Step Inside

Doneraile Court, County Cork by Andrea Jameson

Larchill, County Kildare by Alison Rosse 

Tomorrow, Thursday 23rd September, sees the opening of an exhibition in Dublin curated by the Irish Aesthete. Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens features specially commissioned paintings by four artists on this theme, the quartet being Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse. All of them are lifelong gardeners and they bring horticultural understanding to the subject, as well as their inherent artistic skills. Garden historian Terence Reeves-Smith has estimated that there are some 8,000 walled gardens on the island of Ireland, in varying states of repair and use. Many have been lost altogether – one can see their crumbling walls in fields around the countryside – but others still serve their original purpose and some have been brought back to life in recent years. The exhibition includes examples of walled gardens in all conditions and sizes, and gives an understanding of how important these sites were – and are – for producing fruit and vegetables across many centuries. But the pictures also show how different artists can respond to the same theme and, in a few instances, to the same gardens, demonstrating how each of us approach a place with our own interpretation of its appearance. 

Enniscoe, County Mayo by Maria Levinge 

Burtown, County Kildare by Lesley Fennell

Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens takes place at the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 and opens to the public on Friday 24th September, running for two months.
For more information, please visit www.igs.i

Gone but not Forgotten


‘Few cities can boast more extensive conveniences, more eminent beauties, than Dublin… To convey to the curious inquirer adequate ideas of those objects; to diffuse information of a Capital so long undesertly unnoticed, and to give it that place in estimation with regard to others it merits, this work was undertaken.’
From the Preface to A Picturesque and Descriptive view of the City of Dublin.
Published in 1799 as a bound volume with accompanying text, James Malton’s images of Ireland’s capital in the years immediately preceding the Act of Union are justly renowned, not least because so many of the buildings he chose to illustrate still remain, little changed. However, two of the plates are important for offering us views of since-lost properties.
Seen above, the Hibernian Marine Society’s School for the Children of Decayed Seamen) was built between 1770-73 on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and is thought to have been designed by Thomas Ivory. Run by a charity, the building served as a place of education for boys whose fathers had either lost their lives at sea, or had become impoverished during their service in the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. Accommodating some 160 students and the relevant staff, the school comprised a large three-storey central block flanked by wings, one holding a chapel, the other a dining hall. After being badly damaged by fire in 1872, the building became a warehouse but was demolished in 1979.
The Tholsel, which originated in the Middle Ages, served a diverse range of purposes in the city: meeting place for elected officials, guildhall, court and gaol. In its final incarnation, situated on Skinner’s Row (now a small park opposite Christ Church Cathedral), the building dated from the early 1680s. However, during the course of the 18th century, many of its functions were assumed by other, more modern places like the Four Courts and the Royal Exchange (now City Hall). By the time it was illustrated by Malton, the Tholsel’s days were numbered and it was demolished in 1809.
Both these prints are among those included in an exhibition, Malton’s Dublin, which runs until November 12th at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square.

A (Vice)Regal Position


Caroline, Countess of Buckinghamshire, Thomas Gainsborough

Towards the close of Annabel Davis-Goff’s rather marvelous 2003 novel, The Fox’s Walk, set in Ireland in 1916, a British army officer invites a couple of women to take a drive with him in his open-topped motorcar. ‘“You,” Captain Blaine said to Mrs. Coughlan, “will sit here” – he indicated the back seat – “like the Vicereine”.’ Within a few years, such a simile would become redundant, since in this country the role of vicereine ceased to exist but for at least two and half centuries previously, the title had been employed to describe a succession of women who, to varying degrees, had left a mark on Ireland. 


Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton as a Shepherdess, James Maubert


Mary, Duchess of Rutland, Robert Smirke


Theresa, Marchioness of Londonderry, John Singer Sargent


Alice, Viscountess Wimborne, Sir John Lavery

Until the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, and the appointment a year later of the first Duke of Ormond as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the crown was only intermittently represented in this country. And even for a century thereafter, the holders of the office might only spend short times in Ireland. Under those circumstances, the presence of their wives here could not be assured. It was only in 1767 that permanent residency was made obligatory for anyone appointed Lord Lieutenant, and spouses were thereafter more than likely to accompany them. Throughout much of this period, Lords Lieutenant were almost invariably English: there was no Irishman in the position between the appointment of the Duke of Tyrconnell (1687) and that of the fourth Earl of Bessborough (1846). Thus their wives were also non-native. Likewise, after the time of the Duke of Tyrconnell, no Roman Catholic held the viceregal office until the last man to do so: Lord FitzAlan of Derwent (April 1921-December 1922). In 1825 there had been a considerable disquiet in Dublin official circles when the then-Lord Lieutenant, Richard, Marquess Wellesley, had married the beautiful American widow Marianne Paterson (née Caton) who was Roman Catholic. As representatives of the British government both Lords Lieutenant and their spouses were required to be conservative (even if they were members of the Liberal party) and certainly not to espouse any radical causes. Inevitably, this hampered even the most intrepid of vicereines and confined their activities to those assured to cause least offence (although, even in the days before Twitter, there were always some observers of the viceregal court who relished taking umbrage at even the most innocuous behaviour). 


