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

Recalling the Radicals

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.

Truly Majestic


An overmantel in oak and pine attributed to the Dublin carver John Houghton and dated 1750/51: it appears he was paid £12 for his work. The piece was originally made to sit above the chimneypiece in the great Presence Chamber, one of a suite of State Apartments created in Dublin Castle around this time. The Presence Chamber was destroyed in a fire which broke out in the building in January 1941 and is now known only from photographs: the overmantel survived because at some date in the late 19th/early 20th century it had been moved to another location. The carving depicts Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius accepting homage from a group of Parthians following the conquest of their country in A.D.166. It is clearly intended to be an allegory for the government of Ireland by William Stanhope, first Earl of Harrington who had been appointed Lord Lieutenant in 1746. Following the initiative of his predecessor (and cousin), Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield, Harrington continued the job of overhauling the old state rooms in the castle, in 1749 requesting from the Lords of the Treasury the substantial sum of £6,991.13.6 for this purpose. Both the overmantle and the portrait of Harrington (below) by James Worsdale are included in a fascinating exhibition Making Majesty currently at Dublin Castle. It is accompanied by an extremely informative (and readable) catalogue of the same name, edited by the show’s organizers Myles Campbell and William Derham.

Studying the Classics

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Often overlooked by visitors to Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery is the institution’s remarkable collection of classical sculpture casts. Derived from those in the Vatican, the casts were made on the instructions of Pope Pius VII and under the supervision of Antonio Canova. They were originally presented to Britain’s Prince Regent (the future George IV) but he having no desire for them, the casts languished until William Hare, Lord Ennismore (later first Earl of Listowel), then President of the Cork Society of Arts persuaded the Prince to have the collection shipped to Ireland where they duly arrived in 1818. Initially displayed inside a converted theatre on Patrick Street, the casts subsequently passed into the care of the Cork School of Art and thus came to reside in what is now the Crawford Gallery. Above, the Belvedere Torso can be seen through the form of the Lancellotti Discobolus. The latter also figures below, sighted beyond the Borghese Gladiator and the Apollo Belvedere.

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Lost and Found

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Like many words in the English language, ‘lost’ is open to diverse use. It can, for example, mean missing or misplaced but just as often is employed to denote something that has vanished, perished or been destroyed. Such is the case with an engrossing – albeit chastening – book recently published, Lost Ireland: 1860-1960. Author William Derham has trawled through thousands of photographs to select 500 images of buildings throughout the island, the majority of which have entirely disappeared or else been so altered/mutilated that they no longer bear any semblance to their original state.

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In a thoughtful introductory essay, Derham provides an historical context for why so many older buildings in Ireland should come to have been lost and laments the disappearance of certain building types such as the early unfortified house represented by Eyrecourt, County Galway: dating from the second half of the 17th century and still intact less than 100 years ago, it is now a roofless shell. Likewise Ireland has no examples of the ‘cagework’ urban house in which the frame would be of wood and the spaces between filled with wattle and daub. The last of these to survive, in Dublin on the corner of Castle and Werburgh Streets, was demolished as long ago as 1812. Likewise the once-widespread brick gabled townhouses known as Dutch Billies are now almost extinct, or else subsumed into later buildings.

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Some losses – notably among the ranks of the Irish country house – are already well-known, but even here Derham finds examples likely to be unfamiliar to most readers, and explains the shameful role played in the erosion of their number by that state body the Land Commission. However he covers many other areas of depletion and, frankly, dissipation, such as the damage inflicted on Roman Catholic churches and cathedrals in the aftermath of the second Vatican Council. Using the excuse of a new liturgy, members of the Irish clergy stripped interiors of the buildings for which they were responsible: one of the most egregious examples being the gutting of Pugin’s Killarney Cathedral at the instigation of then-bishop Eamon Casey. Tellingly their clerical equivalents in other countries did not feel impelled to engage in similar acts of vandalism. But valuable secular buildings were also squandered for no good reason, such as the demolition in 1964 of a fine mid-18th century market house in Mountrath, County Laois – supposedly because a public lavatory was needed (although this was never built). As much as an exhortation to protect what remains as a requiem to what has gone, this is a beautifully produced book and allows us to find again, if only in photographic form, what has been lost. Do acquire a copy while you can as it is certain to sell out.

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Lost Ireland: 1860-1960 by William Derham is published by Hyde Park Editions, price £39.95/€49.95. The photographs above were taken at a recent exhibition in Dublin Castle to coincide with the launch of the book. They show (from top), Roxborough Castle, County Tyrone (burnt 1922), Longford Castle, Longford (demolished 1972), Woodstock, County Kilkenny (burnt 1922) and Ballynastragh, County Wexford (burnt 1923). The exhibition has now ended but deserves to travel to other venues around the country in coming months; why not encourage your local arts centre/library to borrow it?

The Regency Buck

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Born in 1786 at Elm Hall, County Tipperary, John Burke moved to London where he became engaged in genealogical studies. In 1826 he issued his Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom the first such work in which entries were arranged alphabetically, and both peers and baronets were included. Initially continued by his descendants before passing into other hands, the abiding popularity of ‘Burke’s Peerage’ has led to its regular appearance ever since. In 1819 Burke met another displaced Irishman, the artist Adam Buck who that year exhibited a watercolour portrait of his new friend’s wife at the Royal Academy. Further images of the family followed (some seen below) not least the picture above: dating from 1833 it depicts John Burke and his son, the future Sir John Bernard Burke. These works are included in an exhibition devoted to Buck currently running at the Crawford Gallery, Cork (the artist’s native city). As one of the most prolific and successful miniaturists and portraitists of the early 19th century, Buck saw his work widely reproduced as prints or on porcelain. However even before his death in 1833 (the same year as the Burke double-portrait) he had begun to fall out of fashion and for a long time thereafter was little regarded. This exhibition helps to re-establish him as one of Ireland’s finest artists of the period and merits a visit to Cork.

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Adam Buck (1759-1833): A Regency Artist from Cork runs at the Crawford Gallery until April 9th next.


Images of the Old Days

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George Petrie (1790-1866) is today best recalled as one of the 19th century’s most notable antiquaries and archaeologists but he was also a fine artist, who n 1857 became President of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Many of his pictures provided the basis for engravings used to illustrate the period’s guidebooks and travelogues, and while he drew and painted views of the country’s ancient monuments he also produced a series of watercolours showing the Dublin of his day. To mark the 150th anniversary of Petrie’s death, the Royal Irish Academy (here he served as Vice President and which holds much of his archive) is currently exhibiting some of these pictures such as the view of Christ Church Cathedral above, which shows the building prior to its comprehensive restoration in the 1870s. Similarly the image below captures City Hall in its original incarnation as the Royal Exchange, and with a row of buildings to the immediate east which have long since been demolished. A fascinating show and well worth visiting in its final days.

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Views of Dublin: Original Watercolours by George Petrie, MRIA runs at the Royal Irish Academy, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin until next Monday, February 15th. Pictures reproduced by permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA.