Making a Show of Itself


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.


For more information on Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland and the programme of complementary events associated with it, see: http://www.igs.ie/events

A Master Carver


The glorious interiors of Glasnevin House, Dublin have been shown here before (see Misjudging a Book by its Cover, December 22nd 2014) with the focus o the building’s plasterwork. Since then the former entrance hall has been restored and now looks as splendid as the other ground floor rooms. Among the space’s outstanding features now properly revealed is a substantial chimneypiece. Dating from c.1760 it looks to be of stained pine and since the overdoors in other areas of the house are attributed to Dublin master carver John Kelly (in Irish Furniture, the Knight of Glin and James Peill, 2007), it seems reasonable to assume this work also came from his hand.

The Glory of the House


In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), Samuel Lewis wrote that the ‘noble mansion’ at Newbridge, County Dublin was said to hold ‘several valuable paintings by the old masters, which were collected on the continent by the Rev M. Pilkington, author of the Dictionary of Painters, who was vicar of this parish; the drawing room contains several of the paintings described by him.’ The cleric mentioned here was Matthew Pilkington, born in King’s County (now Offaly) in 1701 and ordained a deacon in the Church of Ireland twenty-two years later. His was likely not a very profound vocation, but a position in the established church offered career advantages of which he intended to take advantage. Initially all went well. In 1725 he married the well-connected Laetitia van Lewen, as diminutive – but also as witty – as her husband, and the couple became friends with the likes of Jonathan Swift and Patrick Delany. Through the former Pilkington secured the position of Chaplain to the London Mayor of London and so moved to the other side of the Irish Sea. However in London he antagonized potential supporters and was imprisoned two years later. On returning to Dublin, he then became estranged from his wife and the couple was eventually and scandalously divorced in 1737: just over a decade later Laetitia Pilkington published her entertaining memoirs, from which her former husband emerges in a poor light. Ultimately he recovered his social position thanks to the patronage of Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin who offered Pilkington the living of Donabate and Portraine next to Cobbe’s newly completed seat at Newbridge. As mentioned by Lewis, it is believed that Pilkington travelled to mainland Europe to buy paintings for the house and that this in turn would have informed the work by which he is remembered: The Gentleman’s and Connoisseur’s Dictionary of Painters, the first such book published in English. It appeared in 1770, four years before the author’s death.




The greater part of Newbridge was built between 1747 and 1752 to the designs of Scottish-born architect James Gibbs, his only known work in Ireland. The following decade a large drawing room was added to the rear of the house. In 1755 Archbishop Cobbe’s son and heir Thomas married Lady Elizabeth Beresford, youngest daughter of the first Earl of Tyrone, and sister of the first Marquess of Waterford, and space was needed for the young couple and the art collection being assembled for the family by Matthew Pilkington. The architect on this occasion was a local man, George Semple who had already overseen the erection of Newbridge. Semple initially proposed adding a pair of wings to the south-facing façade but in the end the decision was taken to construct a single large drawing room/picture gallery to the rear of the house, taking the space previously occupied by a pair of small offices. As has been noted by Julius Bryant, to preserve homogeneity of style within the building Semple used Gibbs’ 1728 Book of Architecture as a source for the design of doorcases and chimney pieces, the former immediately apparent at the entrance to the room from the adjacent antechamber. Running some 45 feet in length, the space has a ceiling featuring ‘a sea of scrolling leaves and floral garlands encircled by dragons and birds fighting over baskets of fruit.’ This work is believed to have been undertaken by stuccodore Richard Williams, a pupil of Robert West: the Newbridge accounts for this period include seven payments to ‘Williams ye stucco man.’




A drawing of the Newbridge drawing room dated c.1840 and attributed to Frances Cobbe shows the room as it looked following a refurbishment of the space two decades earlier. In 1821 payments for furniture were made to Woods & Son, and to Mack, Williams & Gibton of Dublin, who were also paid for curtains in 1828. The carpet, by Beck & Co. of Bath was supplied in March 1823 for £64 and 18 shillings, while the crimson flock wallpaper and matching border came from the Dublin firm of Patrick Boylan. The present arrangement of paintings, the greater part of them collected during the previous century by Archbishop Cobbe and his son and daughter-in-law, dates from the same period. Towards the end of the 19th century, Frances Cobbe called the drawing room ‘the glory of the house. In it the happiest hours of my life were passed.’ She remembered the room as assembled by her parents. Some of the collection had been sold in Dublin in 1812, and in 1839 two key paintings, by Hobbema and Dughet, were sold to pay to fund the construction of some 80 estate workers’ cottages. In November of that year, then owner Charles Cobbe (father of Frances) wrote in his diary, ‘I have filled up the vacancies on my walls occasioned by the loss of the two pictures which have been sold, and I felt some satisfaction in thinking that my room (by the new arrangement) looks even more furnished than before.’ Such is still the case today. In 1985 Newbridge passed into the hands of the local authority, now Fingal County Council, which has been responsible for house and estate ever since. However, Alec Cobbe artist, designer and musical instrument collector, who grew up in the house continues to be devoted to the building. He has valiantly undertaken successive projects to preserve and conserve the interiors, not least the drawing room. As a result today, as noted by Bryant, this gorgeous space today ‘provides a rate opportunity to study an Irish collection in its historic context.’

