Irish Georgian Society

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The vision of the Irish Georgian Society is to conserve, protect and foster a keen interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. These aims are achieved through its scholarly and conservation education programmes, through its support of conservation projects and planning issues, and vitally, through its members and their activities.

Tribute: Christopher P. Monkhouse 1947-2021

04.02.2021

Posted by IGS

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Christopher Monkhouse, a leading historian of the decorative arts who held positions in several major American museums, was involved with the Irish Georgian Society for more than half a century. Arguably the crowning event of his busy and varied career, the exhibition Ireland Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840, held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015, triumphantly put the visual arts of eighteenth-century Ireland onto the ‘world stage’.

Born in Portland, Maine, in 1947, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and early alumnus (1966) of the Attingham Summer School, Christopher’s earliest passion was for the architectural heritage of his native New England. His first publication was a 1969 pamphlet for the Bostonian Society on the eighteenth-century Faneuil Hall market, then under threat.

By this date Christopher was already visiting Ireland regularly – he first came in 1966 – in time specifically to study the eighteenth-century hotels on the Grand Canal, as part of his research for a thesis at the Courtauld Institute supervised by Nikolaus Pevsner. This interest in Ireland’s contribution to hotel architecture, inevitably led him into the circle of Desmond and Mariga Guinness and the early Irish Georgian Society, and friends made at Leixlip – the late Rolf Loeber for example – would go on to contribute in one way or another to the 2015 show.

Back in London when working at the Victoria and Albert Museum he met and formed a lasting friendship with Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin, which would bear fruit spectacularly many decades later.

From the V&A Christopher returned home to the United States where he would work for the rest of his career, serving for some fifteen years as curator of decorative arts at the Museum of Art, at the Rhode Island School of Design. As comfortable in the fields of European and American decorative arts, he also moved easily between the study of furniture and architectural history, with his exhibitions at RISD including Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings, 1825-1945 (1982) and American Furniture in Pendleton House (1986).

After serving as the founding curator of the Heinz Architectural Center, where he was instrumental in forming its important collection of architectural drawings, and subsequently at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, in 1995 he was appointed curator in the department of architecture, design, decorative arts and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and finally, in 2007, Eloise W. Martin curator and chair of the department of European decorative arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Among major acquisitions which he made for Chicago was the remarkable cabinet that Horace Walpole designed for his friend Thomas Brand based on his own at Strawberry Hill.

The Knight of Glin and Christopher stayed in touch over the years and often when they met would discuss the possibility of an exhibition on Irish art. Christopher’s move to Chicago with its strong Irish connections inspired him to put this long-held aspiration into action and an immediate catalyst – a good omen – for the show was the discovery of the signature of the Dublin cabinetmaker John Kirkhoffer on a bookcase of 1732 in the Art Institute’s own collection.

Without doubt one of Christopher’s best early decisions – as he would frequently acknowledge – was to hire Leslie Fitzpatrick (also ex-V&A) as his assistant curator. Together they travelled thousands of miles in Ireland researching houses and landscapes, looking at objects and visiting archives. They also crisscrossed the United States and loans were drawn from collections all over North America. In total the research for the exhibition took more than six years. Some four hundred objects were included, paintings, prints, furniture, bookbindings, silver, glass, ceramics, textiles, miniatures and musical instruments, with not just all the great Irish artists represented but also masterpieces by European artists – David, Hogarth, Claude, Hobbema – that had once graced Irish collections.

Christopher’s belief in the ‘Irish exhibition’, as it became known, was total, and, for a very mild-mannered man, he could certainly fight his corner, seeing off attempts to scale back his, it must be said, enormously ambitious, plans when the recession hit museum finances. When it counted most, he enjoyed the unwavering and immensely generous support of some great friends of Ireland – and the Art Institute – in Chicago who were as determined as he that the exhibition should take place.

