In a city that is known for its Irish culture and heritage (Happy St. Patrick's Day!), it seems fitting that the Art Institute of Chicago has just opened a wonderful new exhibit dedicated to the artistic traditions of Eire during the 18th century. It's worth noting that Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840 is the first major exhibit dedicated to the broad and expansive world of Ireland's decorative arts during this period and it draws on dozens of public and private collections across North America.
This entire brocade of decorative arts was brought together by Christopher Monkhouse, the Eloise W. Martin Curator of European Decorative Arts. In his remarks to the press at the opening of the exhibit, he noted that the roots for this exhibit truly started on his first visit to Dublin in 1966. It's exciting to think of all the care and time that went into this exhibit and visitors can make their way through galleries here that include "Landscape and Tourism," "Grand Saloon," and "Furniture."
Along the way, you'll find dozens of compelling objects, including furniture, textiles, musical instruments, paintings, sculpture, exquisite book bindings and ceramics. As a bit of a special aural experience, you'll find Irish music playing in the room where the musical objects are on display. What's even more compelling is that this music was recorded specifically for the exhibit.
I must recommend taking a close look at the fabulously detailed and colored "Walker's Tour Through Ireland, A New Geographical Pastime" from 1812 (above). It's in the "Landscape and Tourism" gallery and it was meant to be used for the curious traveler who wished to journey through points of interest around the Emerald Isle.
Moving along, you must also take a close look at "Carolan the Irish Bard" (above), crafted by the hand of James Christopher Timbrell around 1844. This rather wonderful painting depicts the famous Irish harper, composer, and singer as he performs for a sizable group.
This exhibit is open until June 7 and there are a range of wonderful events associated with the exhibit, including a talk on "How Global Art Came to Ireland in the 18th Century" and a late night out at the exhibit with DJs and performances by the theatrical ensemble Collaboraction.
Works, courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago:
John Egan. Portable Harp, c. 1820. The O'Brien Collection.
Walker's Tour Through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime. The O'Brien Collection.
James Christopher Timbrell. Carolan the Irish Bard, c. 1844. The O'Brien Collection.