Over 250 years ago a small group of ambitious Irish artists came together in Dublin to establish a new society dedicated to promoting their work. Within a couple of years they had not only organised an annual exhibition but also constructed a domed octagonal chamber in which this could take place. Known as the City Assembly House, it is the oldest extant public art gallery within these islands and very likely in Europe. Restored over recent years by the Irish Georgian Society, from today the space features ‘Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland’, a recreation of how the room would have looked when used by the Society of Artists between 1765 and 1780. All the work featured is by exhibitors in those original shows and among the more familiar names are Francis Wheatley, Thomas Roberts, Jonathan Fisher, Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Robert Hunter and Samuel Dixon. Running until July 29th, the exhibition is a unique celebration of an earlier and still insufficiently appreciated era in Irish art. Admission is free.
Taking advantage in a respite of hostilities between Britain and France thanks to the Peace of Amiens, in September 1802 a Cork Quaker merchant called Cooper Penrose travelled to Paris where he sat for Jacques-Louis David. The artist had written beforehand, ‘Mr Penrose can have complete trust in me, I will paint his portrait for him for two hundred gold louis. I will represent him in a manner worthy of both of us. This picture will be a monument that will testify to Ireland the virtues of a good father and the talents of the painter who will have rendered them…’ Penrose subsequently brought the picture back to his native city where until around 1947 it hung in the family house, Woodhill (since demolished). Turning up with Wildenstein & Co. in New York in 1953, it was acquired by the Putnam Foundation and is now one of the glories of the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, California. Another emigrant destined never to return to these shores…
This site is dedicated to celebrating Ireland’s architectural heritage, but occasionally other aspects and eras of one’s life intrude: in this specific instance a time when Ireland’s fashion history was of absorbing interest. Curated by your correspondent, Ireland’s Fashion Radicals is an exhibition that explores how this country came to develop a thriving fashion industry during the 1950s and ‘60s. The earlier decade is regarded as being perhaps the worst in post-Independence Ireland yet this was the moment – when both emigration and unemployment were rampant – that a group of designers, the great majority of them women, initiated successful businesses in the field of fashion. In so doing, they also proposed a new image of Ireland as a centre of design excellence, one that was eagerly embraced and promoted overseas so that soon fashion editors and buyers flocked to Dublin as much as they did Paris or London. These pioneers deserve to be celebrated, and the Irish Aesthete is delighted to salute Ireland’s Fashion Radicals.
Ireland’s Fashion Radicals runs at the Little Museum of Dublin, 15 St Stephen’s Green until March 18th next. For those in search of architectural stimulation, the building dates from the second half of the 1770s when built for Gustavus Hume.
The Sculpture Gallery of the Municipal Art Gallery, Parnell Square, Dublin. This space, and those to the immediate north, were added 1931-33 by City Architect Horace O’Rourke to what had originally been the first Earl of Charlemont’s town residence (designed c.1763 by Sir William Chambers). This is unquestionably O’Rourke’s finest contribution to the site: a double-height room with coved ceiling leading to a central glazed section, apsed ends to east and west, and screens of paired Doric columns to north and south. Beyond lie a sequence of interconnecting galleries reached through identical doorways of polished walnut.