Archive for the ‘Co Fermanagh’ Category

Questions of value

July 10, 2014
Leather fire bucket at Florence Court, Co Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an 'E' stand for 'Enniskillen', the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Leather fire bucket, at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an ‘E’ stand for ‘Enniskillen’, the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Art Fund about the value of museums. There were a number of stimulating discussions about what kind of value museums have and how that value operates.

There seemed to be a consensus that museums should focus on what they are really good at: collecting, looking after, researching and making accessible interesting and beautiful things. It was commented that museums can have social and economic benefits too, but that those are best delivered through that core purpose.

Painted 'grotesque' decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Painted ‘grotesque’ decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

There were some fascinating and contrasting examples of ‘value’. At one end of the spectrum, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, described the struggle to preserve a collection which is threatened with sale in order to plug the pensions deficit of the city. At the other end, Jack Persekian, director of the Palestinian Museum – as yet without a building and without a collection – showed examples of the objects cherished by individual Palestinians, objectively modest things which nevertheless have enormous subjective power.

This investigation of ‘value’ reminded me of the collections of the National Trust, where the modest can sometimes be just as significant as the fine. The leather bucket shown above was once simply an item of fire prevention at Florence Court. But the way it was made, its aged appearance and its connection to a particular place now give it an distinct aura, speaking to us on a number of different levels.

The charming conceit of painting the house owner’s initial on the bucket in vaguely classical tendrils links it to a long tradition of classicised floral decoration. The boudoir at Attingham, in the second image above, is another, particularly fine example of that tradition. And that boudoir, in turn, demonstrates how objects never exist in a vacuum, but always ‘speak’ to other objects within certain spaces and relationships.

So that leads me to propose that the value of museums, and of heritage more widely, resides in relationships: between objects, between objects and places and between objects and people.

Mixing Greek and Chinese Regency style at Castle Coole

September 8, 2011

The Saloon at Castle Coole. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Having touched on the Regency libraries at Stourhead and Ickworth, I could not fail to show some of the Regency interiors at Castle Coole, in Co. Fermanagh.

Gilded couch supplied for the Drawing Room at castle Coole in about 1816. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The house was built by James Wyatt for Armar Lowry-Corry, 1st Earl of Belmore, between 1789 and 1797. The cost of building turned out to be so high that initially the house was only sparsely furnished.

The State Bedroom, said to have been prepared for a visit by George IV in 1821. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But when Somerset Lowry-Corry succeeded as 2nd Earl in 1802 he set about decorating Castle Coole in lavish Regency style, using the Dublin cabinetmakers and dealers John and Nathaniel Preston.

Chinoiserie cabinet, one of a pair supplied by the Preston firm and originally used as a bookcase, in the Morning Breakfast Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

They supplied the massive gilt and mahogany furniture in the principal rooms, and also many of the curtains and upholstery materials.

The Bow Room, a private sitting room for the ladies of the house, decorated with chinoiserie wallpaper and chintz which was remade for the National Trust in 1979-80. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Apart from the goût grec running through much of the decoration, there is also a discernable strand of chinoiserie.

Detail of the re-woven chinoiserie chintz in the Bow Room. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Although classical decoration is predominant in the more ‘serious’ rooms, and chinoiserie was used more in the ‘feminine’ areas of the house, the division was not absolute, as the japanned bookcases in the Morning Breakfast Room show.

As it happens, the BBC is currently broadcasting historian Lucy Worsley’s amusing and informative series about the Regency.

Beth Katleman’s Rococo vision

June 6, 2011

Beth Katleman, Folly. ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

I recently spotted these images of an extraordinary porcelain relief entitled Folly, by New York-based artist Beth Katleman. The work is five meters long and consists of 3,500 individual porcelain pieces. It is inspired by the riotous wall decorations of the Rococo period.

Facsimile of a Regency chinoiserie wallpaper in the Bow Room at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Folly is reminiscent of eighteenth-century Rococo and chinoiserie tapestries, wallpaper and printed cotton, with their floating islands populated with whimsical figures and fantasy structures.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

The work also references the more extreme forms of plaster decoration, and the phenomenon of the porcelain room, with its walls covered with figurines, vases, cups and plates.

