Another Lost Treasure


Mention was made here last week to Edward Synge, one-time Bishop of Elphin. His immediate predecessor in that diocese was Robert Howard whose eldest son Ralph in the early 1750s made the customary Grand Tour to Italy. While wintering in Rome in 1750-51 the younger Howard (who in due course became Baron Clonmore and then Viscount Wicklow) had his portrait painted by the city’s most fashionable artist Pompeo Batoni. The picture was brought back to Ireland and hung in the Howard’s seat, Shelton Abbey where its presence is recorded in an inventory of the house’s contents conducted by Bennett’s in July 1914: at that date the work was valued at £210.


Sadly Ralph Howard’s descendant, the eighth Earl of Wicklow was unable to maintain Shelton Abbey and accordingly in October 1950 a great sale of the house’s contents was held, an event so substantial that it lasted almost a fortnight. Among the lots was number 1740, the Batoni portrait, although by then its sitter seems to have been forgotten, since he is simply listed as a ‘gentleman in crimson with fur-edged coat.’ In addition, the work’s value had significantly decreased since 1914, as it only fetched £90. Today it hangs in the J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

I shall be discussing the Shelton Abbey sale, and several others, next Thursday at 7pm in Lismore Castle, County Waterford during the course of a talk called ‘Art in Historic Irish Houses: Its Collection and Dispersal.’ For further information, see:


2 comments on “Another Lost Treasure

  1. cuffesboro says:

    Another painting somewhere in America is a portrait of Patrick Colclough of Duffry (1636 -1690), a member of Charles II’s bodyguard, in the uniform of a Cavalier painted in 1657 (one would like to think by Franz Hals) and given to him by Queen Henrietta Maria. It hung above the fireplace in the front hall at Duffry till it was sold in 1809 and was re-sold (from the Bulmer Collection) on December 1, 1962 at Christies for £200 to a dealer in Essex, who sold it to a passing American tourist.

    Many objects never made it to the Shelton sale. Lord Wicklow ran Shelton as a B&B before finally moving on, and when guests were checking out the butler would urgently whisper to his lordship that various objects seemed to have disappeared from the guests’ bedrooms. His lordship would wave him away – too embarassing!

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