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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.

Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated - William Healy

25.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Portrait of Tom Connolly on Horseback, gouache on paper, The Castletown Foundation

William Healy (d. c. 1774) was the younger brother of Robert Healy and he entered Dublin Society Schools in 1769. His work was very similar to his brother and, following Robert's death in 1771, William began producing work in the same style. As a result, their work is almost indistinguishable. Luckily, William signed all his work, making it easier to differentiate the two. In 1774 he held an exhibition of copies after his later brothers work, which seems to have garnered him some of his brother's clients. That same year he submitted his only pieces to the Society of Artists in Ireland exhibitions, both copies of his brothers work. Both of these are now in the National Gallery.

William Healy was the son of a successful Dublin architect/decorator and studied at the Dublin Society Schools, where he mastered chalks and pastel before he established himself at Wood Quay. From there he exhibited portraits at the Society of Artists Exhibition in its first show in the City Assembly House in 1766 and then in every annual exhibition until his death.

Over the coming weeks, leading up to the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we will be sharing some of the works of the artists whose works were reassembled in that exhibition.

The above text and research was compiled by Aoife Convery in 2018.


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‘Vain Transitory Splendours’: The Irish country house and the art of John Nankivell

20.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon

Elizabeth Bowen wrote in Bowen’s Court that Ireland is a country of ruins that “feature the landscape” whether “Lordly or humble, military or domestic, standing up with furious gauntness… or shelving weakly into the soil”. She saw in them an implicit truth: “a ruin stands for either error or failure, and in this country are accepted as part of life”. The desolation of country houses and their demesnes would, by then end of the 20th century, become an all too familiar part of the Irish scenery: miles of crumbling stone walls interrupted by the casual insertion of bungalows, abused entrances with toppled piers and twisted ironwork, bramble engulfed lodges,, deeply-rutted carriage drives leading aimlessly through a wasted park, amidst a few bereft resilient trees— looked upon forlornly by the gutted house, a still-proud block staring, blindly out over the scene “in fright and amazement at the wide light, lovely, unloving country, the unwilling bosom whereon it was set”.

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Trimblestown Castle, Co. Meath

Once a constant in the landscape, with a seeming eternal presence and authority that offered stability with its paternal customs, focused on a largely pliant and dependent community, the Irish country house eventually became “vain transitory splendours”, no longer immune from the vicissitudes of life, the passage of time, or the powers of nature. As the old order was turned on its head, the buildings and their demesnes were quickly transformed into the “visual and cultural apparatus” of a social system that was vanishing, an anachronism that needed no replacement in the modern age, and were thus bound to succumb to the eventual process of being “naturalised to the soil”.

The true extent of the architectural losses accruing in a distinctly apathetic age was made all too apparent across the pages of Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, a book published jointly by the Irish Architectural Archive and the Irish Georgian Society in 1988. Coinciding with the publication, an exhibition at Kyburg Gallery in London, organised at the instigation of the late Knight of Glin, brought to light - a series of arresting drawings of Irish houses and castles by the distinguished English artist John Nankivell. This was the culmination of more than two decades of travelling in Ireland, recording the sad decline of Irish architectural heritage. What began as fleeting glimpses of distant, decaying ruins from his parents’ car, as they explored Ireland on family holidays, had gradually resulted, year-by-year, in a remarkable collection of pencil-drawn views that are at once romantic and atmospheric—, as well as saddening (to those who cared) and reproachful (to those that didn’t) - love songs to the fast-fading glories of the Irish country house. The sense of poignancy and pathos embodied in these buildings are subjects that naturally appeal to the artist. To the aesthete, ruins have the potential to become beautiful with the passage of time, especially once the precise events and circumstances that led to decay or destruction become fading memories or have been lost in their myth-embroidered stories - or until a disinterested observer like John Nankivell, passionate and concerned about architecture, comes along and praises them in art. And in Irish visual art, no one has ever exploited this more effectively and thoroughly than Nankivell.

