A Spouse’s Souvenir


Dating from c.1816 this watercolour is deemed to be J.M.W Turner’s only Irish view and shows Clontarf Castle, County Dublin. The picture was painted for one of the artist’s closest friends, Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, Yorkshire who owned a large collection of Turner’s work. The watercolour is of particular interest because Turner never visited Ireland and therefore must have been working from an image of Clontarf Castle produced by someone else; the connection is that Fawkes’ second wife Maria Sophia Vernon – who he married precisely around the time this watercolour was produced – had grown up at Clontarf Castle, so presumably it was intended to act as a souvenir of her childhood home. Twenty years later the building, originally constructed in the 12th century by the Knights Templar and acquired by the Vernons in the second half of the 17th century, was very extensively remodelled by William Vitruvius Morrison at the request of Maria Sophia’s nephew, John Edward Venables Vernon. Thus the picture also serves as a guide to what the house looked like in its earlier incarnation. Today Clontarf is a suburb of Dublin and the castle, greatly enlarged, an hotel. It is possible to gain a sense of what the building and surrounding lands were like a century ago by reading ‘A Georgian Boyhood’ the third part of Cyril Connolly’s wonderful Enemies of Promise published in 1938. His mother was a Vernon and he therefore spent holidays as a child in the house. Estimated to fetch €20,000-€40,000, the watercolour is due to be auctioned next Monday by Adam’s as part of its country house sale at Slane Castle, County Meath (see: http://www.adams.ie).
Update: the Turner watercolour of Clontarf Castle sold for €65,000.

3 comments on “A Spouse’s Souvenir

  1. Jane O Keeffe says:

    The book “Voices from the Great Houses of Cork and Kerry” written by Jane O’Keeffe of Irish Life and Lore http://www.irishlifeandlore.com, and published by Mercier Press in April 2013, has a chapter about Clontarf Castle and Muxnaw Lodge in Kenmare, the former homes of Desmond Oulton, grandson of Edith Vernon and Walter Calverley. Following the death of his father, John George Oulton, Desmond Oulton sold the castle to satisfy death duties,
    in 1957.

  2. Had no idea Turner painted an Irish view – great post, thanks! 😀

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