Guest post by Deirdre Cullen, Office of Public Works
When Lady Louisa Lennox married Tom Conolly in 1758 and became mistress of Castletown House at the tender age of 16, she found the Conolly seat unfinished and decidedly old-fashioned.
She had grown up within two of the wealthiest households in England and Ireland: at Richmond House in London and Goodwood in Sussex; and at Carton in Kildare after her parents died. This fashionable young woman was therefore well equipped to supervise the changes required to turn her new home into a venue suitable for the more informal style of entertaining which had become the vogue.
Louisa didn’t focus her attention exclusively on Castletown’s state rooms. She also created smaller, more intimate spaces such as her print room and coffee room, as well as personally decorating a number of closets and dressing rooms.
This ‘hands-on’ work drew upon Louisa’s considerable creative talents. Her print room at Castletown is quite possibly the most beautiful room of its kind ever created anywhere, with its compelling arrangement of images, based on symmetry and cross-referencing. It shows clearly what a capable craftswoman and designer Louisa was.
Her letters to her younger sister Sarah give us a glimpse of the fun and sociability involved in these personal projects.
The Print Room
Print rooms were in fashion in Ireland and England, though not in Continental Europe, from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. The one at Castletown is the only intact surviving example in Ireland.
Usually amateur creations, these rooms often provided a hobby for the ladies of the house. Engravings and etchings were relatively cheap, costing a few shillings each. They were collected, carefully cut out and pasted onto the walls, and often embellished with printed frames and borders, as well as swags, garlands and trophies. Louisa gathered eighteenth-century prints by French and English engravers for her design, choosing images of seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century Dutch, Flemish, French, Italian and English paintings.
Her composition is particularly elaborate. She cropped many of the images to create smaller elements for her design, and trimmed the captions from almost all of the prints. Where necessary, using a technique similar to that used for decoupage, she pieced together many tiny components, cut from existing printed borders, to create custom-made garlands, and round and oval frames.
Louisa was quite familiar with the idea of a print room by the time she tackled her own. Her sister Emily had several examples of the genre at Carton House, and Louisa and her younger sisters seem to have helped with the work.
Not long after her arrival at Castletown, Louisa was already planning her print room. On February 24th 1762, she wrote to Sarah:
‘I always forget to thank you, my dear, for the Prints you sent me. I have not had time to do my Print room yet.’
Six years later she was still collecting prints for her new room, which apparently remained unfinished at this point. She pursued a number of themes: she was clearly fond of hunting scenes, classical subjects and landscapes, and prints with personal connections to her family and social milieu. An example is the mezzotint by Edward Fisher after the well-known portrait of her sister Sarah by Joshua Reynolds.
The vast majority of the over two hundred images used are genre scenes by Dutch, Flemish and French artists. They show cheerful artisans at work and play, and quite often misbehaving. Twenty-six of these prints are after works by the Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger, eleven of them engraved by the Frenchman Jacques-Philippe Le Bas.
On February 14th 1768 Louisa wrote to Sarah asking:
‘At any time that you chance to go to a print shop, I should be obliged to you, if you will buy me five or six large prints, there are some of Teniers engraved by Le Bas, which I am told are larger than the common size if you meet with any pray send me a few.’
Given the unified and integrated composition of the completed print room, this letter is evidence that the serious work of putting up the prints is unlikely to have begun before 1768.
Meanwhile, Louisa was gaining further useful experience in print room creation by helping a friend with hers, and by arranging the distribution of the newly published portrait print of Sarah, evidently in demand for neighbouring print rooms and closets:
Castletown Jan 1st 1767
‘Mrs Clanbrassil is so much obliged to you for your print, as also is Emily and Cecilia. Mr Hussey has not yet got yours. I will it to him by the first opportunity.’
Temple[ogue] July 3rd 1767
‘I am with Lady Clanbrassil … she has employed me in cutting out a border to go round your print, which she has put up in her closet; it was a pleasant work for me, as I looked at your dear Fig …’
Part Two of this guest blog post will be featured here next week!
The Conolly Archive is available for consultation at the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre.
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