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.

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


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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’.


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’.


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


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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


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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.


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”.


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'


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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).


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”.


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.


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)


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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, ( 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: 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!


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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 (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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