As a regular visitor to Powerscourt, County Wicklow surely Edmund Burke must have been inspired in his emerging concept of the sublime by the landscape in this part of the country. Certainly aspects of the Powerscourt estate would appeal to many artists, not least the waterfall – the tallest in Ireland – which was painted many times. But the setting of the house, designed in the 1730s by Richard Castle, also proved irresistible, not least to George Barret who was encouraged by Burke to look directly at nature for greater authenticity in his art. On the other hand Barret’s view of Powerscourt, dating from 1760-62 cannot be regarded as altogether authentic: he has exaggerated the height and proportions of the Sugarloaf Mountain in order to provide the work with more drama.
Category Archives: Art
Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design IV
When this walnut desk and bookcase entered the collection of Chicago’s Art Institute in 1957, it was catalogued as having been made in England c.1710, even though an article published a year before in Antique Collector had suggested an Irish provenance. However after half a century in the Institute’s collection, a pencil inscription was discovered on the bottom of the lower-right drawer bearing the words ‘John Kirkhoffer/fecit/1732’. Believed to have been born in Germany, by this date Kirkhoffer had moved to Dublin where he worked as a cabinet maker: a not-dissimilar piece attributed to him and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London is reputed to have belonged to Dean Swift. However, the discovery of the inscription makes the Chicago example at present the earliest signed and dated example of Irish furniture.
Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design III
A monteith is a large bowl usually made of silver with a scalloped rim: the bowl would be filled with ice and water, and wine glasses would be cooled and rinsed in this, their stem bases suspended in notches around the rim. Now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, this example was made in Dublin by Thomas Bolton in 1702-03 at the request of Sir Richard Cox, Lord Chancellor of Ireland at the time of William III’s death. It was one of the prerogatives of the office that the holder could keep the Great Seal of Ireland when a monarch died: Cox had his melted down and used to create the monteith seen here. It carries both his arms and those of James Butler, second Duke of Ormonde who was then Lord Lieutenant, contained in foliate cartouches on the vessel’s fluted sides. One clever detail: the scalloped top can be removed, thereby transforming the piece into a regular punch bowl.
Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design II
A portable harp produced by Dublin craftsman John Egan around 1820. Responding to a wave of interest in ancient Irish tradition encouraged by authors such as Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan (whose 1806 novel The Wild Irish Girl is essential reading) and musicologist Edward Bunting, Egan created these light gut-strung instruments with rounded sound boxes that could be easily carried and played by ladies in their drawing rooms. Often, as in this instance, they were painted green and decorated with appropriate motifs like gold shamrocks. In the Chicago exhibition, the harp rests on top of a mahogany Pembroke table made in Ireland c.1740-60.
The Irish Aesthete wishes a Happy St Patrick’s Day to all readers.
Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design I
James Caulfeild, first Earl of Charlemont as painted in Rome by Pompeo Batoni in 1753-56. Lord Charlemont is universally admired as both a great Irish patriot, and as one of Ireland’s most discerning art patrons in the 18th century. It was he who commissioned Sir William Chambers to design the exquisite Casino for his estate at Marino on the outskirts of Dublin as well as his residence in the capital, Charlemont House. Charlemont was among the group of Irish Grand Tourists who first recognised the abilities of Batoni as a potraitist and commissioned likenesses from him. Many of these pictures are now in American collections: that Joseph Henry of Straffan in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland; Ralph Howard, later 1st Viscount Wicklow in the J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; and Robert Clements, later 1st Earl of Leitrim in the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Batoni’s portrait of Lord Charlemont remained with the family until the death in 1934 of the childless third Countess. She bequeathed the portrait to her niece Olivia John, wife of the second Earl of Ypres and in turn the latter’s son, Viscount French offered it for sale at Sotheby’s in April 1957. After passing through various hands, it was bought by Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon in 1973 and a year later entered the collection of the Yale Center for British Art.
Greetings from Chicago
As some readers are no doubt aware, in the coming days the exhibition ‘Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840’ opens at Chicago’s Art Institute. Featuring more than 300 items including painting, sculpture, and furniture as well as bookbinding, ceramics, glass, metalwork, musical instruments and textiles, the show is a celebration of the country’s cultural achievements during what has come to be known as the long eighteenth century. An exhibition of this kind has never been held anywhere before and all the items are on loan from private and public American collections: a reflection of how much of Ireland’s heritage has been lost to its country of origin. Over the next week the Irish Aesthete will be posting every day from Chicago and featuring a succession of the exhibits. To begin, here is how the show itself starts: a wall covered with one of James Fennell’s marvellous panoramic photographs offering a view of County Wicklow from the steps of Russborough.
Emigration Once Again
The Ceremonial Mace of Athy, County Kildare made in Dublin by John Wilme in 1746. This splendid example of mid-18th century Irish silversmithery was presented to the town in the year of its production by James FitzGerald, twentieth Earl of Kildare (and later first Duke of Leinster). It remained in the town until c.1840 when reform of municipal government caused the abolition of the local borough. The mace eventually returned to the Leinsters before being auctioned by Sotheby’s in March 1982 after which it crossed the Atlantic. Today it is part of what is considered the finest collection of antique Irish silver in the world, in the San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas.
You can read more about this and many other Irish treasures now in the American collections in an article I have written for the March issue of Apollo magazine.
A Swift Connection
A crimson morocco case holding five George II steel forks due to be sold next Wednesday 25th February by Fonsie Mealy in Castlecomer, County Kilkenny. The forks have stained ivory handles, each bearing the same initials and crest as those of Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin from 1713 until his death in 1745. Might these therefore have belonged to him, and was it perhaps during his lifetime that the prongs of the left-most fork were first filed down, presumably because one of them broke or was bent? Before passing to the vendor’s family the set belonged to the 19th century archaeologist and antiquarian John Ribton Garstin, one-time President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. It is expected to make €2,000- €3,000.
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.
The Colossus of Castlemartyr
As painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1759, this handsome gentleman is Richard Boyle, second Earl of Shannon whose Dublin residence has featured here before (see From Townhouse to Tenement – and Back, September 16th). A direct descendant of Richard Boyle, the great Earl of Cork, Lord Shannon owed his own title to his father, Henry Boyle who served as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons for almost quarter of a century before accepting a peerage. His son was less politically astute but still managed to acquire a large number of rotten boroughs, allowing him to control election to parliament and thus to become known as the ‘Colossus of Castlemartyr’ (this being the name of his country seat in County Cork). Strangely Lord Shannon voted in favour of the 1800 Act of Union, even though it meant a loss of power for himself. On the other hand, he held onto the title of First Lord of the Irish Treasury, only relinquishing the position in 1804 in return for an annual pension of £3,000; he would die just three years later. His great-grandson sold this picture through Christie’s in June 1889 when it fetched 215 guineas. The work then passed through a number of different hands before coming up at Christie’s again last July when it went for £73,875. The photograph here was taken earlier this month at an art fair in Dallas, Texas: the Colossus of Castlemartyr has travelled…