This is the first book to be written on the history of wallpaper in Ireland. It builds on the pioneering studies made by the late Mrs Leask (Ada Longfield) and her researches which began in the 1930s and continued for over fifty years. The collection of wallpapers at Fota which was gathered together by the leading conservation architect John J O’Connell is a major research resource for this work. David Skinner began reproducing exquisite hand-made papers in the Mill at Celbridge during the 1980s. He has been studying wallpaper and uncovering the remains of papers literally to piece together a history of Irish wallpaper design. Beautiful fragments have been saved, bills and advertisements found, makers identified, shops located, patronesses on shopping sprees described and architects accounted for. All of these elements have been brought together and linked to the extant interiors which range from cottages to country houses.
Mr Skinner has the gift of painting vivid character sketches of the artisan makers and their grander patrons and patronesses who were the leaders of fashionable taste.
The reader is introduced to the most wonderful new dramatis personae of paper makers or ‘paper-stainers’ such as Bernard Messink who was one of the first to work in Ireland; the feisty Widow McCormick whose drunken husband fell into the Liffey near Aston Quay during Christmas week, 1741; Thomas Bromwich (or ‘that tedious Brumigum’ as he was named by Lady Louisa Conolly); the prosperous Boylan family (connections by marriage to the stuccodores George and Michael Stapleton); Edward Ryves (educated at the Dublin Society drawing schools); Moses Staunton and Plunkett Fleeson. Mr Skinner has the gift of painting vivid character sketches of the artisan makers and their grander patrons and patronesses who were the leaders of fashionable taste. We learn the strong views of Mrs Delany, Lady Arabella Denny, Emily, Duchess of Leinster and Lady Louisa Conolly on the subject, about the papers on sale and the colours available. Taxes on wallpaper had an impact on the emerging Irish industry and there was a flourishing black market for smuggled wallpaper. One of the most fascinating aspects of this research is the achievement of Irish-born and educated wallpaper makers abroad. The career of Edward Duras is described from his premises in Capel Street, Dublin to Bordeaux where he supplied papers to the Bishop of Dax (which have been carefully reproduced under the direction of Mme Blanc-Subes). Moses Staunton moved from Belfast to Toronto. Others such as Edward Ryves and Plunkett Fleeson emigrated to the United States. This chapter opens up new possibilities for future research in North America.
This is a very beautiful book which has been sensitively designed by Jason Ellams who specializes in art-book design. It is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs of rooms that are published for the first time. The photographs capture the atmosphere of the houses and show just how elegant old wallpapers and borders can be. It would be very difficult indeed to improve on the elaborate hand-cut borders, tarnished silver leaf and vibrant design of the paper installed in the drawing room of Ballindoolin, the green and gold wallpaper with its subtle patina of age in the drawing-room at Killadoon, Co Kildare or the block-printed shamrock paper at Fota. The bold triple flock paper in the Saloon at Birr (reproduced on the book’s cover) dating from c.1870-90 was much appreciated by the late Anne, Countess of Rosse when this heavy paper had long since fallen out of fashion and could easily have been replaced. It would be impossible to recreate the romance of Headborough, Co Waterford with its medieval dream of happiness. It is remarkable that so many papers have survived.
It would be very difficult indeed to improve on the elaborate hand-cut borders, tarnished silver leaf and vibrant design of the paper installed in the drawing room of Ballindoolin, the green and gold wallpaper with its subtle patina of age in the drawing-room at Killadoon, Co Kildare or the block-printed shamrock paper at Fota.
Exotic Irish designed and imported India or Chinese wallpapers and the taste for chinoiserie at Westport, Carton, Caledon, Killeen Castle and Kilkenny Castle are thoroughly documented with reference to many little known examples with much archival research, bills, accounts and correspondence. Neo-classical panoramas, papers inspired by Wedgwood, the Greek-revival scheme for Thomas Wogan Browne (Clongowes Wood College), Patrick Boylan’s creation of the most perfect Regency interior in Ireland at Caledon are examined at length. French scenic papers (Stradbally), the shores of the Bosphorus (at the Swiss Cottage, Cahir) and the adventures of Don Quixote originally in the drawing room at Edenderry House (now at Hillsborough) are illustrated and described in detail. This is a major contribution to the scholarship of the decorative arts in Ireland and it will stand alongside the works on Irish silver, glass, ceramics, dress, textiles and furniture. It is also a great pleasure to read and David Skinner’s enthusiasm for his subject comes through in every chapter. He has that rare talent which is a complete technical knowledge of the material and a heightened appreciation of the visual beauty of the work. This book is an important reference work and is essential reading for anyone interested in the visual and material culture of Ireland.
Paul Caffrey is a research fellow and lecturer in the history of art and design at NCAD.