All That’s Left


A temple in what was once part of the demesne at Santry Court, County Dublin. The main house here was built c.1703 for Henry, third Lord Barry of Santry, scion of the ancient Cork family, who laid out classical gardens around the building. The latter, of red brick with stone facings and with an entrance approached via a long flight of steps, was extended by the addition of wings on either side probably undertaken by the fourth and last Lord Barry of Santry. He is better remembered today for killing a manservant, Laughlin Murphy, while drunk in September 1738. Subsequently tried by his peers and found guilty of murder, he escaped execution thanks to a royal pardon granted in 1740 and moved to England where he died eleven years later. Having no direct male heirs (although his unfortunate widow lived on until 1816), his Santry estate passed to cousins, the Domvilles who remained in possession of the property until the last century. It subsequently came into ownership of the Irish state but suffered from neglect and was gutted by fire in 1947, the ruins regrettably being demolished in the late 1950s: a short film on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw7Nb9tKcFI) shows a family visiting the shell of the house. While the greater part of the demesne is now covered in housing, a little over 70 acres of the old demesne still survives as a public park.

For the Day That’s In It


A hipster St Patrick, as portrayed to one side of the east door at the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle. The carving throughout this building was undertaken in the opening years of the 19th century by sculptor Edward Smyth working in conjunction with his son John (who took over all the work following Edward’s death in 1812). Note how the back of St Patrick’s mitre neatly elides into the arch behind him. Engaged in a face-off on the other side of the door – and likewise looking as though on a break from his real job as a barista – is Brian Boru, High King of Ireland before his death at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.


The Irish Aesthete sends St Patrick’s Day greetings to all friends and followers.

The Lyricism of Love


In ancient Greek mythology, Erato was the Muse of Lyric or Love Poetry, her name often proposed as deriving from Eros, the God of Sexual Attraction. Here they both are on a wall panel in the ground floor Apollo Room of 85 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin which was decorated by the Ticinese sibling stuccodores Paolo and Filippo Lafranchini in the late 1730s/early 1740s. Like her eight sisters within the same space, the inspiration for Erato’s appearance came from an engraving by Domenico de’ Rossi published in Paolo Alessandro Maffei’s Raccolta di statue antiche e moderne (Rome, 1704). These in turn represented statues formerly in the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden. The Lafranchinis’ version follows de’ Rossi quite closely, although Eros looks to have what might be described as an old head on young shoulders: perhaps that is the consequence of his knowing too much about love.
The Irish Aesthete wishes all friends and followers a Happy St Valentine’s Day.

The Surviving Twin


Around 1720 Algernon Coote, sixth Earl of Mountrath agreed to take a lease on a house due to be built at 30 Old Burlington Street, London. Erected over the next few years this property was designed by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington (and also fourth Earl of Cork), together with his protégé the Scottish architect Colen Campbell. In the event, Lord Mountrath never occupied the building, which was demolished in 1935. However, what might be described as its twin can be found in Dublin, at 9 Henrietta Street, which dates from c.1731.
Why this similarity of design between the two houses (especially since images of 30 Old Burlington Street were neither engraved nor published)? The original owner of 9 Henrietta Street was one Thomas Carter, an ambitious politician who would serve as Master of the Rolls in Ireland and Secretary of State for Ireland. Known for his opposition to English government interference in the affairs of Ireland, Carter’s great ally in the Dublin parliament was Henry Boyle, future first Earl of Shannon and a cousin of Lord Burlington (whose Irish affairs he managed). Furthermore in 1719 Carter married Mary Claxton, first cousin of Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, to whom the design of 9 Henrietta Street is attributed (in turn, Pearce’s uncle was Thomas Coote of Cootehill, a cousin of Lord Mountrath). It will also be remembered that Pearce was the architect who designed the new parliament building in Dublin. Family connections were as helpful in 18th century Ireland as they are today.





Aside from certain details, 9 Henrietta Street follows the design of the Old Burlington Street house both inside and out. The exterior is of five bays and three storeys over basement, of brick other than rusticated rendering on the ground floor (unlike the London property which was all faced in brick). The entrance is through a doorcase with blocked Ionic columns rising to a pediment centred on a massive keystone. Directly above, as with London, is an arched window, flanked by Ionic pilasters.
Likewise internally the plan differs little from the London house, notably in the entrance hall which is the finest extant on Henrietta Street (so many of the other staircases were pulled out when buildings were converted into tenements). On entering the property, one sees a screen of Corinthian columns (of marbleized timber) to the right of which is the double-height staircase, taking up a quarter of the entire space. Beneath an elaborate wrought-iron balustrade with mahogany handrail, cantilevered Portland stone stairs climb around three walls to reach the first floor. The walls retain their original plasterwork panelling, beneath a compartmentalised and coffered ceiling. Thanks to its scale and quality of finish, this is one of the most dramatic 18th century interiors in Dublin.
9 Henrietta Street’s other important room is to the rear of the ground floor, which, like the entrance/staircase hall has been little altered (although in line with changing fashion the windows here were lowered c.1800). Once more the walls are plaster panelled and the ceiling compartmentalised. The chimneypiece, of painted wood and marble, features a lion’s head with foliate garlands to either side; above is an aedicule with Corinthian pilasters and a gilded eagle occupying the pediment. The main doorcase, leading to the room in front, is likewise pedimented and flanked by Corinthian columns.




Unlike many other houses on Henrietta Street, No.9 had a relatively benign history over the past three centuries, which explains why its appearance has changed so little. Following Thomas Carter’s death in 1763, his two sons lived in the building, after which it was occupied by John, first Viscount O’Neill who was killed by rebel forces during the Battle of Antrim in June 1798. For some four decades in the first half of the 19th century, the house was residence to Arthur Moore, a former member of the Irish parliament (and opponent of the Act of Union), later Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Ireland. Following his death it was used as the Queens Inns Barristers’ Chambers. At the start of the last century the building was acquired by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul who also owned the neighbouring 10 Henrietta Street (see Shedding Light on a Subject, March 20th 2017). It remains in their care to the present time. 9 Henrietta Street was restored some twenty years ago by Paul Arnold Architects and is now used as a resource and education centre for the local community.