The Fernery at Fota

The Fernery at Fota

The Fernery at Fota House

In the second half of the 19th century there was a craze for ferns.  This obsession came to be known as ‘fern fever’ or pteridomania – named after the Latin name for ferns which is pteridophytes. Ferns were collected, studied and admired on a very, very wide scale.  As well as becoming a feature in gardens and as houseplants the fern was ubiquitous as a decorative motif.  Fern patterns could be found on glassware, china, fabric, pottery, stucco and much more.  In fact if you look carefully at the corbels in the billiard room in Fota – now the café- you can see ferns in the plasterwork.

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Dining Room Ceiling Detail

Dining Room Ceiling Detail

Plasterwork_DR

The Dining Room at Fota was created by the Morrisons (architects Richard and his son William Vitruvius) in the early 1820s; the plasterwork on the ceilings and frieze on the higher parts of the walls is very decorative. On the ceiling, the usual motifs associated with wining and dining – perfectly formed grapes and vine leaves – are in abundance.

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Charles Beswick’s School Atlas

Charles Beswick’s School Atlas

Charles Beswick's School Atlas

 

John Charles Beswick’s Philips’ London School-Board Atlas
Whilst research was being made for the Irish Heritage Trust publications Aspects of Fota, a very kind donation of archival material was made by a gentleman in England who had connections to the Beswick family. The Beswicks lived and worked on the estate around the turn of the 19th/20th century, William Beswick (b.1854) being Head Gardener.
Among the items donated is a school atlas which belonged to their youngest son, John Charles Beswick, born in Cork on the 8th October 1888. His name is inscribed and stamped on the title page of the book, published in 1901. Apart from being an interesting document in itself, where one can see the Ireland of 1901 with its then major rail and high ways, the atlas is part of a collection of items pertaining to Charles.

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Bust of a Lady with Ringlets

Bust of a Lady with Ringlets

Marble Bust of A Lady with Ringlets

Artist Unknown, 19th Century
White marble; 61cm high

As yet, we do not know very much about this charming white marble bust of a lady. She is young, likely in her twenties or thirties, and wearing both her hair and her clothing in a fashionable manner associated with the Regency period of c.1811-1820, so called when King George III was alive but considered unfit to rule, his son The Prince of Wales acting as proxy until made King George IV in 1820.

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David Barry, First Earl of Barrymore (1604-1642)

David Barry, 1st Earl Barrymore

Ascribed to T. Luigi (1604-1642), Oil on canvas; 88.5 x 81cm
Inscribed on canvas, top left “A 1636 AE. Ts. Mths 9 TL”

When this portrait was examined in preparation for the exhibition Portraits & People: Art in Seventeenth Century Ireland at the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork in 2010, Director Peter Murray threw up several anomalies. The name plate informs the viewer that this is a portrait of David Barry, 1st Earl Barrymore, 1605-1642 (he was in fact born in 1604); the inscription on the canvas tells us that the sitter was aged 66 and 9 months at the time of painting, and yet the year 1636 would have made David Barry 32, making it all rather confusing …

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Thomas Roberts (1748-1777), ‘A Landstorm’

Thomas Roberts 'A Landstorm'

Thomas Roberts (1748-1777)
A landstorm, a mountainous landscape with travellers at a bridge
Oil on canvas; 96 x 132cm

This must be one of the stars of Fota’s important collection of eighteenth-century Irish landscape paintings. There is plenty of energy within the painting – the viewer can almost feel the gust of wind which has caused the travellers in the foreground to huddle into their coats and hang on to their hats with their animals plodding up the rear. The imaginary landscape has it all – the steeply rising, bare peak in the background to the right; water gushing over rocks and rushing under a small stone bridge to the left and trees of varying sizes having their branches twisted and pushed in the wind. There are no houses in the landscape; just one lonely and deserted church with its scattered graveyard sits in the distance. We do not know who the travellers are – it is not important as this was intended as a landscape painting, not a portrait. Perhaps the artist has painted himself into the work for the fun of it…?

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Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1740-1808), Portrait of Mrs Hartley (c.1773)

Hugh Douglas Hamilton , Mrs Hartley

Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1740-1808), RHA, Mrs Hartley (c.1750-1824), c.1773
Pastel on paper; 23 x 20cm
The upward gaze given to the sitter of this portrait is a clue to her identity. Elizabeth Hartley (née White) was an actress in eighteenth-century England, first making her appearance at Covent Garden in 1772. Hartley was known more for the beauty of her vivid red hair and freckles than for her acting abilities – many critics of the time commenting on her grating voice…

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George Elgar Hicks (1824-1914), Portrait of Geraldine Smith-Barry, 1885

George Elgar Hicks (British, 1824-1914), Portrait of Geraldine Smith-Barry, 1885

George Elgar Hicks (British, 1824-1914), Portrait of Geraldine Smith-Barry, 1885

Oil on canvas; 90.5 x 70cm. Signed and dated lower right ‘G E Hicks 1885’

This is recognised as being a portrait of a young Geraldine Smith-Barry, later Honorable (or Hon. for short) because of her father’s peerage of Baron Barrymore conferred on him at King Edward’s coronation in 1902. Geraldine was born in 1869 at the smart address of 26 Chesham Place, London, first child to Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry and his wife Mary Wyndham Quin and likely named after her father’s sister Geraldine. The portrait is signed and dated in the bottom right hand corner ‘G E Hicks 1885’, making the Geraldine 15 or 16 years of age at the time the paint dried on the canvas. She is depicted in a relaxed, pensive and ladylike pose, wearing youthful and fashionable clothing, including a black silk or velvet choker – the kind often seen in the paintings of Manet and Degas. The background is loose and generic, not intended to take from the main subject …

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The Irish Heritage Trust Collection of Historic Wallpaper

The Irish Heritage Trust Collection of Historic Wallpaper

The Irish Heritage Trust Collection of Historic Wallpaper
Kindly donated by John J. O’Connell in 2013

The Irish Heritage Trust has been extremely lucky in acquiring the singularly most significant collection of historic wallpapers in the country. The collection dates from the 18th to the 20th century, and contains many important and unique fragments as well as larger pieces. A portion of the wallpaper collection was assembled by the historian Ada Longfield – John O’Connell inherited this collection from her. Separately, John also inherited a collection assembled by Hon. Desmond Guinness and Mariga Guinness. The remainder was gathered independently by John over a period of 30 years …

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