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Dunmore House, Co. Galway

Fortunately the ‘consecrating hand of time’ has changed attitudes; the old wounds were slowly healed as negative sentiment moved towards a more benign nostalgia, and so on to the present, where now interest in the Irish country house is now part of the serious business of academic research and professional conservation. By the time Vanishing Country Houses was published, there were already indications of a turning tide as political and social life in the new Republic become settled and secure, moving to an acceptance that these houses were, as Yeats argued in his poem Purgatory, “bricks and mortar possessed by history” and so, intrinsically Irish, and thus part of a greater Irish cultural heritage. Just as the country house, in dying as a social actuality, was becoming sanctified in Irish literature, in the poems of Yeats (and also of John Betjeman, one of Nankivell’s earliest admirers) and the novels of William Trevor, Aidan Higgins and Jennifer Johnston, so too was its spirit being revived in Nankivell’s drawings – suitably redeemed and memorialised as great works of art. Now, through the generosity of Susan and Coleman Burke, all the drawings have been brought together in Ireland for the first time, in an exhibition at the former City Assembly House in Dublin, where the core of the collection will be retained to form part of the Irish Georgian Society’s permanent collection.

Kevin V. Mulligan is an independent architectural historian.

This text is based on the introduction to the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, and is taken from the 2018 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

You can purchase some of John Nankivell's drawings from our online shop here.

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Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated - Robert Crone

18.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Robert Crone, A Landscape and Figures, 1770. Private Collection.

Robert Crone (1718-1779) was born in Dublin around 1740. He trained under Robert West in the George's Lane School in Dublin as well as being a pupil of Robert Hunter. In 1758, he was sent to Italy to study and he thrived in Rome, producing art and procuring prints for Dublin collectors and connoisseurs. He settled in London in 1767, where he regularly contributed to the Royal Academy. However, he only submitted a single piece to the Society of Artists of Ireland during the 1770 show, he exhibited A Landscape and Figures. Crone was apparently disfigured and suffered from epilepsy which affected his health and slowed his career, leading to a premature death in 1779.

Over the coming weeks, leading up to the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we will be sharing some of the works of the artists whose works were reassembled in that exhibition.

The above text and research was compiled by Aoife Convery in 2018.

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‘The Entire Spectrum of Ireland’s Post-Medieval Architecture’: 21 Years of the IGS Journal

13.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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On 15 May the City Assembly House was full to capacity for a twenty-first birthday party for Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, the Journal of the Irish Georgian Society. Another exciting volume under the editorship of Prof. Finola O’Kane was launched by Prof. Andrew Carpenter, founding editor of Eighteenth Century Ireland and general editor of the five-volume Art and Architecture of Ireland published in 2014.

The Irish Georgian Society has been publishing research on Ireland’s art and architecture from close to its inception in 1958, initially through its Quarterly Bulletin. In the first volume of IA&DS, Desmond Guinness, co-founder of the Society, told the story of how the bulletin’s much-loved design was, rather serendipitously, arrived at:

The white and gold organ in the salon at Carton had been installed in 1857, and the Music Association of Ireland arranged a concert to celebrate its one hundredth anniversary while we were living there. It struck me that the programme was very elegantly printed, in a beautiful typeface, using red and black on a handmade cream paper. We were told that the Dolmen Press had printed it, and, when in 1958 we started to plan the Quarterly Bulletin, we went to Liam Miller, who owned the Press, and he agreed to undertake the printing for us.

In 1998 a decision was made to expand the format and, with Seán O’Reilly as editor, Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies was born. Gandon Editions of Kinsale has taken over the mantle of Dolmen Press and has produced and beautifully designed all twenty-one volumes.

At the time of the launch of the rebranded Journal Desmond Guinness explained its extended remit: ‘The new manifestation of the Bulletin acknowledges the importance of the entire spectrum of Ireland’s post-medieval architecture and its special need for protection, interpretation understanding and appreciation’.

Some years later the Knight of Glin again articulated the centrality of the Journal to the IGS: ‘The scrupulous scholarship that the Journal promotes, permeates and informs all our activities’ indeed, he argued that the Journal was ‘one of the things that most differentiates the Irish Georgian Society from other heritage and conservation bodies’.