The exhibition finally opened to the public on St Patrick’s day 2015, after a gala dinner for more than four hundred guests. Very appropriately it was dedicated to the memory of the Knight of Glin, who was represented at the launch by Olda and their daughters. Anyone in Chicago that day will recall how Irish art seemed to take over the entire city with blanket advertising on the city’s buses and the show’s banners running the length of Michigan Avenue. Perhaps not all of those partying on the streets that day – as the Chicago River flowed green – were drawn there to celebrate Thomas Roberts’s exquisite landscapes or Mrs Delany’s flower collages, but it seemed to us that they were; the Irish Georgian aesthetic had found its moment.

A week later a major conference on the Irish visual, landscape and decorative arts was convened at the Art Institute, in association with the Irish Georgian Society, with distinguished speakers including Stella Tillyard and Prof. Finola O’Kane and indeed with the actor Julian Sands talking about his passion for Irish silver. That evening in the gothic grandeur of Chicago’s University Club – in a happy collaborative event organised by Christopher’s great friend Michael Kerrigan – a volume of Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies was launched, published to coincide with the exhibition and featuring research derived from it. In all these festivities the ever courteous, slightly diffident – and permanently bow-tied – figure of Christopher Monkhouse was to the fore.

In total the exhibition attracted one hundred and seventy thousand visitors and its run had to be extended to meet the demand. Sadly, no serious interest was expressed by our national cultural institutions in bringing the show to Ireland.

As the genesis of the exhibition rather indicates, Christopher had a talent for friendship, and nurtured an international network of like-minded scholars, collectors, art dealers and historians in settings such as the notably convivial Club of Odd Volumes on Beacon Hill in Boston. He was actively involved with many conservation societies including Historic New England, Maine Historical Society, and the (American) Walpole Society and just a year or two ago was delighted to be elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London.

Extremely generous with his time, Christopher was always quick to help with any request from the Irish Georgian Society. During the course of the 2015 exhibition when he and Leslie were hard pressed by dozens of daily demands on their time, Christopher came to Dublin to give the key note address at an IGS conference held in Dublin Castle on art and the Irish country house. Straight off the overnight flight, he spoke eloquently and without notes for almost an hour to a hugely appreciative audience. In November 2019 he travelled to Ireland, for the last time, to speak on James Wyatt’s famous hall chairs, at a study day organised by the IGS at Castle Coole.

For all his travels, Maine remained home. Having long kept a summer home in the historic coastal town of Machiasport, he retired from the Art Institute to a beautiful former sea-captain’s house in Brunswick which was filled with the fruits of decades of his own collecting – Americana, architectural drawings and ephemera. It is sad indeed that the many retirement projects he had planned will not now be completed.

Obituaries elsewhere have, quite rightly, emphasised the many other cultural fields, often distinctly unfashionable, about which Christopher felt passionately – the architecture of Newport, Rhode Island, for example, or the poetry of Longfellow – but Ireland is fortunate indeed that, many years ago and really quite fortuitously, he came here to explore the overlooked typology of canal hotels and, thanks to the example of the two Desmonds, was inspired by our architectural heritage and visual culture to organise an exhibition that is unlikely to be repeated in its scope, scale or the breadth of its vision.

May he rest in peace.

(W.L.)

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Irish Georgian Society Conservation Grants Programme 2021

03.02.2021

Posted by IGS

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2020 IGS conservation grant pledges clockwise from top left: Bessmount Park, Monaghan, Co. Monaghan; Coastguard Cottages, Lambay Island, Co. Dublin; Kylemore Abbey Church, Co. Galway; and Pyramid Mausolea, Maudlins, Co. Kildare.

The Irish Georgian Society, through the support of its members in IGS London, is inviting applications for its 2021 Conservation Grants Programme which is open to support buildings of significant architectural merit. Funding totalling €30,000 is available with priority given to older buildings on the basis of rarity and potential fragility relating to age.

The Irish Georgian Society’s Conservation Grants Programme is generously funded by IGS London. Over the last seven years, the Society has supported over thirty significant conservation projects from around the country, that have included works to country houses and castles, thatched cottages and historic townhouses, architectural follies, and churches.

