago, and how successful had been the work of the Wide Street Commissioners. Imagine a similar view taken today, and how little of the coherence of design and intelligence of layout visible here still remains.

 

A Forgotten Craftsman

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The crisp carving of a pair of capitals on the eastern side of the porch of University Church, Dublin. The building was commissioned in 1855-56 by John Henry Newman from John Hungerford Pollen – like Newman a convert to Roman Catholicism – and occupies the former gardens of its neighbour, 87 St Stephen’s Green. The little porch was an afterthought and added a few years later, most likely as a means of giving the churcsh some presence on the square. Its most distinctive feature are the capitals, carved with the emblems of the Evangelists (those of SS. John and Luke seen above) which are then linked by an abacus decorated by winged angels. Who was the sculptor responsible for this work? Like a medieval craftsman, his name seems not to have been recorded…

Celestial Heights

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A cherub hovers on the edge of an oval frame, one hand clutching a ribbon from which in turn is suspended a basket of fruit and flowers. Part of a ceiling now in one of the rooms on south-east range of Dublin Castle it was originally created for Mespil House situated on what were then the outskirts of the city in the early 1750s. The ceiling is attributed to the stuccadore Bartholomew Cramillion, best-remembered for his work in the chapel of Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital. When Mespil House was demolished in 1951, the ceiling and two others were rescued and subsequently installed in Dublin Castle. As the further detail below demonstrates, this is one of the most glorious examples of rococo plasterwork found in the country. The Irish Aesthete wishes all readers a Happy New Year and hopes you will reach such celestial heights in 2015.

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