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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 - 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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Building the Exhibition: 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland'

06.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Curator Ruth Kenny looking at the completed exhibition

The Irish Georgian Society’s move to the City Assembly House in 2010, and their complete renovation of the building brought with it an exciting and unprecedented opportunity to recreate a seminal moment in the history of Irish art; the introduction of large-scale public art exhibitions. Celebrating the building’s original incarnation as the first purpose-built public art gallery in Britain and Ireland, an exhibition was planned which that would reassemble some of its the gallery’s earliest exhibits in the octagonal exhibition room in which they were first displayed (now known as the Knight of Glin Exhibition Room).

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Exhibition curator Ruth Kenny with paper conservator Pat McBride (National Gallery of Ireland) examining the collection of Samuel Dixon prints before installation

In our efforts to recreate the first exhibitions that took place in this space, we were following in the footsteps of a pioneering group of painters, sculptors and architects who came together in 1764 to establish the ‘Society of Artists in Ireland’; the first organization of its kind for Irish artists. Previously grouped with cutlers and stationers under the ‘Guild of St. Luke’, this was a bold statement of intent on the part of the Society’s twelve founder members, who sought to raise their own status and promote fine art production in the country. Inspired by the success of the Society of Artists in London, founded four years previously, the Society placed an advertisement in the popular circular Faulkner's Journal in February 1764, calling for contributions to an ‘Annual Exhibition’, which, it was hoped would "excite emulation” amongst themselves and “bring forth latent merit to public view”.

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The Knight of Glin Exhibition Room during exhibition installation

The annual exhibition they established in 1765 was only the first of a run of twelve exhibitions, nine of which took place in South William Street between 1765 and 1780. During these years, its domed, octagonal chamber effectively defined the centre of the Irish art world and, as a focal point for Dublin’s artistic and social world, it attracted nearly every contemporary Irish artist of note, including Thomas Roberts, Jonathan Fisher, William Ashford, James Forrester, Robert Hunter, Robert Healy and Hugh Douglas Hamilton. It also caught the attention of Dublin’s great and good, as the issue of 100 silver subscriber’s tokens attests. The profound success of the Society’s endeavours was marked year-on-year by the ever-increasing number of exhibits,; swelling from 85 in the first show to 223 in 1777.

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Irish Art Handlers installing paintings on the walls of the exhibition room

After several years’ research and with the help of generous loans from private collectors and national institutions, including the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, Ulster Museum, RIA, RDS, the Irish Architectural Archive, Irish Heritage Trust, UCD and the Castletown Foundation, our exhibition contained a significant number of works that we knew had been displayed in the octagonal room during the original run of Society of Artist’s shows. These were mixed with other representative pieces, by exhibiting Society of Artists’ members, which, hung floor to ceiling in the eighteenth-century style, allowed us to mirror the appearance of the original exhibitions as closely as possible. We were particularly glad to welcome back to the room works such as Robert Carver’s impressive Landscape with Classical Ruins from the 1766 exhibition, Thomas Robert’s beautiful Frost Piece from the 1769 exhibition, Henry Brooke’s The Continence of Scipio, a large and striking history painting displayed in the 1772 exhibition, and Patrick Cunningham’s engaging marble bust of Jonathan Swift, a version of which was included in the 1776 exhibition, amongst many others.

By lauding the pioneering spirit of the Society of Artists’ exhibitions, we also aimed to provide an insight into the fascinating range of artistic production taking place in Ireland at this time. As the original exhibition catalogues reveal, late eighteenth-century Dublin was a hive of creativity, with landscape artists working alongside portraitists, history painters, sculptors, printers and draughtsmen in an astonishing range of media, including oil paint, pastel, marble, wood, glass, wax and hair. Our exhibition compromised 92 works in total from 22 lenders and represented many of these different artistic practices.