IGS Conservation Grant pledges (2020)
-Bessmount Park, Monaghan, Co. Monaghan (€7,500)
-Cottage 6, Coastguards Cottages, Lambay Island, Co. Dublin (€1,900)
-Pyramid Mausolea, Dublin Road, Naas, Co. Kildare (€6,000)
-Seymour's Mausoleum, Lawrencetown, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway (€650)
-Ballyarthur House, Co. Wicklow (€4,350)
-St George's Arts and Heritage Centre, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork (€5,100)
-Rockmore House, Athenry, Co. Galway
-St Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore (€5,000)
-Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden, Co. Galway (€3,500)

Application forms must be submitted by 5pm on Friday 5th March 2021 and can be downloaded here.

For articles on previous grants recipients, please click here.

Decisions on the allocation of grants will be made by early May at which time applicants will be informed.


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IGS objection to proposals for Georgian House Museum

02.02.2021

Posted by IGS

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Planning Department, Dublin City Council, Civic Offices, Wood Quay, Dublin 8

Re: Nos 29 & 30 Fitzwilliam Street Lower / Nos 61 & 62 Mount Street Upper Dublin 2.

Ref. 3972/20

Dear Sir, Madam,

This planning application proposes the change of use from museum to residential of the ESB’s Georgian House Museum at No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street Lower.

The Irish Georgian Society wishes to object to this proposal as it would result in the sad and significant loss of a museum of Dublin home life for the period 1790 to 1820 which for over 25 years had a stated aim “to make accessible the social, decorative, cultural, and political history of the Georgian capital” (www.numbertwentynine.ie).

In considering this proposal, the Irish Georgian Society notes that it supports the principle of reinstating residential uses for Dublin’s Georgian buildings stock and the provision in the Dublin City Development Plan “to maintain and enhance these areas as active residential streets and squares during the day and at night-time” (Land Use Objective Z8). Furthermore, it is noted that the Society supported the report ‘The Future of the South Georgian Core’ (2013) which encouraged the use of the area’s historic buildings for residential purposes.

Notwithstanding this, the Irish Georgian Society strongly believes that the Georgian House Museum at No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street provides an important public purpose which outweighs any benefit that may arise from its conversion to apartment use. It is noted that the Museum is identified in the Dublin City Development Plan as one of the city’s Main Cultural Attractions (Fig 18, pg. 206) placing it within the “cultural cluster in the environs of Merrion Square” (11.2.2 Achievements, p. 202).

It is contended by the Irish Georgian Society that the change of use from museum to residential of one of the city’s “main cultural attractions” would be contrary to the following stated policies of the Dublin City Development Plan:

CHC24: To ensure the continued development of Dublin as a culturally vibrant, creative and diverse city with a broad range of cultural activities provided throughout the city, underpinned by quality cultural infrastructure.

CHC29: Dublin City Council will see insofar as possible to protect the cultural and artistic use of buildings in established cultural quarters.

Since the opening of the Georgian House Museum in 1991, the ESB has successfully managed the venue in association with the National Museum of Ireland, an achievement both institutions are to be commended for. In considering this partnership, Policy CHC33 of the Dublin City Development Plan should be noted. This states that it is a policy of the Council:

To support the national cultural institutions and facilitate the provision of fit-for purpose, sustainable cultural infrastructure such as museums, libraries, theatres, exhibition spaces, cinemas, and music venues in the city centre, suitable for all ages and accessible to all living, working or visiting the city and which reflect the role of Dublin as the capital city.

To this end, the Irish Georgian Society urges Dublin City Council to proactively engage with the ESB and the National Museum of Ireland to ensure the future of the Georgian House Museum, a venue that fits the criteria in the aforementioned policy.

