Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design VI

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In 1797 James Wyatt designed a hall bench for Castle Coole, County Fermanagh, a set then being made for the house by London cabinet maker William Kidd. Their distinctive features such as the splayed saber legs and corresponding arms gave the benches so widespread and long-lasting an appeal that the design was subsequently copied, not least by the Dublin firm of Williams & Gibton which produced the example seen here at some date between 1829-42, in other words three or four decades after the original. Above it hangs Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of Lady Maria Conyngham commissioned, along with those of her mother and sister, in the mid-1820s by George IV who hung the three in his bedroom in St James’ Palace, London (Lady Conyngham, it will be remembered, was his last mistress).¬†Following the king’s death the pictures were transferred to the Conyngham family residence Slane Castle, County Meath where they remained until sold at the start of the last century. This portrait is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York while the Williams & Gibton bench belongs to the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

Take a Seat

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An Irish mahogany chair in the entrance hall of Rokeby, County Louth. The house was built for Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, initially to the designs of Thomas Cooley (1740-1784) and then, following the architect’s early death, the job was taken over by Francis Johnston (1760-1829). This handsome chair is one of a set believed to date from the end of the 18th century and attributed to Mack Williams and Gibton. However, since that business was only established around 1812, the chairs could be earlier, made perhaps when John Mack was still working by himself (until 1801). They all bear a peer’s coronet so certainly belong to some date after Archbishop Robinson was created first Baron Rokeby in 1777. Perhaps the commission for them came from his third-cousin Matthew Robinson-Morris who succeeded to the title in 1794?
More on Rokeby soon.