The exhibition was accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue that, which included entries on each work, and essays examining the history of the Society of Artists, early reviews of the shows and the fascinating chronology of the building. This publication offered further occasion to revisit and evaluate these stimulating years; assessing Ireland’s first introduction to exhibition culture and the significant contribution it made to an increasingly self-confident national school of Irish art. Alongside a specially commissioned film which documented the making of the show, the catalogue will stand as a lasting memory of this unique, once-in-a lifetime exhibition.

Dr Ruth Kenny is an independent art historian and curator.

Purchase the exhibition catalogue Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated online.

This article is taken from the 2018 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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Call for documentary watercolours (1750 to 1900)

05.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Harbor before Fortified Town, Marseille, 1760–1850, possibly by William Marlow. Art Institute of Chicago (CC0 1.0) The curious vessel on the right is a common dredger barge.

A vast heritage of documentary images, the long unrecognised and unseen gift to us from our 18th and 19th Century forbears, exists in the global watercolour collection. Importantly, the period covered (1750-1900) includes the end of the agrarian era in the West and the whole of the first Industrial Revolution.

Created in colour by professionals as well as amateurs (the latter deplorably underestimated), with each image normally located and dated, for all its unevenness these watercolours constitute an astonishingly well-observed and faithful visual record.

This record is also unique and irreplaceable. It provides us today with accurate, reliable and frequently essential information for the conservation and restoration of our natural and man-made environments.

The Watercolour World, a registered charity, brings together on a single geographically-indexed website, ( www.watercolourworld.org) public and private documentary watercolour collections from around the world. Collating and indexing these images and making them available to view by the public is a profoundly important advance in our visual access to our past.

This resource remains very widely distributed and largely hidden in public and private collections. All of such collections, from the largest to the smallest, are of importance and value to The Watercolour World project. If you own documentary watercolours painted between 1750 and 1900, or wish to connect us with any public or private owner who does, in the first instance please contact: enquiries@watercolourworld.org. We can help with the digitisation of all collections, small and large.

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€2.95 nationwide delivery on all online IGS bookshop purchases!

30.04.2020

Posted by IGS

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Thanks to An Post supporting independent booksellers throughout the COVID crisis, our customers can now avail of a €2.95 postal rate for posting book parcels (up to 10kg) nationwide within Ireland, throughout the lockdown period - bringing our books to your homes!

You can now avail of this special rate by placing an order on shop.igs.ie (offer applicable for orders sent to Irish addresses only).

Thank you for your continued support and to everyone who has made a purchase online for the past number of weeks! We will be posting out orders once a week, provided we have the item in stock.

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The Loss of a Georgian Gem: Vernon Mount, Co. Cork

28.04.2020

Posted by IGS

A once great house from an epoch that resonated with the stirrings of national self-determination in America and France, and with a hidden but rich cultural history spanning three continents, was engulfed in flames in July [2016]. Visible over a sizeable part of Cork City, the fire itself drew thousands of onlookers – the historic Vernon Mount burned on its steep escarpment overlooking Cork.

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Vernon Mount, c. 1910 (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

Many people compared the impact of the fire on the community to the inferno which destroyed the old Cork Opera House in December 1955. There was shock and outrage that such a calamity had been visited on such a well-known and loved landmark, by an act of wanton vandalism.

The vast numbers who observed its demise were a far cry from the packed attendance at the initial public meeting held on a November evening in a local church hall in Douglas village seven years previously. There, the first germ of the idea of restoring the grand old house came to life as part of the creation of a park that would connect suburbs and city on the former city landfill that faces Vernon Mount.

At that meeting, the ad-hoc organising committee had prepared a presentation, and invited guest speakers from both City and County Councils. This co- operative approach was to become a feature of the campaign, and the meeting unanimously approved the proposal for a renovated Vernon Mount connected to the new park. The meeting was just the first of many such public engagements with the local community and quickly drew a wider audience both online and off.