Louisa, Duchess of Abercorn, Sir Edwin Landseer


Henrietta, Countess de Grey, Sir Thomas Lawrence


Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, Unknown artist


Maria, Marchioness of Normanby, Sir George Hayter

Just like royal consorts, vicereines were expected to take their cue from their husbands. As the late R.B. McDowell wrote, ‘the vicereine was often an energetic and influential patroness of good causes in her own right’ but some were more active than others. During her husband’s second term (1905-15), the Countess of Aberdeen, for example, was an ardent promoter of Irish crafts (also of Home Rule, for which she was much criticised). She also campaigned indefatigably for the eradication of Tuberculosis in Ireland. Not everyone appreciated her efforts: in 1914 Arthur Griffith wrote that it was Lady Aberdeen rather than ‘the babbling creature who wears the title’ who was the real Lord Lieutenant. However, more usually it tended to be in more genteel areas such as the encouragement of indigenous decorative arts and fashion that vicereines found an outlet for their energy. They could always guarantee personal popularity by ‘dressing Irish’. So, in May 1779 the Countess of Buckinghamshire (who had been born a Conolly of Castletown), announced her intention of dressing exclusively in Irish fabrics at a charity ball. Four years later, her successor Mary, Marchioness of Buckinghamshire requested that guests attending a ball in Dublin Castle would dress solely in Irish fabrics. At the start of the 19th century, The Countess of Hardwicke ordered a quantity of patterned calico from a Mr Clarke of Palmerston to use as wall covering in the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin’s Phoenix Park: some thirty years later, she published a book The Court of Oberon with engravings by Irish artist John Samuel Templeton, to raise funds for the poor and distressed of this country.  In 1880 Queen Victoria presented the Duchess of Marlborough with an award to acknowledge the latter’s work in creating a fund to alleviate ‘extreme misery and suffering among the poor.’ Charity work of one kind or another was perhaps the most consistent characteristic of successive vicereines, although some engaged more actively than others: in 1704 for instance, the second Duchess of Ormond was responsible for establishing the first workhouse in Dublin (on the site of the present St James’s Hospital). The challenge for them was to make an impact – and ideally a difference – without overshadowing the authority of their spouses. Regardless of gender, anybody married to someone in a position of power will testify that remains a difficult task.


Vicereines of Ireland: Portraits of Forgotten Women is an exhibition continuing at Dublin Castle until September 5th . The show has been curated by Myles Campbell, who also wrote the excellent accompanying catalogue. 

Shimmering in the Light


Previous posts here have touched upon the marriage of Cecil Baring to Maude Lorillard in 1902 and their purchase of Lambay Island, Dublin two years later. Here they commissioned Edwin Lutyens to restore and extend existing structures as well as design several new ones, leading to the creation of one of the most spectacular architectural mise-en-scènes in Ireland. In 1916 Maude Baring was painted by then-fashionable but now insufficiently appreciated portraitist Ambrose McEvoy, and this picture, now owned by Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, is currently included in an exhibition devoted to the artist at Philip Mould & Company in London. Later the sitter’s daughter Daphne recalled how ‘My mother stood in the small studio in a shimmering embroidered dress, lit partly by the skylight and partly by an electric light bulb placed somewhere near the floor…’ Happily the metallic gauze and silk bodice worn by Maude Baring for her portrait survives, and is also on display in the same show.


For more information on the Ambrose McEvoy exhibition (running until January 24th 2020), see https://philipmould.com

Theory and Practice



One of James Gandon’s designs for the façade of Emo Court, County Laois. In the 1780s the architect was employed by enlightened patron John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington to come up with plans for a new house on his country estate. This is one of Gandon’s proposals, and interesting to compare with Emo Court as eventually built. The process was devilled with setbacks, beginning with the Lord Portarlington’s unexpected death in 1798, by which time only the shell of the house had been constructed. It took more than sixty years, and the involvement of a number of other architects, before work on the building was finally completed. As a result and reflecting changes in taste, various alterations, external and internal, were made to the original scheme. Many of Gandon’s original drawings, plus those of his successors, are currently on display in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin. Below is one of the Gandon proposals for the garden front, and a photograph of the same prospect today.


Designs for Gentlemen and Tradesmen


An illustration of a proposed ‘Gothick Temple’ in Batty Langley’s Gothic Architecture Improved by Rules and Proportions in many Grand Designs first published in London in 1742. The long-term influence of this work can be seen in the garden front of a lodge at Castletown, County Kildare which, having been built in 1772 was embellished with a semi-polygonal Gothic façade, built in finely cut deep grey limestone, its design derived from Batty Langley’s book. This volume is one of a number currently on display at the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin featuring items from the Rowan Collection of historic architectural volumes recently deposited with that institution. While relatively few such books were printed in Ireland during the 18th and 19th century, copies of important texts would have been found in the libraries of architects and their clients, and the Rowan Collection can be taken as representative of such a resource. Another volume in the same exhibition is Thomas Rawlins’ Familiar Architecture; consisting of Original Designs for Gentlemen and Tradesmen, Parsonages and Summer-Retreats (1768). It includes the design below for a simple country residence which, although of relatively modest proportions manages to incorporate plenty of rooms. Such houses were built in abundance throughout Ireland in the later Georgian period.

 

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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