Paradise Lost


From the IAR Spring 2014 edition
This summer the Casino in Marino hosts an exhibition that captures the original splendour of the lost demesne, writes Rose Anne White

Do be a good Boy and busy yourself.’ So Edward Murphy wrote to the young Viscount of Charlemont on his return to Ireland from an extended Grand Tour in the summer of 1755. The twenty-seven-year-old James Caulfeild had settled into melancholy, as he sought to find a place for himself again on his native shores. He had grown close to Murphy, once his tutor and later his travelling companion, and was attentive when Murphy advised him to ‘Shake off that abominable Listlessness’. Later, Charlemont would write that it was ‘…with this in View I began those improvements at Marino.’

Although there were estate lands in Co Tyrone, and a townhouse in first Jervis Street and later Rutland Square, it was a Dublin suburb straddling Clontarf and Donnycarney that Charlemont would spend the next two decades improving. Inspired by his travels from London to Egypt, and everywhere in between (particularly Italy) he poured himself into creating an ideal landscape. Situated on the coast, so that he could avail of that 18th-century cure-all, a chilly sea-bathe, the pocket of land that he was to name Marino also afforded unrivalled views over the entire bay and city. Charlemont engaged sculptors, gardeners, labourers, and many other craftspeople, both local and invited from abroad, to create his paradise. A full complement of Georgian garden ornaments was created: a hermitage, a water cascade, a serpentine lake with an island swan roost, a seat carved in the Gothic style and a Gothic room, also known as Rosamund’s bower. There was also the Casino, rescued in the 1930s and restored in the 1980s by the Office of Public Works, and long considered the gem of neo-classical architecture in Ireland. The miniature demesne remained in use by the Caulfeilds for more or less the next hundred years, until the 3rd Earl broke up the estate for sale in 1876. All that remains today is the Casino, solitary in a modern square of grass, its garden context vanished.

At its peak under the 1st Earl, Marino was one of the most illustrated of landscapes. Visitors from the upper echelons of Irish and English society, such as Mrs Delany, John Wesley, and Charles T Bowden, described it at lyrical length. From the early 19th century, the roof of the Casino remained a popular spot from which to sketch views of Dublin. In fact, glimpses of Lord Charlemont’s garden at Marino are to be found in archives and collections all over Dublin, and now for the first time, are the subject of an exhibition in the interior of the demesne’s last remaining building. These ‘glimpses’ range from a print portrait of the gardener, Matthew Peters, in the National Gallery of Ireland (Fig 2), to a long aquatinted view of Marino in the Hugh Lane Gallery (Fig 3); from the delightfully eclectic family scrapbook called the Charlemont Album in the Paul Mellon Collection, held at Yale University (Fig 5), to the only known portrait of sculptor Simon Vierpyl hanging in the former Blue Coat School; and from the cast of the Fighting Gladiator in the Crawford Gallery, Cork, to plant specimens in the herbarium of the National Botanic Gardens. Hints of Lord Charlemont’s garden are all around us.

Exciting new discoveries have made this exhibition timely. The original drawn designs of the attic statues on the Casino exterior (Fig 4), by Giovanni Battista Cipriani, are the subject of new research by William Laffan and Kevin Mulligan in the current volume of Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies (XVI). A sketch in the albums of Samuel Frederick Brocas, its subject previously unrecognized, has been newly identified by Ruth Musielak as located in Marino and portraying the Gothic Room. Current research on the demesne at Marino is presented in full in the accompanying exhibition publication, and at this year’s annual Irish Georgian Society Study Day. This summer will see the Casino at Marino turned inside out, as the interior plays host to its garden. Through innovative and interactive exhibits the lost demesne will be recreated. Hear the voice of Mrs Delany compliment Charlemont on his pineapples in the Blue Salon,  leaf through facsimiles of 19th-century family scrapbooks, and be guided along the trail of the Earl’s garden demesne through a GPS-coordinated smartphone app. You will be following in the footsteps of 18th-century locals, to whom Charlemont opened his garden for their enjoyment. This, his lex hortorum, was commented on by Bowden in A Tour Through Ireland (1791); the same passage gives the exhibition its name.

‘This is one of the most beautiful and elegant seats in the world, happily situated, and in a demesne improved in the highest taste, comprehending 238 acres, laid out in plantations… lawns, and a delightful park… The temple is situated in the park – a monument of his Lordship’s refined taste. The Gothic room is a very curious and beautiful structure. The hermitage is nature itself. There is also a cane-house constructed after the Eastern model. Art and nature unite in rendering this a most desirable residence. What obligation are not the citizens of Dublin under to his Lordship for having the gates of this terrestrial paradise opened to them whenever they chuse [sic] to walk through it!’

Paradise Lost: Lord Charlemont’s Garden’ at the Casino, Marino, Dublin, 1 May – 31 October 2014.
Rose Anne White is an independent curator and researcher.