With these statements of intent the ‘Two Desmonds’ set a hugely ambitious goal for the Journal – to explore the whole of Ireland’s post-medieval art, architecture and material culture – but one which over twenty-one years it has triumphantly fulfilled. Toby Barnard describes the Journal as the first ‘port of call’ for researchers in the field while the catalogue of the great Chicago exhibition of Irish art held in 2015, noting the Art Institute’s collaboration with the IGS on the show, described IA&DS as ‘at the forefront of research into the material world of Ireland’.

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Dr Conor Lucey (past IADS editor), Dr Christine Casey (Trinity College Dublin) and Dr Ellen Rowley (University College Dublin) at last year's launch.

It seems that every significant figure working in the fields of Irish architecture, gardens, painting and the decorative arts has contributed to its pages, notably including Toby Barnard, Mairead Dunlevy, Christine Casey, Alec Cobbe, Jane Fenlon, Eileen Harris, the Knight of Glin, Nicola Gordon Bowe, Rolf Loeber, Desmond Guinness, Peter Harbison and Nicola Figgis, who in 2002 took over the editorship. The Journal has also published the work of subsequent generations of architectural historians including Kevin Mulligan, Finola O’Kane, Conor Lucey, Livia Hurley and Melanie Hayes, and scholars of material culture, perhaps most notably Alison FitzGerald and Anna Moran. Importantly, it has also provided a platform for graduate students, and fledgling scholars at the beginning of their careers.

The generous length which the Journal allows its contributors – in contrast to the bite-sized articles that some other publications demand – gives room for scholars to explore complex material in detail, and the results have frequently been worked up later into monographs. Kevin Mulligan and Patricia McCarthy, for example, published their researches in several volumes of the Journal which were later expanded into notable books on the Irish country house generally, and Ballyfin specifically. Similarly David Skinner expanded his findings on Irish wallpaper, published here in Volume VI, into a much-praised book on the subject.

Eleven years ago, writing at the time of the IA&DS’s tenth anniversary, I noted the breadth of the Journal’s contents in its first decade: ‘Periods and topics range from Arts and Crafts in Kilkenny to medieval churches in south Leinster. There are article on individual building typologies from sporting lodges to railway stations, while material culture in its widest sense is explored – furniture, glass, fireworks and automata…while the histories of patronage, exhibiting and collecting are also discussed’. In the eleven years since then under the editorship of Finola and, immediately prior to that, Conor Lucey, the range of topics has only expanded, with research published on shops and shopping in Georgian Dublin; public lighting in eighteenth-century Cork; elite food culture in Ireland and private theatricals in Irish houses.

Stained glass, sculpture, furniture, silver, carriages, musical instruments, stuccowork, tapestries, photographic albums and bookbindings have all been the subject of articles as have all sorts of buildings: churches, follies, country and town houses, convents. Thematic studies have explored issues of estate development, exhibiting practices, art education, urban planning, and aspects of sociability from country house visiting to music and dancing. Architects including James Gibbs, Frederick Darley and James Pain and artists such as George Barret, Hugh Douglas Hamilton and Charles Jervas have all featured. Intriguing titles invite perusal: ‘an Irish Artist at the Bullfight in 1789’, ‘Bathing in Porphyry on the Banks of the River Liffey’ or ‘Piracy, Property and Politics’.

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Irish Architectural & Decorative Studies - Volume XXI (2019)

The current volume reflects this admirable diversity, though with something of a Dublin focus including, as it does, new research on the Wide Streets Commissioners; the Casino at Marino; the Custom House; the Dublin Society; newly discovered drawings by Hugh Douglas Hamilton relating to his well-known Cries of Dublin; the restoration by Richard Morrison of a Catholic chapel in Wicklow; the 1979 Taoiseach’s House competition, and the much-travelled artist from County Down, Helen Mabel Trevor.

Overseeing the Journal is a distinguished advisory board of leading scholars of art, architecture and design, its members drawn from TCD, UCD, UCL, Maynooth University, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Architectural Archive and the National College of Art and Design. Although technically chaired by the editor, the board is genially presided over by Ireland’s senior architectural historians, David Griffin and Edward McParland. Eddie was once described by the Knight as the éminence grise behind the Journal and a remarkable six of the nine articles in the current issue acknowledge his scholarship in their footnotes. The IGS is delighted that the architectural historian John Montague has recently agreed to join the editorial board. [this still to be confirmed, one of the reasons I want to see a proof!]