Prof. Christine Casey noted that "the city house was an occasion for the display of wealth and status, of presenting and doing justice to one's place in society" (The Eighteenth-Century Dublin Town House, 2010). While there are excellent museums elsewhere in Dublin, none of these explore the original function of the grand red-brick terraced houses that line its squares and streets and which are such a distinct feature of the city. With other Georgian cities such as Edinburgh and Bath presenting this important part of their histories through dedicated townhouse museums, it would be to the detriment of Dublin if its residents and visitors were no longer able to have a similar experience.

The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the change of use of the Georgian House Museum to residential purposes would see the loss of an important cultural and educational venue that tells an essential part of Dublin’s history. As such, it would appear contrary to the stated policies of the Dublin City Development Plan and so we would urge that permission be refused.

Yours sincerely

Donough Cahill, Executive Director IGS

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Conserving your Dublin Period House online talks

26.01.2021

Posted by IGS

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For 2021 the annual spring Conserving your Dublin Period House, presented in partnership with Dublin City Council, goes online.

Enrol on this twelve week talks programme to gain expert advice on the care and conservation of your period house. The talks will be of particular interest to owners of houses listed as Protected Structures or located within Architectural Conservation Areas. These talks will also benefit building professionals and practitioners and are approved for CPD by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, Engineers Ireland, the Irish Planning Institute and the Heritage Contractors.

Download the full Conserving your Dublin Period House programme or visit events page.

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Permanent closure of the Georgian House Museum, Dublin

25.01.2021

Posted by IGS

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Permanent closure of the Georgian House Museum, Dublin

The permanent closure of the ESB's Georgian House Museum at No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street will be a sad and significant loss to the public presentation of Dublin's eighteenth-century heritage. Announced through a planning application with Dublin City Council which seeks a change of use of the building from museum to residential purposes, the ESB have indicated that the move is being driven by a number of factors including "budgetary realities" and a "changed cultural environment".

Though this may be so, since its opening in 1991 when Dublin held the position of European Cultural Capital the museum has provided an unique opportunity for visitors to experience the architecture and the fine and decorative arts of a Georgian townhouse. The ESB is to be commended for its vision in creating the museum and sustaining it for so many years and in doing so demonstrated its credentials as a company with a “commitment to preserving Ireland’s heritage and environment”. In tempering this praise, it should be noted that the reconstruction and refurbishment of the house and of its neighbours in the late 1980s was on foot of an agreement with Dublin Corporation allowing the ESB to exceed standard plot ratios for nearby office blocks.

If the closure of the Georgian House Museum on Fitzwilliam Street is inevitable, the ESB should continue its commitment to Dublin's heritage through leading a drive for an alternative location. While the city possesses some very fine museums located within townhouses such as the Little of Museum of Dublin and No 14 Henrietta Street, these do not fully capture or present original home life of a Georgian townhouse.

Prof. Christine Casey has noted that "the city house was an occasion for the display of wealth and status, of presenting and doing justice to one's place in society" (The Eighteenth-Century Dublin Town House, 2010). With its Georgian House Museum the ESB sought to explore this from the basement through to the attic and in doing so provided a glimpse as to how Dublin’s many Georgian houses may have been furnished and lived in over 200 years ago.

With other Georgian cities such as Edinburgh and Bath presenting this important part of their histories through dedicated townhouse museums, it would be to the detriment of Dublin if its residents and visitors were no longer able to have a similar experience.

Image Credit: http://www.numbertwentynine.ie/

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2020 Desmond Guinness Scholarship awarded to Priscilla Sonnier

08.01.2021

Posted by IGS


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The 2020 Desmond Guinness Scholarship was awarded to Priscilla Sonnier to support her PhD research on portraits of elite Irishwomen and how they evolved throughout the eighteenth-century to reflect the ‘patriotic’ sensibilities of the Protestant Ascendancy. Ms Sonnier is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin.

Nele Lüttman's study on 'German Architects in England and Ireland 1700-1750' was also acknowledged, and she was awarded the Desmond Guinness Prize.

The Scholarship and Prize were announced by Dr David Fleming, please click here to watch the announcement.

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