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.

Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design VII

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The neo-classical painter Robert Fagan was born in London and spent the greater part of his career in Italy. But he never forgot his Irish heritage and in 1801 painted this picture, Portrait of a Lady as Hibernia. The work has often been considered a response to the previous year’s Act of Union, the effect on Ireland suggested by the harp’s broken strings. And the painting is replete with other references to the old country, not least the wolfhound, the pages of text headed by the words ‘Erin go bragh’ (Ireland forever), the thatched cottage and, of course the green gown – worn rather negligently – by the sitter. The proposal has been made that she was a Margaret Simpson, mistress of Henry, thirteen Viscount Dillon, a notion strengthened by the carved nude female reclining luxuriantly on the harp. This is not Ireland as later nationalists would represent her, but serves as a fitting symbol for the cosmopolitan splendour of the country’s culture during the long 18th century which is being so wonderfully celebrated at present in Chicago’s Art Institute.
This ends a week of marking the exhibition Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840 which runs until June 7th. The Irish Aesthete reverts to customary coverage from tomorrow.

Greetings from Chicago

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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.