IS&DS has been fortunate in attracting sponsors of enormous generosity who have enabled us to produce an expensive publication, the costs of which are not nearly covered by subscriptions. The Apollo Foundation, The Ireland Funds, the Mark Mitchell Fund, the Esmé Mitchell Trust, The Castletown Foundation, the OPW and the Schools of Irish Studies Foundations have all provided funding while for many years we received generous support from the J. Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and the Estate of the late Paul Mellon. The IGS is also immensely grateful to private donors who have helped cover the costs in recent years.

Following launches of the Journal in Dublin, Chicago, London, Limerick, Kilkenny and Castletown, next year we hope to launch (once again) in Cork with a volume highlighting new research on the architectural history and material culture of Cork city and its environs.

The Journal neatly straddles the educational and conservation remits of the IGS, as Desmond Guinness put it in the quotation above encouraging the ‘protection, interpretation understanding and appreciation’ of our material past and reminding of the deep seriousness of purpose of the Society which should never be forgotten. All members and supporters of the IGS’s goals are encouraged to subscribe.

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Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated - Samuel Dixon

12.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Samuel Dixon, Twelve Prints of ‘Foreign and Domestick’ Birds, Gouache on embossed paper in original black lacquer and gilded pearwood frames, Collection of IGS President.

Samuel Dixon was renowned for his embossed images of birds and fowers. He designed, produced and sold from his shop in Capel street from the late 1740s on. He created the works by impressing images on larges sheets of card paper using copper plates. This caused the details to stand in relief and the images were then hand coloured by Dixon's apprentices, most of whom would go to become successful artists and members of the Society of Artists, like Daniel O'Keefe and Gustavus Hamilton.

Like many artists, Dixon advertised his works in the press in papers such as Faulkner's Dublin Journal and he advertised his images not merely as decoration for Ladies rooms but as reference images to draw from or copy onto needlework.

Dixon's images became incredibly fashionable with so many imitators appearing that a further advertisement had to be issued in 1751 warning that genuine originals by Dixon were only sold at his own shop on Capel Street or a supplier in Cork. Dixon only exhibited with Society of Artists once in 1768, the same year he returned from London, probably using the exhibition as a means to win back his original audience. where submitted three fower pieces in watercolour to the Exhibition.

The decorative group displayed above, Twelve Prints of ‘Foreign and Domestick’ Birds, are typical examples of Dixon's work and would have been sold, framed in japanned wood, as sets of twelve. Dixon accompanied each set with a printed description of the birds and flowers as well as dedication to a prominent aristocrat. His birds are somewhat stylised but many of the images he used were copied from the first four volumes of George Edward's The Natural History of Uncommon Birds an immensely popular source of bird imagery in the eighteenth century.

Over the coming weeks, leading up to the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we will be sharing some of the works of the artists whose works were reassembled in that exhibition.

The above text and research was compiled by Aoife Convery in 2018.

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IGS submission on Dalguise House, Monkstown, Co. Dublin

07.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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In a submission to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the IGS raised its concerns about a proposal to redevelop the gardens and grounds of Dalguise House, a protected structure, due to the consequent irretrievable loss of one of the largest surviving nineteenth-century gardens in south County Dublin.

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Dalguise House, a five bay two storey over basement suburban villa, is set within extensive gardens and is approached by an avenue along which lie two gate lodges. An accompanying conservation report notes that the grounds include “lawns and paddocks, a stable yard and former stable building, a large though disused walled garden, glasshouses/greenhouses and sundry out offices in a poor state of repair, a tennis court, and numerous areas of established tree and shrub planting”.

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As an intact example of a nineteenth century suburban villa lying within its original grounds which retain much of their planned form, the Irish Georgian Society called for a report to be prepared on the gardens of Dalguise House by a suitably qualified historic landscapes and gardens consultant so as to facilitate an adequate assessment of the development proposals.

Download the full IGS submission.

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