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Minerva casting away the spears of war’, formerly mounted on the ceiling of the drawing room, painted by Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan (1740-1807) - now lost. (Image taken by IGS in 2008)

Early in the process, the group – now named the Grange Frankfield Partnership (GFP) – developed its strategy to include three key and interlinked components; an extended park to incorporate open space lands on the escarpment to the south of the capped city landfill and located in Cork County, the creation of a cycleway/walkway route linking both land units and necessitating the construction of a ‘green bridge’ over the separating N40 motorway, and the jewel in the crown – the incorporation in the extended park of Vernon Mount House as an iconic feature of outstanding heritage and cultural value.

Within a year, after plenty of groundwork and lobbying, the group met the then Cork County Manager, Martin Riordan. After an initially cautious reception, discussion warmed to the point where he was complimenting a well-constructed strategy.The meeting ended with a commitment to help the endeavour in whatever way he could.

This success in drawing support from the Council was to result in the extension of the park planning study on the city landfill to the adjacent County lands, thereby producing a physically integrated plan and in the process dramatically changing the context and setting of Vernon Mount.

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Vernon Mount (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

That leap forward led to the design of the proposed cycleway/walkway, including over-bridge, and the acquisition of land at the southern entry point. In addition, significant publicly funded restorative works commenced on the roof of Vernon Mount House, the structure having become endangered by deterioration and weathering. Central to the success of the project was the early appearance of a benefactor, whose generous support funded the design and printing of initial flyers, attractive display panels, professional PR assistance, and the creation of an informative and attractive website (www.vernonmountpark.ie).

The Vernon Mount Lecture Series, enthusiastically supported by Douglas Library, was a key part of engaging the public in the initiative and has been an unqualified success. It maintained a permanent focus on the house, maintaining public interest and support for conservation of this singular building. GFP in recent times was on the crest of a wave as a result of a deeper engagement with the Irish Georgian Society. Through GFP’s website, contact had also been made by the custodians of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s ancestral home in Virginia, USA, and a commitment elicited to help our efforts in Cork.

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Lobby of Vernon Mount (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

The key barrier to restoring Vernon Mount was the intractable difficulty of engaging meaningfully, if at all, with the owners of the house. Their indifference impeded not only a sustainable future for the house, but also an adequate regime of maintenance and security as it lurched from one crisis to another.

A most disturbing sign of the continuing threat to the house came shortly after the roof was repaired in 2012, when youths entered and accessed the roof itself. Although apprehended by the Gardai the threat remained as the sealed windows and doors became a constant target for vandals. GFP was painfully aware that time was not on its side as it ramped up its efforts to gather sufficient support to convince the public authorities that unless drastic measures were taken to protect and preserve the house, it would not survive. We made strenuous efforts to bring other organisations in to help with this shared ambition.

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Drone footage of Vernon Mount after fire, July 2016, courtesy of Evan Kelly Visuals)

The enigma remains as to what might have been. Faced with the usual panoply of threats that endanger many protected heritage buildings, namely the:

- incapacity or indifference on the part of owners
- reluctance of planning authorities to become too financially or legally embroiled
- uncertainty of State involvement
- limited resources of conservation NGO’s and semi-states
- erratic popular interest and support for conservation
It will require a monumental and persistent effort to succeed.

Ironically none of these factors hindered GFP’s progress, as focussed action won friends and influenced people and organisations. Sincerity and persistence of effort were rewarded by generous help, support and advice from all quarters. In the end, it wasn’t lack of money that undid our efforts, rather the indifference of the owners to its legal obligations to safeguard the house, an exceptional failure by the local authority when alerted to the impending disaster, and society’s apparent ambivalence to ongoing vandalism.

All is not lost, however, and both GFP and IGS believe a diamond still exists in the ashes – the graceful, curvilinear shell of the house must be saved. It should continue to stand as a monumental vestige of a once great house of an epoch whose revolutionary history resonates in the centenary year of our national commemoration.

Thank you to Tony Foy and Brendan Kelleher of the Grange Frankfield Partnership for co-writing this article. This article is taken from the 2016 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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