Sunday, July 27, 2008

Russborough House - The Art
Russborough House, venerable in age and character, once a home to lords and ladies of the realm, Castle to the old Irish ascendancy – Ireland rich in the ruins of lost generations yet this grand house stands gloriously proud of the craftsmanships that made it whole.
Twin sweeping colonnades embrace its hearth, its soul as ever, is in the charm of its welcome – a spirit pervading the entire, that same spirit, innate, imbued so naturally now in those who serve its needs and who good-naturedly greet and informatively guide those who come to visit, re-treading the footsteps of times past – people like Marian Kelly, Administrator; Anne Reynolds, Monica Brosnan, Alice Farrington, and Barbara Bolger among others. Barbara, who must now be doyen to this mansion, and who for nigh on thirty years has accompanied visitors through its labyrinthine ways on tours of the art and lives of its treasures; of Vermeer, Velasquez, Goya, etc. The presence and importance of those mentioned above, is that vital link with the past in continuity of its existence; and as they guide you through its wonders, they will tell you that all good paintings have a story to them, sometimes dramatic – of happiness, of loneliness, of the melancholy of artists, of love and sometimes of tragedy.

It was a pleasure to see again the Claude Joseph Vernet quartet, four works specially commissioned by Joseph Leeson (c.1750) which sit like treasured jewels within wonderfully decorated frames, the free-hand plasterwork of the unsurpassable Lafrancini brothers, designed specifically for these paintings depicting the four diurnals of shade, Morning, Midday, Evening, and Nightfall in subtleties of light and atmosphere. Such is the beauty that it would not be unjust to refer to each setting as magnified decorations of Benvenuto Cellini, the Renaissance goldsmith. The four were sold to an American collector during the 1920’s. On moving to Russborough (1952), Sir Alfred Beit went in search of them. In the early 1960’s they were re-instated to their natural home, a residency of some 260 years. It is said that these paintings were the prelude to Vernet’s commissioning by the hapless King Louis XV1 for a series, Harbours of France which brought him so much fame, and are now in The Louvre.
Not all of the pictures previously displayed at Russborough are on show for a variety of reasons, but apart from those mentioned within, prominent are the two famous Dutch artist friends, Van deVelde and Van Goyen showing two seascapes, one of Ships in a Calm, the other A Stormy Sea, along with Wm. Sadler’s View of Dublin, and two large canvasses by Jacques de Lajoue (1687-1761) from his Allegories of Science. Others include Gainsborough, Batoni, Joshua Reynolds, Chavennes.
Paintings with incident-packed lives and misadventures, as is well know, include the Rubens, Murillo, Metsu etc., and remain with the National Gallery for the present time. So, perhaps it’s the French (Royal) connection this time, and if the journey of the ‘Vernet four’ to America was unfortunate, the acquisition of Jean Baptiste Oudry’s (1685-1755) An Indian Black Buck (with three white hounds and still life of a pheasant and a duck) was a connoisseur’s dream come true, when intimate knowledge and limitations are masters of the art of collecting. It is admired as perfect a study of animal life.
Oudry was appointed court painter of the Royal Hunt by Louis XV, grandfather of the unlucky Louis XV1, and is considered one of the world’s foremost of that genre. When this large canvas last went to auction, the final bids were between J. Paul Getty and Sir Alfred Beit. Getty won the day, but lack of attention to detail caused embarrassment. Shortly after acquiring this prize, Getty offered the picture to Beit because it was too large for any of the walls of his house. Hail, to Russborough. Thus, a perceived grandeur was undone by an over-swelled wallet – no less an incongruity than owning a current model Rolls Royce while living in a 3bed semi with no garage!
Oudry, an amazingly versatile artist, was highly thought of by Louis XV and was asked to revive the Tapestry works in Beauvais, a complex task, for it demanded not simply art-work and design, but knowledge of the dying of colour threads. Curiously, there are two large tapestries in Russborough, both of French origin and dated to the time of Louis X1V, the Sun King, c.1690. In the same room is a work by Andre Derain (1880-1954), contemporary of Renoir, Lady with a Flowery Hat, blithe spirit, which it is said was one of Sir Alfred Beit’s favourites. Where he went, she went. I could not see the merit for such amiable feelings; but then, I was spoilt, for it called to mind a short-lived romance when I was 20, with a very pretty girlfriend, who, saying how thrilled she was that her portrait had been chosen to grace the millions of world-wide Irish Hospitals Sweepstake tickets, pretended to swoon. Gallantly, instant ignition spurred me to give her the kiss-of-(her)-life to revive her. I got a slap on the cheek for that bit of hospitality! The Lady with the Flowery Hat seemed to smile. Michael Ward.