Detail of the mantelpiece in the Paper Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But upon closer inspection Katleman infuses these ‘high culture’ sources with a healthy dose of kitsch. The floating islands are populated by porcelain casts that the artist has taken from flea-market finds, including pencil sharpeners in the shape of famous monuments and cast-off plastic dolls.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Katleman aptly emphasises the surrealist potential of the Rococo style. At the same time she subverts the domestic associations of interior decoration, transforming the elegant into the uncanny. 

Detail of toile de Jouy in the Ante-Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Folly will be shown by Todd Merrill at Design Miami/Basel from 13 to 18 June. Subsequently it will be part of the exhibition Flora and Fauna, MAD About Nature, at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, from 28 June until 6 November.

Folly (detail). ©Beth Katleman/Alan Wiener

Another edition of the work will travel to London to be shown, again by Todd Merrill, at the Pavilion of Art and Design, from 12 to 16 October. 

Chinoiserie plasterwork and carved wood decoration in the Chinese Room at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Todd Merrill website features a short video about Folly featuring Beth Katleman.

The big house library in Ireland

June 3, 2011

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator, has just published The Big House Library in Ireland: Books in Ulster Country Houses.

Possibly the most romantic library anywhere: The Mussenden Temple, on the Downhill demesne, Co. Londonderry, where the Earl-Bishop of Bristol kept a collection of books in the 1780s. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

In 1850 there were about 2000 country houses in Ireland. By the end of the twentieth century only a few hundred of them remained intact and only a handful of those still had their collections of books. The National Trust looks after most of those that do survive.

Historical evidence: Bureau-bookcase in the Library at Springhill, Co. Londonderry, the house of the Conyngham family. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In this richly illustrated book Mark charts the history of those houses and the families that inhabited them through the evidence found in their libraries.

Page from John Gerard's 'The Herball of General Historie of Plantes' (1633), showing the balsam mint, with a pressed leaf of the plant, at Springhill, Co. Londonderry. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Books can convey all sorts of stories, not just through their content, but also through their bookplates and ownership inscriptions, the handrwitten marginal notes and doodles and even the ocassional pressed flowers and other insertions.

Celtic-Revival-style binding of 'The Cabinet of Irish Literature' (1880) in the library at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The book is available through Amazon.

Mysterious beauty

November 24, 2010

View towards Crichton Tower on Gad Island in Lough Erne, on the Crom estate. ©NTPL/John Millar

The National Trust has long published a technical bulletin called Views, which contains all sorts of research ranging from car park design to Repton red books. Now the most recent issues of Views have been made publicly accessible for the first time.

View of Crom Castle, built 1832-8. ©NTPL/John Millar

One of the articles in issue 47, by National Trust gardens curator Chris Gallagher, is about the rediscovery of the vistas in the Crom demesne in Co. Fermanagh.

The ruins of the old tower-house. ©NTPL/John Millar

As Chris explains, the park at Crom was designed by William Sawrey Gilpin (1761/2-1843) from the mid-1830s onwards. Gilpin was working in the Picturesque tradition and was adept at sensitively combining the man-made and natural elements of a landscape.

©NTPL/John Millar

The trees planted and arranged by Gilpin have obviously matured since then, and some of the Picturesque vistas he contrived have become overgrown. Chris’s research has identified many of these half-lost views.

View of Holy Trinity church on the Derryvore peninsula across Lough Erne. ©NTPL/John Millar

One of the purposes of vistas was to create a greater sense of connectedness between the different parts of a landscape.

View near Lough Erne. ©NTPL/John Millar

It is hoped that Chris Gallagher’s findings will lead to more of these crucial vistas being opened up again, while obviously also preserving Crom’s character as a place of great and mysterious natural beauty.

By the way, William Sawrey Gilpin was also responsible for the garden at Scotney Castle, which I have featured earlier. And these photographs of Crom remind me of a previous discussion about different types of beauty.