A Room Reborn

Over the past few decades, visitors to Russborough, County Wicklow have become familiar with the house’s drawing room being painted with honey-toned walls and plasterwork picked out in white. However, research in recent years has shown that this scheme only dates from the mid-20th century and that before then the room was decorated in an altogether more florid manner. Surviving photographs from the 19th century, as well as paint analysis, reveals that originally, while the walls were coloured a soft white, their stuccowork was part-gilded and part-coppered, in a fashion unlike anything else found in Ireland or Britain. Commissioned by Joseph Leeson, first Earl of Milltown and designed by Richard Castle, the leading country house architect of the period, Russborough dates from the mid-18th century and many of its contents were collected by Leeson while he undertook two Grand Tours, both including time spent in Rome. There he encountered French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet and from him commissioned a series of eight landscape paintings to hang in the drawing room. These were gradually dispersed so that by the time Sir Alfred Beit bought the property, none remained. In 1968, he bought back four oval pictures and reinstated them in the empty stucco cartouches. More recently, four other landscape paintings, either by Vernet or his pupil Charles Francois Grenier de Lacroix (also known as Vernet Lacroix) were acquired by the Apollo Foundation and lent to Russborough, so that the drawing room, as known to Joseph Leeson, could be recreated. Following many months of work, it opened to the public earlier this week and is a revelation of 18th century decorative taste in Ireland.

8 comments on “A Room Reborn

  1. Dorothy says:

    Well… revelation is an understatement. I am aghast. Something is seriously out of balance here. The furniture is totally at odds. It looks lost. And was the fireplace that color originally? This room is an embarrassment.

  2. Andrew McCarthy says:

    Fascinating! It reminds me a lot of 18th century saloons in what are now Germany and Austria, where silver ornament was not infrequently used as a decorative technique on the walls, rather than the gilding that is so ubiquitous in English and French work.

  3. Máire Ní Rois says:

    Great news Maith Sibh

  4. jbc625@msn.com says:


  5. Stephen Barker says:

    I look forward to seeing this. Certainly eye catching.

  6. Tim Guilbride says:

    Like Dorothy, I find the balance of the room disturbing, and unconvincing. Georgian ‘soft white’ was a great deal deeper and more coloured than our modern perception of that term, and certainly the furniture is just too weak to balance the wall decoration. Something more like Kent’s furniture for Houghton needs to be rustled up from an attic somewhere, if the room is to represent the original concept faithfully.

  7. Ciaran Cassidy says:

    In a previous existence I was employed by George Peter’s Interiors , (late of Stephen’s Green and Dawson St.) .I recall being served coffee in this room by Lady Clementine and discussing the decoration of the room . She was speculating that one day she would love to have the gilding restored on the plasterwork but was concerned it might look “too gauch, too much ”. Where her concerns justified …..I look forward to a return to Russborough in the Autumn to judge for myself .

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