Russborough House Demesne – Music - Outdoor Theatre - Entertainment
Web address: Phone: 045-865239 email:
Eric Blatchford, the new Chief Executive Officer at Russborough, is an unusual breed, for while being well experienced in his approach to business, he is also one very nice chap, personable and sincere, and very much Lord of the manner, Crowned, one could say, for this appointment. The expansion of the activities at Russborough will not only help defray the running costs of the Beit Foundation, but importantly, it also interacts with the cultural aspects of existing activities, well suited to the manor.
The forthcoming appearance of Celine Byrne at Russborough - Soprano, winner of the Maria Callas Grand Prix, in Athens, 2007, and an already accomplished career as an international performer at Carnegie Hall, The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, on both operatic and concert stages including our own National Concert Hall and the Vatican - is in perfect harmony with the whole ethos of what Russborough means and why it was originally constructed. From Naas, Celine holds a Masters in Music from the Royal Irish Academy of Music.
Included in this Summer’s plans, and by way of variety, the stage is also set for an outdoor performance of King Arthur and The Knights of The Round Table by Chapterhouse Theatre Company, an ideal family entertainment, to take place on the front lawn, with the house as a backdrop. For this exciting engagement, patrons are to provide their own low-backed seating and rugs where they may picnic before the performance, from 4pm.

A Scenic Walking Tour
Where before, visits to Russborough were more or less confined to the Art collection, with the Maze as an attraction for children, more lately the house was opened to musical evenings. Now an extensive walking tour has also been established, opening up the extensive grounds around the perimeter of the demesne, where the wonderful landscape exposes new vistas and panoramic views - ideal settings for artists. The walk takes about an hour to complete.
The Russborough Café
Situated below stairs (!) in the old kitchen is a wonderful Café run by Dawn and Kevin Farley with 30 years experience behind them. They serve wonderful food, lunches with fresh garden produce, home-baked cakes, pastries, buns and that lovely Italian illy coffee from 10am to 5pm every day. Each table is decorated with a vase of flowers, fresh as the morning dew, and a scent, sweet as a sunny day.

Looking Ahead
Eric Blatchford just will not stand still. Plans are well advanced to cater for Civil Wedding Ceremonies, Wedding Receptions, Corporate meetings and entertainment, and much more.
If you are about to pop the question, check with Eric or Marian Kelly first!

Upcoming events include:
13th July. Outdoor Theatre (Sunday, on the front lawn 4pm)
King Arthur and The Knights of The Round Table
A Live performance by The Chapterhouse Theatre Company
It lasts for just over two hours. Bring your own low seats & rugs.
Picnic space open from 4pm. Refreshments available.
23rd AugustSummer Fest featuring
Celine Byrne. Concert. 8pm.
Fruit Punch reception 7.30pm
21st September Blessington Vintage Car
& Motorcycle Club. 10am-11.30am
18th October Liz Ryan Concert
Nobody loves a Fairy when she’s Forty
5th November Vanburg Quartet
Farmers Markets on Sundays
3rd August, 7th September, 5th October.
The well laid out web site for Russborough is designed by Haven Design; Michael Ward.

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